I turned 35 two days ago. I was pretty freaked-out by that number, but I’m feeling okay about it now. I still feel about 16, deep down. I’m trying to treat this birthday like a New Year, in that I’m making resolutions and trying to just… make my life better. You know?
It’s been months and months of sitting on my ass, feeling decrepit and sorry for myself, and I’m sick of it. I’m not back to 100% and there are things I can’t reasonably do, but there are a lot of things I can do and should at least try.
So I’m visiting doctors to try to get better, and taking my pills to try to stay sane, and I still feel like crap and kind of like dying, but there’s hope here as well, and that’s keeping me going.
When I turned 30, I freaked the hell out. I’m glad I’m not doing that now. Getting older is so weird. I don’t feel different, except in the ways that I do. Older, wiser maybe, a lot more exhausted. Today I’m swinging between panic and excitement.
So this post is just checking in, I guess. Hello, Internet. I’m still here.
“Don’t borrow trouble” is something my mom says to me when I’m worrying about something I have no control over. It means that it’s silly to stress out about things before you know what you’re up against. I think it’s a pretty good idea, but it doesn’t always work.
At the beginning of summer this year, I started having weird symptoms. Some of them could be dismissed as symptoms of known or suspected illnesses, but all of them together seemed like something I should pay attention to.
Strange visual disturbances (flashes of light)
Minor aphasia (words coming out jumbled or incorrect)
Minor ataxia (lack of coordination, especially in my right hand)
Inattention/lack of focus
Short-term memory loss
This was in addition to the joint pain, headaches, stomach issues, and other assorted FUN! things I always have going on. The above symptoms were either new or worsened.
The extra-alarming thing about all these symptoms is that I’d experienced them back in early 2012. At the time I blamed them on the car accident I’d had in November of 2011, and my neurologist diagnosed me with Post-Concussion Syndrome.
PCS doesn’t reappear 3.5 years later. I have had no recent head trauma. So it’s gotta be something else, and it’s not a coincidence.
I’m still having that FUN! assortment of symptoms, but with some new, exciting ones too!
Worsening lack of coordination in both hands
I’m spacey pretty much all the time
Petichiae (clusters of burst blood vessels under the skin)
Those who know me might think I’m something of a hypochondriac, but this isn’t true. I just happen to often be hyperaware of any weird things going on in my body because I have so much annoying shit wrong with me already. I might unnecessarily jump to conclusions, but I don’t diagnose myself off WebMD. I talk to real doctors, I research things, and I don’t “borrow trouble.”
…but I’ve had my suspicions on this one. And it’s because of The West Wing. Yes, the TV show that ran from 1999-2007. It’s a really great show, you should watch it.
Martin Sheen plays an idealized president. It’s unrealistic and wonderful. Anyway, fairly early into the show (maybe the beginning of season two?) we find out that President Bartlet has a chronic, incurable disease. It causes a bunch of crises and good TV drama. Yay.
It planted an idea in my head.
But I try not to borrow trouble.
I’m trying to get disability. I went and got evaluated by a doctor last week as part of that (long, arduous) process, and when I told him my symptoms, he asked…
“Have you ever been screened for multiple sclerosis?”
But that’s what I’ve been thinking too.
I have an appointment with a neurologist in two weeks. I am not panicking, or not much. I am trying not to borrow trouble. But I’ve done a LOT of reading, and… damn. It sure sounds like MS. There are plenty of other things it could be. But none of them fit quite like MS does.
It could also be a brain tumor! I wouldn’t prefer a brain tumor.
It could not, however, be “nothing,” as someone recently suggested. This is not “nothing.” Trust me. Something is wrong, and I have a feeling it’s going to change my life in ways I can’t yet predict.
I don’t know what’s wrong yet. I am trying not to panic. But every night I find myself researching MS, learning how it’s diagnosed and treated, wondering how it’ll affect my life, whether it’ll be mostly annoying or totally devastating. It manifests differently for everyone, it seems. Some are inconvenienced. Some are crippled.
I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep.
They’ll do blood tests, and probably an MRI, and probably a spinal tap. Those are to rule things out more than anything else, because there’s no definitive test for MS in a living patient. They can find indicators, but they can’t prove it. It’s just an educated guess. Which will probably involve a spinal tap. I am not looking forward to the spinal tap.
I’m not really looking for advice right now. Since I don’t know what I’m up against, I don’t know how to fight it yet. But I think I’m going to buy a day planner to keep track of my health, mood, level of activity, food intake, and other related things.
I also don’t really want to be told to keep my chin up. This is scary and I’m being as brave as I know how to be.
