Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Celebrate [mediocre] times...c'mon! (duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH-DUH)

It hasn't been the greatest week or so lately...I made the decision with my family and psychiatrist to go completely off of the SSRI (anti-depressant medication) I was on (Zoloft). I first went on an SSRI (Paxil) about a year and a half ago in hopes of alleviating my lifelong general anxiety and social anxiety issues. Since then, I've tried out a number of different medications to try to treat my anxiety issues and then the serious depression that arose at the very end of 2014. It turns out I have a very finicky little metabolism so none of the medications really seemed to be effective. In fact, my family and I speculate that some of them might have actually made things worse since genetic testing revealed that I have difficulty metabolizing many different types of psychiatric meds, most notably SSRI's, which are the primary medication used to treat anxiety disorders and depression. GO FIGURE.

Medication is obvi a big issue in society at large and the journey of treating mental illness, so I definitely plan to explore my experiences with that in other posts, but for now I will leave it at this: Going off of the medication has not been fun. I really didn't expect that since I have been weaning off of the stuff for close to a month and I really wasn't even on a very high dose and SSRI's aren't really that powerful of a medication, and certainly, as far as I am aware, aren't considered addictive. But I guess since 1) my body has been through a lot of medication changes in this one year, and 2) I am not replacing the medication with another one, it is understandable that my body and mind have been taking things kind of hard.

Last week I was really grouchy, irritable, easily annoyed, tired, etc. I felt physically and mentally pretty crappy and then my mind would kind of involuntarily fixate on certain things that irritated me. Then I would just keep turning that thing I was frustrated around and around in my head and blow it out of proportion. I think it's safe to say that anyone who has lived or interacted with people knows a little bit what I'm talking about. So I had some blow-ups at my family, which isn't really like me. It all culminated in a major flip out over a bunch of things accumulating in my hyper-sensitive anger stash and then when I was pushed over the edge, I stormed to my room, locked myself in there and just thought of ways to let my family know how frustrated and hurt I was. Suffice it to say, none of them were very healthy, but I am glad to let everyone know that I am still here and, thankfully, so are my breakable possessions and works of art I've made (though my scrapbooks are a little battered), and I've found most of the things that I threw across my room.

I did, however, end up screaming that my life didn't matter after I threw said scrapbooks into the hall and announce that I should just kill myself. This really upset my poor mom, who demanded I unlock my door, which sent me into a crying fit because she sounded so angry and I felt so stupid, but God bless my older sister, who came and did a really amazing job of calming me down. The funny thing is that she has Asperger's Syndrome, which means she has trouble communicating with people and understanding social cues, so people often think she's cold or impolite, but she's actually one of the most caring, loyal, sensitive people I know, as is my other friend who I suspect has Asperger's. People with Asperger's are very loyal and caring...many write them off so they don't get to see that side, sadly. But my sister has also been through a lot of really hard things, which gives her more empathy, I think, even if she has trouble with the concept in the abstract.

Anywho, Big Sis talked to me in a really considerate, concerned voice and was very sympathetic and explained the situation in a way that my emotional mind needed to hear and I just lay on the bed ashamed and wept. I didn't anticipate telling you all this since this is the messy, embarrassing side of mental illness and not what most people who know me would expect from me, but I guess it's refreshing to be honest and it needs to be shared.

I've been better emotionally since then. I definitely do see that I am more anxious though in the sense that I have the extremely irrational anxieties that I had before going on medication, namely, this ominous, overarching fear that I or members of my family will die at any moment or just general abiding thoughts and worries of death, the afterlife, the shortness of life, etc. Not to mention worries that I will go to hell and be separated from my family forever because my faith in/relationship with God has been very weak in the last few months. These are all my worst fears and even though medication had its bad points, it did help take away a lot of those illogical fears that overwhelm me.

Beyond this, I've had more panic symptoms arise: racing heart, whirring head, faintness, etc. And bad dreams. So all this may make you wonder, "Wow, why on earth did she go off these meds?" So I say this: At the same time, I have a certain clarity of thought and optimism that I didn't while on meds. I do feel less dragged down by the fatigue that's dominated my year. I feel like I can put this Year From Hell behind me and rebuild my life in 2016. My life was completely derailed this year, which has taken a lot of time and emotion to deal with and accept. It will take more time to deal with the effects, but I think I am coming to a place where I can start over and rebuild. I have hope again that I can even use this complete blow up of my life and plans for good; I can use this as a way to get on track with myself and the dreams that I've had since I was a little girl but that I decided to put off in favor of the practicality of college.

At the same time, I have had reminders of the disappointments of this year; going on Facebook one evening last week, I was bombarded with painful images of the life I am missing at college. I do still mourn for the get-togethers with friends, having people right down the hall to hang out with, inside jokes, weekend mattress surfing parties (no alcohol needed for a good time #drycampus), performing at coffeehouses, etc. And I especially mourn the friendships that I've lost since leaving school.

