the ongoing run of the days

Even when things seem to be going well, I find myself getting stuck in these moments of doubt like teeth and claws, gnawing away at my hands and feet and at my heart and at my mind: and the thing to remember is, I’m not failing at recovering, when I feel like the world’s lost all its tastes and smells and sensations. I’m not failing at recovering when I want to find a very quiet corner and hide with my music, my yarn, my pens, my ink, my crochet hooks, and my books. I’m not failing at recovering when I want to scream and throw up and instead I swallow all my words and all my bile and I tell myself to suck it up and keep going. I’m not failing, I am just being human, and I don’t want to romanticize it or anything: I just want to get through the terrible storm-cloud seconds and minutes and the myriad catastrophes of my intrusive thoughts, and trust that there’s something else that makes it imperative for me to keep going. What’s on the other side of my doubts and my fears and my screams? I don’t always know. It’s not always good. It’s worse, some days.

But I have to keep fucking going because that’s life: the decision to keep going, every moment. keep breathing and keep going forward. 

a Twitter story, 1

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Thoughts from Friday night.

The Ann Leckie referred to in screenshot 3 is the writer of the Imperial Radch series of novels (Ancillary Justice / Ancillary Sword / Ancillary Mercy).

The statement “The point is, there is no point” continues with a declaration: “Choose your own!”

So this is a thread in which I am trying to look for a point of my own, considering what my starting position at present is.

my anniversary

About two years ago, I saw a mental health professional for the first time. I was diagnosed as having major depression / clinical depression. I started to take medications for my condition. (Two medications to start with: escitalopram and aripiprazole. I eventually dropped the latter one.) I started to go to therapy sessions with that same mental health professional.

At roughly this time last year, give or take ten days, I got broken up with, and had to get out of the house that had been my home for a while, in a big hurry. I moved back in with my family. I was forced to face the facts and the root causes of the problems that I had been having with my ex.

So today is 16 March and I am celebrating the fact that I am alive.

In fact, right now I am not just surviving. I am actually doing well. I have a steady job, I am writing, I turned in a story for submission to a national anthology of new fiction, I am out as a queer woman, and I have shoes and lipstick and crochet and I am alive. I am well.

I got through those dark days. I have no doubt that there will be hard days ahead, too — but I’ve survived, I’ve gotten through, and I was able to ask for help in order to get through those terrible times. I got help, I got meds, and now I have my life in some semblance of actually better working order than it once was.

I had no hope two years ago, and then one year ago. I had no hope. I had no strength left.

I am here, today, and it is my anniversary of life, and I am alive. I am doing well. I am here.

a little less trapped, a little less helpless

In one of my previous posts, I talked about why I thought that I needed to hurt myself in small but very painful ways, and one of the major reasons for my self-harm has to do with fighting to stay anchored inside my own body, with trying to stay grounded.

Since I was a child, I have had these terrible moments (sometimes longer) of being a disembodied thing: that my mind and body were fundamentally separated from each other. That can lead to two different feelings, both of which happen to be pretty scary.

One: my mind was trapped in my body.

Two: my body was unable to follow the commands sent to it by my mind.

Those are some of the extreme reactions that might be linked to dissociation: and that is exactly what I have been struggling with for a long time. I read somewhere that one or two instances of dissociation is pretty normal, like maybe when you wake up for the first time in a new place, or next to someone new. Or maybe when you’re in a high-pressure situation and you’re trying to convince yourself to perform. We all dissociate from time to time.

My problem, and likely the problem of some others who might be drearily familiar with this phenomenon, is that I dissociate a lot. There are no actual triggers. There is no visible proximal cause. I could be reading a book and be hit with that terrifying sensation. I could be sitting at a desk working and feel that dizzying awful disorientation.

I could be walking or commuting and feel that I am actually literally not part of the body that I am in — and believe me, that turns into a horror show really fast, especially when traveling late at night.

I could never find out the causes of my dissociation.

I only found out later on that dissociation was very very frequently linked to major depression — but yeah, I did sort of heave a sigh of relief, because then at least I could see that there was some kind of twisted sick sort of sense in my feeling the way I did. Dissociation in and of itself is a stressor — and stress, as we know, does contribute to depression. So combine the two and — yeah.