About eight months ago, I started hanging out with Travis. Travis is awesome. In mid-July I went over to his place after a party and sort of never left. It is a good thing and we’re happy and I’m sure I’ll tell you all more about him soon.
I am not dead, in case you were wondering.
I had this idea in my head of writing some big thought-piece about feelings and blame and letting things go, but I am hung over and in pain (I threw out my back!) so I think I’ll just not do that right now.
A couple times in the last week-or-so, a person has said said “I’ve been reading your blog, and it sounds like you’re doing a lot better.”
The last six months of my life have all been after. After that point in September when I realized that it seemed like a perfectly rational thing to just kill myself. So I called my mother, and I got some help, and… nothing really changed. Things got worse, for awhile. Am I better than I was when things were worse? Certainly I feel better, most of the time, than I did at the end of December when I walked into the emergency room and told them I was thinking of killing myself, and could use some immediate assistance. I feel better than I did in early January, going back to that same hospital every day to sit in a room of strangers and try to just make it until 3:30 when I could go home and sleep or cry or whatever far away from hostile eyes.
But I haven’t really come around to the point where it doesn’t seem like a perfectly rational idea to kill myself if things don’t get drastically better soon. I said at the beginning of the year that if 2014 is as terrible as 2013 was, I don’t see the point in continuing.
It feels like a waste of resources. I am exhausted all the time. I am sick all the time, actually physically ill. The other night I vomited out the door of my cab between fares and still kept trying to work for another two hours. I know that sometimes we have to soldier on through bad days, but I have had so many bad days and so few very good ones that, in my darker moments, there just doesn’t seem to be any point. Other people have to take care of me because I can’t take care of myself. I’m awful to be around sometimes. I want it to stop.
What changed in September was that, for the first time, my suicidal thoughts weren’t out of sheer desperation. I certainly felt desperate and frantic, but there was this cool, calculated core of the thought underneath when it just made sense to give up. Not to make the pain stop, but to stop wasting time and energy trying to make this life work.
When my brother’s wife decided to shut me out last March, after we’d been best friends for almost three years, something broke in me. The way things disintegrated with my roommate D only reinforced my feelings of being unlovable and broken. I can’t hold a job. I have no energy. All my optimism comes in short-lived spurts, and that’s when I usually post to this blog. That’s the face I show. I try to insulate the people I care about from the worst of what I’m feeling.
I will whine and bitch about a stubbed toe, but I’ll bleed to death alone in the dark without making a peep, to be melodramatic about it. I hide my pain behind smaller pain. People assume that if I were really hurt, I’d say something, because when has Kate ever held back from expressing herself?
All the damned time. That’s when.
I am not in active crisis right now, at this moment. But things aren’t looking great. I have a new car and an awesome kid in my life. It’s spring, and we’re in the midst of a stretch of absolutely gorgeous days.
But it isn’t enough. None of it is enough. I feel like I’m decaying, corroding, stagnating.
I had a panic attack on the way to the grocery store today, and Jeremy had to bring me home. I am terrified of driving and constantly feel like I’m going to get into an accident, which is backed up by the fact that I got a ticket last week for making a dangerous left turn into oncoming traffic, and I was almost hit by a car. But I scream at Jeremy whenever he makes a “mistake” when he drives and constantly criticize him. So I’m terrified of being a passenger, too.
On Saturday, Jeremy and I drove out into Mt. Hood National Forest and put 190 miles on the Civic in one afternoon. It was a great day. I only screamed at him a few times for not observing proper following distance or for making lane-changes that I thought were “indecisive.” When we weren’t around other cars, I was fine. I was in two serious car accidents in less than two years, remember. And lately, more than makes sense, I’m in constant fear of getting into another which, consequently, makes me a worse driver. I hate being in cars, much of the time, and I am a cab driver.
And if someone treated me the way I treat my boyfriend, I would have left them a long time ago. I dragged him into my therapy session the other day (since he drove me there) and my shrink said that it’s not my job to tell him how to react to my outbursts. This may be true, but I still find myself horrified by them. I don’t want to be that sort of person. And I don’t know how to stop, except by stopping to be any sort of living person at all.
I need to have a good summer. I will spend it in nature as much as possible. I will try to sing more, in all seasons, because it makes me happy. And keep holding on, as hard and as long as I can.
When I was in high school, I weighed (at various times) between 98 and 115 lbs. When I got up to 115, I felt fat. When I was under 110, I felt good about myself.
When I got my driver’s license in early 1998, I wasn’t yet 17. The weight listed was the same as on my permit (back when it was true): 105 lbs. I chuckled to myself because I knew for a fact I’d never get back to that weight again. It was a funny fiction, and something I didn’t bother to change. I had that same info on my ID (including the nearly-identical replacement) until I was 29.
This is what I looked like when I was 17, at about 110, much of which was muscle, because I was in the “best” shape of my life.
I showed that picture to a friend last year, and he said “you look like you were dying.” I responded “I was.”
So much of my self-esteem was bound up in being a pretty girl, in being thin and lanky with perky tits and still able to eat whatever I wanted. When the above picture was taken, I was barely eating, and swimming several times a week. I’d just gotten out of my first serious relationship, and I learned for the first time what people mean when they say that anorexia is primarily a disease of control. Weight is something one can control when the rest of the world is chaos. And I was out of control and, yes, I look like I was dying because I was trying to gradually kill myself.
I gained weight and got somewhat healthy. I was still thin, about 120 lbs., but I wanted to lose weight. Not much. Ten pounds maybe. But I had the tiniest hint of a belly. I thought that if i could start working out again and eat better, I’d be as close to perfect as someone with tiny tits and a shitty jawline could ever be. Of course, I’d never be gorgeous but I could pass for pretty. With some work. Here’s a picture of me and my brother, dancing to “Old Time Rock And Roll” at his wedding in August 2001:
Two days after this photo was taken, I found out that my parents were getting divorced. That summer had been, frankly, horrifying and terrible (my parents’ divorce was just the latest disaster,) and I lost a shit-ton of weight again by that winter, when this photo was taken.
But I got “healthy” again. I gained weight. I was eating badly, and kinda chubby for my weight because I was so out of shape, but I was a size 6.
Around the time I turned 22, the anorexia came back with a vengeance. I went from a healthy-ish 125 (someone described me, at this point, as “fleshy”) to 105 in about six weeks. I’d gone through another bad breakup, couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and got ridiculously thin. There was a lot else that went into it; I was doing a lot of drugs and staying out all night and drinking a lot and mostly eating bran muffins from Starbucks and drinking chai. That’s where I got my calories. My shit smelled like… well, shit. Baby shit. Because I wasn’t eating enough solids, I had diarrhea all the time. I was always cold. Shivering when other people were warm.
This is the time in my life when I really wish that someone had spoken up and seen that I desperately needed help. Some people voiced concern, but many of them just stopped talking to me because I was too much drama to handle. I can’t blame them for that, looking back. Not only was I high all the time, I was sort of a bad person for awhile. And I hated myself, but I loved being thin. I knew I was hurting myself. I wanted to hurt myself.
But, of course, when I hooked up with Mike that next winter, he started force-feeding me. I got ridiculously fat!
The way my thighs kinda… blurp… down in those chubby little rolls was a great source of shame for me. I thought I was ugly and needed to start dressing like a fat old fatty because, well, look at me! I had gotten out of control!
And as the years went by, being with an abusive, alcoholic fucktard took its toll, and when we finally did break up in early 2008, I actually– gulp– was overweight. For the first time in my life. And I was goddamned horrified.
I still felt pretty, still felt desirable… but, y’know, for a fat chick. In that picture I’m probably about 170 lbs. I hadn’t weighed myself in forever, and when I first saw that number, I honestly felt like a failure. I enjoyed the big boobs, but I promised myself that I would lose weight and keep it off and never get that fat again. Over the next six months I lost 30 lbs by dancing, eating better, and not being in a relationship with an abusive, alcoholic fucktard.
So let’s skip to mid-2012. I’m living back in California, but about to move to Oregon. Life has not been swell. I had moved to SF, got dumped by my SF-dwelling boyfriend right after I moved, and then was in a car accident where I sustained a head injury and hurt my back. I was not ok. I’d had to move back to my mother’s, and I’d struggled to get medical care, got laid off from my job, and found out my mom was losing the house and I had to move again soon.
I was, once again, the heaviest I’d ever been. 180 lbs! Holy shitballs, I was wearing size 14! I no longer got skinny when I was stressed out, I ate and ate and ate. This photo was me trying to accept myself. Trying to get it under control again, but safely, smartly, with self-love and all that shit. I thought it would work this time. I resolved to swim all summer when I got back to Portland, to get actually healthy. But it didn’t go that way. Life continued to suck. My job situation remained unstable. I got up over 200 lbs.
And in September 2013, I got into another car accident, which triggered an emotional breakdown, which triggered an inpatient stay at a mental health facility, at which point I weighed 210. My boobs were, and are, HUGE. Well, huge for someone who used to have tiny bumps where other women (my mom included, even at her thinnest) had a RACK. I was always comparing myself to other people. I was always comparing myself to myself.