I am writing about the topic now because I was surprised to realize that right now, the spells of dissociation have been sort of receding. I mean, they still happen — but they’re not as intense or for as long, and that really does tell me that the circumstances of my life have changed.

Next week will mark the second anniversary of finally getting something to help me fight my depression.

So it’s really — it really makes me feel a certain kind of relief to say that things have sort of improved in my life, and things are not as desperate and painful as they used to be.

I’m actually not just surviving. I’m actually thriving in my own way, though my idiot brain refuses to understand that concept completely. Hence the still-recurring bits of bad things like being depressed and being joyless and dissociating.

But I’m still here. And that’s an important thing, not just for myself but for, maybe, others who might read my words. I got help and I got support and things changed in my life that were shatteringly painful at first but have actually contributed to my overall better state of being.

I was hopeless and nearly suicidal two years ago. I was nearly suicidal one year ago.

But today — today is a good day.

I hope you find the courage to find your way out, too.

I need sleep and coffee and food and I know that doesn’t make sense

But I also need a break from the voices in my head, so: here is a quote from the show Elementary, which I think might offer a glimpse into that same unruly head of mine. This is from the episode “The Eternity Injection”.

Sherlock Holmes: If you must know, Watson, I’ve been feeling a little bit down of late. It’s the process of maintaining my sobriety. It’s repetitive. And it’s relentless. And above all, it’s tedious. When I left rehab, I… I accepted your influence, I committed to my recovery. And now, two years in, I find myself asking, ‘is this it?’ My sobriety is simply a grind. It’s just this leaky faucet that requires constant maintenance, and in return offers only not to drip.
Dr. Joan Watson: You have your work, you have me. You’re alive.
SH: I’ve told myself that many times. So many times, it has become unmoored from all meaning. Odd. I used to imagine that a relapse would be the climax to some grand drama. Now I think that if I were to use drugs again, it would in fact be an anticlimax. It would be a surrender to the incessant drip, drip, drip of existence.
JW: I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. What can I do to help? Do you want to talk more, do you want to maybe speak to Alfredo?
SH: Yes, I think perhaps I will see Alfredo. But in any case, I shan’t be using drugs this evening.

Pick myself up, keep moving, try to make some of those movements into steps forward.

“Missing you at Christmas”

There’s a song people sing in December or so, in my country anyway, and the lyrics, translated, go something like this:

I’m going to have a sad and lonely December, because I miss you
Though I try to force myself to be happy, I’ll be missing you at Christmas

Doesn’t matter where I go, I’m always looking over my shoulder, but there’s no one in the world like you
The strange thing is that there are so many people in the world who’d be better for me than you.

That’s roughly the first verse — it’s not a very long song, all things considered. Maybe it’s a little simple, too, and a little too pat: the singer’s not going to be with a loved one for the holidays, and will subsequently be sad at a time when everyone else is supposed to be full of cheer and good will.

I’ve always loved that song. It can be easy to sing, or you can make things complicated by adding all kinds of flourishes to the melody. And it’s literally been around for as long as I can remember, so I’ve been listening to it every year, and sometimes the cover versions are really heart-rending and sometimes they’re just — meh, you know, like recycled pop pap to cash in on something that inevitably comes true every year.

And this year, yeah, that song pretty much hits too close to home for me.

Especially since the last line of the song is actually:

The problem with Christmas is, this year you’re loving someone else

Um, yeah, hahaha, no.

And it’s such a cold December right now in my part of the world, with a very real promise of rain on the 24th itself, no thanks to what looks like some kind of tropical storm forming in local waters. How much more dreary can it get?

Why am I whining about this now? Why am I more affected by being alone at Christmas than on, say, my birthday? I have no idea. There’s a cold rage churning in my gut, to be sure, and a redoubled sense of being betrayed. There’s the simple lack of skin-to-skin contact. There’s the fact that I have to juggle complicated emotions — and not just mine, but others’ too — when I’m already feeling a little overwhelmed.

In short, welcome to the blues.

Not exactly unfamiliar territory, to be sure, but it’s just a different month, and one that’s fraught with too much surface happiness, so that it feels like an entirely new kind of pain.

It does sound like I should really take care of myself at this time. Self-care has to be the priority — well, it should be, at all times, but right now I need it more than ever.