Which is why I was so shocked when that guy said “You look like you were dying” about that first picture up there. Because I’d always thought it was a great picture. I longed to have shoulder blades that jutted, arms that didn’t pudge, knees that I wasn’t ashamed to show in a skirt. He said something else, too: “I think you’re way hotter now.”
My mind was blown.
Who would want a girl with this body? Stretch marks where there used to be smoothness! Thighs that rub the fabric thin on the legs of my jeans! Arms that don’t fit into some dress shirts! CELLULITE.
I’ve lost something like 15 or 20 pounds in the last few months. I’m eating better. I plan to start exercising. And after almost 33 years of a life that has been, in so many ways, colored by my shame over my body (even when I was super thin,) I think I’m ready to fucking STOP. Just stop.
My self-worth doesn’t depend on which parts jut and which parts pudge. My moral character has nothing to do with numbers on a scale. I’m actually a bit sickened by the fact that I know how much I weighed in all of those photos. Why does it matter? Who cares?
I care, I guess. Some other people might care. But what bothers me now is that my back hurts all the time. I don’t move as well as I used to. Plus-size clothing can be super cute, if you know how to shop, but mostly it’s pretty sad. Trying to buy a cute bra when you’re sporting double-D cups is… hard. They’re all “smoothing” and “minimizing” at that stage. As if fat chicks don’t want hella cleavage too.
When I was thin, I hated my tiny tits, and hated myself for not being more “womanly,” whatever that means. When I got fat, every time I reached THE FATTEST I HAVE EVER BEEN OH MY LORD I hated myself for my lack of self-control. I have always been vain, and I have always felt not-good-enough. These things are inexorably linked.
So now, a bit into the new year that followed the worst year of my life (and that’s saying something,) I’m resolving to just… be okay. Be okay with wherever I am, whatever I look like. Be okay with not being the hottest girl in the room, not having a 26-inch waist, not being “perfect.”
And I have a goal weight. 150 lbs. Because of all the pictures of my body, this is the one that makes me the happiest:
This is me at 29 or 30. This is what I looked like and weighed and how I dressed when I was happy. I had curves, but I wasn’t fat. I had a waist, but I wasn’t skinny. My boobs were a tolerable 36C. I could zip up my Doc Marten high heeled boots. And I went out all the time, and I danced, and I ate a lot of avocado, and while I still thought I was fat and needed to DO MORE so I WEIGHED LESS, I did generally feel pretty good about myself. I didn’t worry about what I ate, but I tried to eat well. I didn’t go out of my way to exercise, but I did get exercise. This is the same era when the below photo was taken:
That’s the biggest I’d smiled in a picture in about ten years.
I no longer aspire to be skinny. Not just because it’s unrealistic, but because it’s unhealthy for me. I worried about my weight so much more when it was close to 100 lbs than I do now that it’s close to 200. I was obsessed. Now I’m merely concerned. I want to be healthy and in less pain and able to move around without having to worry about throwing my back out. I want to have boobs that don’t weigh so much that they yank on my shoulderblades (no longer jutting, of course.) I want to be able to zip my Docs again, damn it.
But I’m willing to be patient. I’m willing to give it time. And I’m willing to love myself, as I am, and be kind to myself. Which is something I never was when I had a model-skinny body and turned all the heads.
I never realized how gorgeous I was, just as I was. I never realized that the prettiest thing about me was the light in my eyes. I thought that my life would be easier, better, happier, if I was perfect, but looking back, I see that I wasted years of my life and so much energy trying to be something that isn’t only unattainable, but illusory. There is no perfect.
And I didn’t write this to solicit compliments, or even moral support. It’s just what’s on my mind right now, looking through all these old pictures and feeling so very sad for the girl in the early ones. In a way, getting fat has been a blessing. Not being anywhere within shouting distance of my old ideas of “perfect” has liberated me, mostly, from the desire to be “perfect.” Because life is short, and I’ve wasted enough of it.
And, well, I think I look hotter now than I did when I was starving. Pot belly, stretch-marks, and all.
I’ve been unmedicated since mid-January. Off the Effexor, which could have gotten me killed. Off the Lithium because it made be feel flat, like I hadn’t used color-safe bleach and all the colors had faded. So it’s just me. Unmedicated.
The one thing I still have is gapapentin, which gets rid of my headaches, and makes me feel giddy and slightly high. You can’t overdose on it, and I don’t take it very often. But I took it tonight.