I am grateful for a few things. I’m only bereft of a romantic partner at this time — I have friends, I have family. There are people in this world who care about what happens to me. I can write again, thank goodness. I can still be moved by stories.

Gotta remember that.

It’s okay to be tearing up.

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

(with apologies to e.e. cummings)

(This post will talk about self-harming, so please take care of yourself — I will totally understand if you feel vulnerable right now, and can’t bear to read further. I hope you’ll be okay. And if you want to approach me about this topic, comment away so we can try to have another kind of conversation. )

I’m a self-harmer. I pick incessantly at the skin around my fingernails. I also have a terrible tendency to pick at the scabs if I get wounded, which actually explains why many of my scars are so darkly pigmented and still visible in many places on my body.

I pick and I pick and I pick and some days I bleed because of my picking. Whenever I pick at the skin around my fingernails, I wind up feeling pain for the rest of the day, and the pain doesn’t go away when I do things like wash the dishes or cut food or pick up a pen in order to write.

My mom gets mad every time she catches sight of the wounds on my fingers. I can’t really fathom the reasons as to why she would feel that way. Maybe she’s afraid of what people might say when they see my hands — but what does that have to do with her? Would people think that she’s inflicting those wounds on me? Or, worse, would people think that she’s one of the reasons why I inflict that kind of pain on myself?

Put it that way, I can see why she gets ticked off.

Okay, that leads me to the question of: why? What makes me pick at my skin to the point of drawing blood, and to the point of creating or worsening scars?

There are many reasons why people might self-harm. They might want to express something that is really hard to put into words. They might want to take control of their bodies and feelings and experiences. They might want to escape bad memories, especially if those memories are of trauma.

Some people who self-harm do it because they feel numb or disconnected or dissociated from their physical selves, and the pain helps them to feel connected to their bodies once again: after all, the brain picks up the signals from the nerves, right, and the pain is an actual physical manifestation, a means of showing that the world is real and that it exists.

That’s my reason: the pain grounds me back in my body. It helps me understand that my consciousness is tied to the physical body that walks around in the world.

Ever since I can remember, I have had these vivid episodes of being convinced that I’m not real, that I don’t exist in this world. I think that the “me” of my brain, meaning all the thoughts running around in my head, is stranded as a passenger in the “me” that is my physical body, the “me” that casts a reflection in a mirror and a shadow on the pavement.

Dissociation is a really scary thing. I have had to convince myself that I am still real and alive and that I must still keep myself safe, fighting through the disorientation of dissociation while walking down a poorly-lit street in the middle of the night. I have had to convince myself that I am still real and alive while looking at my own reflection in a mirror.

For me, and I guess this might be true for other people who might feel this way, intense sensation is a link back to the actual and real physical body — it’s how we know that we’re not just, I dunno, invisible minds and collections of thoughts floating aimlessly through the world. The signals that flash up and down my nerves, which are interpreted by my brain as pain, tell me that what I tell this physical body to do will have a real effect on that same traitorous brain that has already half-convinced me that I’m not real.

Yes, I know it means my hands look frankly unkempt and rough. Yes, I know the wounds become worse the more I pick at them. Yes, I know I bleed sometimes. I don’t see these things as a problem; I see them as proof I’m still in this world and that I can still interact with the keyboard of my laptop, or the glass of water next to my hand.

Many mental health experts think that self-harm is a response to terrible memories and experiences, or that it’s a reaction to trauma. Well, yeah, I’m certainly carrying quite a few of those terrible memories around in my head. I also have self-esteem and self-worth problems, with impostor syndrome and a host of other hang-ups to boot. And I feel like I can’t always contain those memories, can’t always escape the consequences of those thoughts. I can’t always control how my brain works, or how it sometimes throws up a bad memory.

Does reading about self-harm help? I guess it might in my case. The reading tells me I’m not the only one who’s doing something like this. The reading tells me that there is an actual explanation for this thing that I do which my mom excoriates me for. The reading tells me that there are coping mechanisms.

The reading also tells me that what I’m doing is crying for help.

If you think that you might need help, too — please know that you’re not alone. Please know that you can ask for help.

vocals by Philippa Soo, lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda – Burn

This song got stuck in my head this week.

So, again with the twists and turns of recovery: because some of you will no doubt be familiar with this song, and already have the Kleenex lined up because this is a song that does not pull its punches, this is a song that comes at you with every emotion and, paradoxically, a whole lot of cold reason and logic.