I’m up at 4:30 in the morning, and I have a good and rational reason for it: I’m a night cabbie. My shifts last 12 hours and sometimes don’t end until sunrise. There’s a consolation in that, driving home and seeing the sun come up behind Mt. Hood. I didn’t work tonight, but I feel like if I have to be nocturnal, I might as well get used to it. I am once again a vampire.
I’ve been losing weight, which is fine because I got up to about 210 lbs. last fall, and wanted to cut hunks of fat off myself. I’m lucky; I inherited my mother’s genes, so even at this rather extreme weight, I’m proportional. I haven’t weighed myself lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were under 190 now. I haven’t been exercising or paying a great deal of attention to diet, it’s just that more and more foods seem to make me sick. Sushi doesn’t, so I eat a lot of that when I can afford it. Drinking a lot of smoothies. I’m hungry all the time, but my stomach cramps and I feel nauseous when I eat the wrong things. Sometimes I vomit. I soldier on.
The job is going well. I’m better at it than I expected. I’m still learning how to be a cabbie, but I’ve always been a good conversationalist, and my customers seem to like that. It’s a very free job, I go where I want or where the fares take me, and I can have a break whenever. I’ve mostly stopped smoking again (betcha didn’t even know I’d started,) so I puff on my e-cig constantly. I can do that in my cab so I take fewer breaks. I make a lot of money when I try. People seem to like me.
But the depression is still here, tearing holes in my heart. The mania manifests in restlessness, sleeplessness. One would think that driving all night would be good for someone with my temperament, and maybe it is or will be, but I so wanted to be the sort of person who slept at night and woke up in the morning. It seemed healthier, you know? Like what a real grownup would do.
The pieces are in place for me to have a good life. I have a good job, for now, which I’m good at most of the time. I have a sweet and amazingly patient partner who thinks I’m amazing and is pretty damned cool himself. I am making money and my situation is improving. I have plans, goals, hopes, dreams.
But I feel so lost. I am going through the motions. I don’t know how I feel about anything. I don’t know whether I like my job or hate it. I don’t know whether I want to be in a relationship at all. I was thinking the other day, wondering if I’m just with Jeremy because it’s better than being alone. Then I asked myself, how many of my relationships have actually been better than being alone? And then I laughed and realized that I think too much.
My mom is visiting next week. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half. That boggles my mind. Mom has been amazing and supportive through all the mental-health bullshit I’ve been through, unwavering, present, understanding. We are very close these days.
I guess I’ve sort of closed myself off. And I need to open back up if I want to get better. I just don’t really know what “better” looks like, yet, or how to get there. Drugs? Therapy? Buddhism? I think a lot about death, but passively. Wondering if I really am doomed to keep living like this, wondering if the merciful thing to do for myself would be just to end it. But then practicality steps in: it would be very cold jumping off the Fremont Bridge, and I can’t kill myself in Jeremy’s bathtub, the poor boy has been through enough.
So I live, I go to work and to therapy, I talk to my mother, I write blog posts. I try to take care of myself and get out of this fog. I am going through the motions, and I am basically fine.
I am not a great decorator. After Mike The Asshole told me my taste was tacky, I stopped putting things up on my walls for awhile. After we broke up, I of course plastered my walls with weird postcards and the like. But I’ve moved seven times in 3.5 years, and I seldom put anything up because it’s exhausting and I’m just gonna probably move in six months anyway.
So my current bedroom has only one thing on the walls.
It’s a letter my dad sent me years ago, when I was desperately poor and felt, well, lame. Because I needed help again and I felt like a 28-year-old shouldn’t be asking her daddy for money every month. I should have had my life together, and I didn’t. He sent a check, and included this note, and everywhere I’ve lived in the past five years, this has been on my wall.
I am, whatever our problems, and whether I want to be or not, Daddy’s Girl. I have always wanted to impress him. I tell people, “my father is brilliant, I am merely very,very bright.” My father has something like 13 patents. My father had a part on the space shuttle, although I’m not sure what. My daddy does things with lasers and tank armor and makes assloads of money and lives in a house with a glorious view of the Pacific. My father is generous and charitable and at times astonishingly kind.
Which is why this is so hard for me.
He doesn’t goddamned get it, at all.
Martha says it better than I can:
You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea
No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth
I don’t know if that conveys it to you, but it’s playing in my head on a constant loop these days.
I talked to my dad about 10 days ago. It was about an hour after my weekly therapy appointment (and two days before I cracked up and went to the hospital.) And he gave me his usual dad advice that what I probably needed was some stability, that I should get a job, that the happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working, and that my first priority should be getting back into school.
Let’s address these points, shall we?
I probably need some stability.
Well fucking DUH
I should get a job
I totally agree! That’s why I’m working on becoming a cabbie! Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m losing my mind like right now this very moment and perhaps a desk job isn’t going to magically fix things.
The happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working
Y’know, I’d noticed that too! And I looked for work for months, but I’ve been sort of bedridden with this whole “I want to die I want to die I want to die” thing I’ve been indulging in lately, so it’s made it hard to keep keepin’ on. I applied for everything I could until I could no longer work anyway because the depression and anxiety were close to killing me.
You should go back to school (even though I’m unwilling to adequately support you while you do it.)
I dropped out of school when I was 28 because of what I now know was a raging case of bipolar disorder. I could not sit still in a classroom. I spent my days at home hating everything and my nights at bars with pretty boys because they were the only thing that reliably made me even temporarily less horrid. You won’t help me pay for it, and I’m ineligible for more loans.
And I have some points of my own!
If I went back to school now, the same goddamned thing would happen. I would crash and burn. I know it. This is not a guess, this is the truth.
The last job I had, I had to quit after five hours because I got a panic attack so bad that it gave me diarrhea.
My top priority right now is to get healthy.
My top priority right now should be to get healthy.
I cannot do anything useful until I am healthy.
I have lost 15 lbs in the past MONTH. That’s terrifying (although I did have it to spare.) When I try to eat normal food, I shit or vomit. I’m basically on a liquid diet most days, and that’s more expensive than you’d think. I’m going through withdrawal from Effexor, which means that I burst into tears sometimes and my head constantly feels like it’s receiving electric shocks. All I can think about all day is going to bed, but when bedtime rolls around, I’m wired and don’t get to sleep until 2am when I meant to be in bed at 9pm and have to be awake at 8am. I have not once been on time to the hospital where I spent 20-30 hours a week trying to get better. Getting better is exhausting. Lots of anger, lots of crying.
This is hell. This is hell. This is hell.
Honestly, I’m feeling hopeful and better and therapy is working and I think lithium might fix some of this so I go to my stupid groups and I take my stupid pills and I deal with the BZZZZZZZZZZT in my brain and I get by on not-enough sleep and I try my hardest not to buy that cute vintage jacket or fuck that cute boy because I don’t want my mania to rule my life.
And I unreservedly say FUCK YOU to anyone who has never been through this but thinks they know what’s best for me.
This is HELL. And I am fighting, and I am BRAVE, and I am STRONG and I am going to fucking BEAT THIS even if you don’t believe in me. Even if you think I’m not trying hard enough. All I do is try. I fight and fight and fight and this is hell hell hell.
I went to the emergency room on Monday morning because I couldn’t get in touch with my psychiatrist and I couldn’t wait anymore to get some sort of help. What I really needed was a sense that I was doing something, ANYTHING, to try to get better. The social worker and doctor I spoke to at the hospital were both awesome in ways I can’t even try to convey right now– but for the first time in a long time, I felt really listened to in a clinical setting. The social worker and I decided that my best/most practical plan was to go to the day program at the hospital’s psych ward, so that’s what I did yesterday. And it was awful. But I’m going back tomorrow. Because I need to feel like I’m doing something to try to get better.
I don’t like it when people try to get me to have what they call “perspective,” but I am a firm believer in context. I’m not interested in being beaten about the head with stories that are supposed to remind me that there are people so much worse off than I am. I know about the Holocaust, and all the other mass-killings that society doesn’t deem worthy of capital-letter infamy. I know about serial killers, abused children, the poor. I know, I know, I know.
But context is a different thing. As my friend J says, your own worst day is your worst day, period. And he’s a one-armed, eye-patched survivor or a horrific car accident, so I think his words have some worth. Nando Parrado, survivor of the Andes Flight Disaster says that everyone has their own Andes. It’s all about the context of your life and how much you can bear. We learn that we can survive horrible things because we survive horrible things. But some people die from horrible things, and some people simply never get better.
So comparing my worst day to your worst day doesn’t really amount to much. And frankly, it’s bullshit to try to put someone else’s pain on some arbitrary scale and say, all right, you get to suffer this much and you get to grieve this much and then you’d better get over yourself and move on because, frankly, we’re tired of all this boo-hooing and don’t you know that so many people have it so much worse?
In September, I spent five days in a mental health center because I was having suicidal thoughts. While I was there, I was diagnosed with something called Borderline Personality Disorder. I didn’t find out about the diagnosis for over a month and a half because no one mentioned it, and some people thought I already knew. I was shocked when I was told that I’d graduated to the ranks of the truly mentally ill (depression is so common as to be passe, after all,) and especially because everything I knew about BPD was gleaned from an outdated book on mental illnesses that I read in my high school library back in 1995. Apparently, in the 18 years since I first heard about this disorder, the prognosis has become much less bleak. But all I knew when I got my diagnosis was that people with this condition were considered untreatable. It felt like a life sentence– I will never be sane, I will never feel whole, I will never be loved or be able to love anyone else in a healthy way.