But some of you may be hearing this song for the first time and like I said, it’s a song full of emotions and of cold logic. We hear a woman’s voice and we hear her singing to a man, and she tells him off about the thing that he did that wrecked her and left her in pieces, and she tells him what she’s going to do with him.

For my part, I have been afraid to share this song with others, and I am trying to figure out why.

I mean, yes, I identify with many of the songs that I share on the Internet — I still identify with half the songs on my big playlist just because they’ve gotten me through some tough things — but this one. This is the story of what happened in my marriage, and it’s a gorgeous and concise retelling, and why was I afraid to tell people, “If you want to know what happened to me, listen to this song”?

I remember posting a public FB message the night after I got broken up with, that basically said that things were over and I was heartbroken, and you know what? The ex-husband called, and take note that this is not a man who uses FB, and he said that I should take the status down because it was hurting his feelings. Because people were asking him, “Dude, wtf did you do?” It was hurting his feelings.

More fool me, I took the post down.

I should have told him where to stick it.

Why was I supposed to manage his feelings when he did such a bang-up job of wrecking mine?

More fool me.

At least the lines from “Burn” are stuck in my brain now, and they’re the best lines. The world has no right to my heart. He doesn’t. Burned all his bridges behind him, and I know that he will continue to do just that for the rest of however long or short his life is. He will not change, he will demand to be understood and never lift a finger to try and understand.

I will keep burning what is left of him out of my life, because he doesn’t deserve me.

the twists and turns of recovery

Recovery: now there’s a word we all want to become more intimately familiar with. We want to recover from that which is currently pushing us down, or that which is currently holding us back. We want to recover from a broken leg, a sprained wrist, a hurting heart, a hole in the lungs. We want to recover from a long national nightmare of wtf are we doing to ourselves and to each other? We want to wake up and spend one day, one hour, free of the nagging voices and terrible whispers in the backs of our minds.

In my case, it’s pretty much a grab-bag of things. I’ve been laid low by what is now looking more and more like the flu, which is still lingering in the form of a nasty cough, which is only going to exacerbate the wound in my lungs, but that’s how it goes. I’ve been laid low by loneliness and the sense of having to take another day’s step forward, and then another, and then another. People talk about the healing power of touch, and they’re right, in the sense that I felt worse precisely because there was no one around to hold on to. (Not that I would have wanted that person to linger, for fear of catching what I had, but I personally know how helpful a brief hand-clasp might be.) I’ve been laid low by a sense of personal dejection, in the sense of I’m wondering if I’m just not losing my identity again because I’m functioning to help others and doing very precious little to assert my own self.

Last week, as it turns out, a senator in my country filed the Mental Health Bill. I suppose it contains provisions for helping out those who already have some kind of mental illness, and that it would provide for educational and support resources, and a lot of other necessary and needed things.

The problem is that no one in this country even wants to acknowledge the fact that there is mental illness all around. Or, if these people do know about mental illness, they think of it as — a joke or some kind of punchline, a cheap gag to drop in a cheap comedy act. People also think of mental illness as immediately equivalent to being socially different, in a culture where conformity is king and queen and the entire damned court. To be mentally ill is to be immediately labeled as violent, or aberrant, or disruptive, and I honestly don’t know which is worse: be a disruptive influence, or be invisible?

There are many days when I really can’t get up in terms of my mental health — so my body gets up, takes the stress, possibly gets sick or rebels or reacts in some other way, and then it’s back to the feeling despondent and feeling so tired I want to throw up or just not wake up any more.

But there are days, too, of wanting to get up and wanting to do things like cook and go to the movies and read a book. Most of the time, though, I just take it out in terms of listening to my music. I have a pretty big playlist — it’s at least four hours long, end to end, and it’s actually missing some of the other tracks I’ve collected over the years, so I have to get started on recovering those, too. The music is my companion when I’m working and when I’m trying to write, and some days, it’s also my outlet for my emotions. I should get into more detail about the playlist and its genesis and its very reason for being, maybe in the next entry.

But, hi. This is to say, I’m still alive, and I’m recovering, and there’re things in this world that need to be done and need to be enjoyed and need to be experienced, and — I’m doing my best.