So as soon as I got home, I did some research to try to figure out how I was going to navigate my life with this terrible illness, and that’s when I learned that psychiatry has taken a few leaps since 1980, when this disorder was first brought into the public eye, and even since the 1990s when BPD really was kind of a horrible thing to be labeled with. There’s treatment, now, and people do improve. There’s a lot of work to be done, but there are many reasons to believe that I’ll feel better soon.
And GEE WHIZ, does this diagnosis fit. According to the internetz, these are the nine hallmarks of this disorder, and if you’ve got five or more, chances are good that you’ve got BPD*.
[*Of course, it’s possible to have one or several (or all) of these symptoms and not have Borderline Personality Disorder. Everyone can identify with some features of mental illness, to some degree, some of the time. These are human issues, and most are common enough. It’s when these symptoms disrupt your attempts to live a healthy, successful life that they’re considered pathological.]
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms
All my impulsive decisions, my wanderlust, my inability to let anyone get too close while paradoxically craving acceptance and unconditional love, my intense emotions that no one understands because everyone else is cold and unfeeling and detached — all of that suddenly makes sense. I’m not shiny and special, I’m mentally ill!
Well, my shrink says it’s possible to be both. That my intensity is both a gift and a curse, and that my job now is to figure out how to still be emotional and vibrant and intense, but not get torn to shreds by my own transient emotions.
Being crazy is hard work, ya’ll.
The past year has been excruciating. In fact, the past three and a half years have been such a mish-mash of BEST EVER (!!!) and HOLY FUCK PLEASE STOP that it’s hard to know what to expect. I keep losing important people, not to death or distance, but because we’ve failed to meet each other’s expectations. That’s the most diplomatic way I can put it. It keeps happening. To quote noted existential poet Jewel:
Guess I’ve mistaken you for somebody else
Somebody who gave a damn, somebody more like myself
I have to move again around the end of the year because of one of those dissolving friendships. Just as I had to move in May because of a dissolving friendship. And while my friendships dissolve, so do I. I don’t understand why people keep leaving me. And it’s not all in my head, but maybe I have been unconsciously choosing the very sort of people who can’t give me what I want or need. Maybe the detachment I admire in them actually indicates a basic incompatibility in the way we relate to others. I don’t know.
But I’m proud of myself for having done so much of the work already. Even before I knew I had BPD, I’ve been a counselor to myself as part of my quest to not be a miserably destructive human being. And so I’ve been asking myself for a long time if I’m the one who’s the asshole. I’ve been good at not emailing people after midnight because usually those emails are insane. I try not to blame people, or think in black-and-white terms, and I try to forgive when I can. I certainly haven’t figured everything out, and I am far from perfect, and I still have a long way to go, but I started the work a long time ago even before I learned what I was working on.
And as much as I can, I’m trying to take these incremental steps to improve my life. I’m seeking stable housing, supportive systems, ways to lead a successful and healthy life. It’s difficult, and I’m exhausted, but I’m getting things done. I have hope. I can hold my head high as I walk away from (metaphorically) yet another burning building that I once called home.
The Aliens, by Charles Bukowski
you may not believe it but there are people who go through life with very little friction or distress. they dress well, eat well, sleep well. they are contented with their family life. they have moments of grief but all in all they are undisturbed and often feel very good. and when they die it is an easy death, usually in their sleep. you may not believe it but such people do exist. but I am not one of them. oh no, I am not one of them, I am not even near to being one of them but they are there and I am here.
What some of you know, and many of you don’t, is that I stayed in a residential crisis center for five days in late September because I was feeling suicidal.
I’d gotten into a car accident less than two weeks before, and was still suffering some pain and trauma from that. My car was disabled, though not totaled, and I had just found out that my temp job was ending earlier than expected. I held it together pretty well at work, then got home and collapsed. I called my mother, hysterical, and she told me to call 911. Instead, I called the county crisis line, and they sent me to a walk-in crisis clinic, and they, after some stupid red-tape bullshit that wasn’t their fault, sent me to what I deemed “Crazy-Person Sleepover Camp.” I wanted to leave after 24 hours because I was bored and I hated it, but one of the staff convinced me to stay, and I’m glad she did.
I didn’t get fixed, and I’m still a mess, but for a few days at the crisis center and for a few days after I got out, I felt a sense of renewed hope. I got the ball rolling on several things I need to do to make my life better, but it’s all rather slow-going, and it’s easy to lose momentum when there aren’t a lot of tangible effects from all. that. effort.
So I’ve spent a lot of the past two weeks alternating between an almost eerie calm, despair, dread, and terrible anxiety. My sleep is irregular. I want to be held but I don’t want to be touched. So it goes.
Vulnerability is nauseating. Hope feels like a cruel trick.
On most days, I can get out of bed, put on clothes, get things done. I am still capable of dressing myself, washing dishes, going to the store, eating, bathing. But I am exhausted all the time. Some days I can’t summon the nerve or energy to make an important phone call or eat anything that can’t be prepared in a microwave. Other times I’m a flurry of activity, doing all the dishes, scouring the bathroom, or mopping the kitchen floor which was so dirty, I’m nearly certain that no one had really cleaned it in the three years my roommate has lived here. I have fits of annoyance that border on rage.
When I called the crisis line, visited the crisis clinic, and checked into the crisis center, I was asked the same question over and over: Did you have a plan? And the answer to that is, no, not really. I didn’t know how I wanted to kill myself. I wasn’t that resolute, and I hadn’t made up my mind about a method. Perhaps I could have explained that I fantasize about my favorite view of Portland being the last thing I see: the view from the top deck of the Fremont Bridge. Flying, falling, flailing, toward the cold water of the Willamette. Maybe I could have told them that I own surgical scalpels, that it wouldn’t even take much force, that I know how and where to cut, that I’d take painkillers first to dull the pain and thin my blood. Instead I said that I had decided a long time ago that if I ever really wanted to die, I should just go to the hospital, since that’s probably where I’d wake up anyway. When I told these volunteers, clinicians, peer counselors, shrinks and psychiatrists that I did not have a plan for my own death, they seemed to take me less seriously. And so I finally said something along the lines of this:
I am very bright. I have been depressed for a very long time. I have fought thoughts of suicide since I was eleven. I have gotten very, very good at not killing myself. I know that I must try everything I can think of first. Because I am very smart, very pragmatic, I know a lot of ways to soothe myself. I know that the rational thing to do is to try to get help, to fight, because this life is all I have, and there have been times when I was happy, and I remember those times. So no, I did not have a plan. I came here, that was my plan. They seemed to take me more seriously after that.
And I’ve never been to Hawaii. I can’t die before I see if maybe warm water and beaches could save me. I have dreams about swimming in the ocean, somewhere where the water is warm, and I can’t die yet because I’ve never done that. I could live in a tent on the beach somewhere. If that didn’t work, maybe then I could die. Or maybe then I’d realize I’d never seen fjords, or the Aurora Borealis. And I can’t kill myself because it would destroy my mother.
I remember feeling good. I remember being happy. It wasn’t so long ago. And yes, this depression is in my head. I firmly believe that I have a chemical deficiency, faulty wiring, something that makes me more susceptible to these fits of sickness. Because that’s what depression is for me, a chronic, relapsing, recurring, dreadful disease. And it kills people all the time. And I am resigned to fight it as hard as I can.
But I am so tired. And it has gotten very bad again.
My car limps along. I try not to take it above 30mph. My “best” friend in Portland and I have differences that are, for the moment, irreconcilable, and she wants me to move out. I don’t know where I’ll go or how I’ll pay for it. I should start getting unemployment again next week, but it’s not remotely enough to live on. It seems like there are no good choices, only shitty compromises. I’m tired of being pitied, tired of asking for help. But I need help. I cannot work when I’m like this. I am registered to go back to school this winter, but it seems like it’s too soon, and so I need a plan. I don’t have one.
To be honest, it’s really goddamned hard to see the point in any of this. Why keep trying? Why keep starting over? There is no cosmic plan, no one has any answers, and all I can do is keep plodding along and hoping that my medication will stabilize me, or I’ll have some breakthrough, or at least I won’t have to worry so much for awhile.
I’ve moved several times in the last few years, and every more was less a choice than an exile. I have run out of places to run to. There is no “home” anymore that I can go back to. The pills aren’t working anymore and I don’t have money to see my psychiatrist or my psychologist. It’s all such a massive clusterfuck, and I don’t know why I try anymore.
I still try. And I will. I’ll go to bed soon, and I hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Odds are that it will be.
But I am very bright, and pragmatic, and after awhile I know that this will seem like a losing battle against the inevitable. The pain will never stop completely until I die. I can never stop fighting, no matter how tired I am, until I die. How much pain should we be expected to endure before we’re allowed to give up and give in? We’re all going to die anyway. Why keep fighting?