I'm not sure what sparked it, but I had this moment where I realized anew recently how shocked and hurt I was that very few of my friends said anything when I let them know that I wouldn't be returning to college this school year. I mean, some people who I was very close to said NOTHING. What is that?? And then many of them have only contacted me once and said hi. A couple have never contacted me at all. I know people are busy or they feel awkward and don't know what to say, but that's some serious bulls**t and it makes me intellectually angry at the injustice of it.

In a culmination of lameness, yesterday my period returned after an extended absence and WOW did it return with a vengeance. SSRI's are also used to treat PMS, which ended up being a lovely extra benefit of being on one because I have had issues with extremely painful cramps, to the point where I would throw up almost every time I got my period starting my sophomore year of college because my body was in so much pain. Yesterday, I wanted someone to just kill me or give me a hysterectomy, I was in so much pain and felt so nauseous and faint and weak. YAYYYYY.

I survived but went back to suffering from symptoms of some kind of virus I've been fighting lately. So today when I (finally) checked my phone and found I had missed a call (typical) from Colonial Williamsburg about a job I had applied to on a whim last week, I wasn't feeling super up to calling back, but felt like I should since, well, job etiquette. Unfortunately, I got a very sassy, grouchy lady on the line who informed me I needed more information about whoever called me (even though she sounded suspiciously like whoever left the message) so she could pass on the call. Result: I felt very stupid and discouraged b/c


Anywho, you get it. I felt generally lame and discouraged because of my current situation and someone else's rudeness. I've had a number of people treat me very rudely this year because I'm young and soft-spoken and I'm really tired of it. And I've felt so stuck lately because I feel too daunted to get a job or even volunteer because of the interview process, training, and commitment rules. I used to be pretty good at interviewing, but I did so much of it this year with so little success that I just don't have the heart to any more. It's so nerve-racking anticipating the interview and phone calls, meeting new people, going to new places, etc. all send me into a state of absolute terror and physical discomfort. It's miserable. And then I've had a number of bad experiences with people being unprofessional so I guess the whole thing has left a bad, post-traumatic taste in my mouth. And even volunteering nowadays requires applications, interviews, training, background checks, stringent & lengthy commitments, etc. And try explaining to people that you've been to three years of college but you're taking a break. HAHAHA. It's not awkward AT ALL.

The sad thing is, the summer I spent working as a museum education intern was probably the best summer of my life. Even though I was physiologically depressed and struggling with social anxiety, I was really happy because I loved having projects to work on and I loved learning new things and having a chance to contribute to the community. I loved exploring a new place and basking in the beauty of nature. I was even okay being away from home. I was so proud of all I was accomplishing and I did do a lot to push myself out of my comfort zone. I think a lot of people look at people who are depressed or have social anxiety and think they're lazy. I had a close friend judge me a lot this year because of the toll my depression took on my energy level. But I believe a lot of us are very motivated, ambitious, hard-working people who feel chained down by their illness.

Depression physically took a lot out of me; when I was working that summer, I worked 40 hour weeks but would come home and fall asleep for two hours (nap), then sleep nine hours and still have trouble getting up in the morning. I never had such a physically-impactful bout of depression as the one I had this spring where I just could not keep my eyes open and had to take two or three naps a day. For the first time in my school career, I had a problem with sleeping in and missing class. I could tell my roommate was super judging me, but it really was no choice of mine (I even started drinking coffee to try to help me stay awake). Even this summer, I slept ten hours a night and then would still have to take naps during the day. When I say "have to", I mean it. Yet, I have trouble just sitting and watching a TV show unless my hands are busy (if anyone needs their holiday presents wrapped, I will do it FOR FREE to satisfy this pathological need to wrap presents.) I long to accomplish things and I am constantly doing multiple craft projects.

Similarly, with my social anxiety, I constantly avoid participating in activities I really long to. I wonder how much more I could accomplish if I wasn't so terrified of new people, new situations, and conversation. The summer of my internship, I made huge strides in terms of my social anxiety, even though they seem more like little mincing baby steps: I went to England with a bunch of people I barely knew (okay, that was pretty big and I can't believe I did that and my aforementioned nightmare MAY have been related to that experience), I lived with strangers, I met a lot of new people, I interacted with children, I went on intern runs to relay messages to people I had never met before (one of my biggest fears), I went into small shops where the owner stares at you while you look around and asks personal questions, expecting you to make conversation. I even went on a boat full of middle-aged people I'd never met and made friends with my supervisors. Wow. At the same time, I felt like a total failure at times because of my absolute terror of people in other areas of my life. I lived in a house with two other interns who were both very nice people...who I was terrified of interacting with just because I have a crippling mental illness. I wouldn't eat dinner many nights because I was afraid of going into the common area and bumping into them. I didn't know what to say and I felt really awkward. I felt so rude and anti-social and I really wanted to make conversation with them, but it was also my worst fear. My life was dictated by that fear, which is what makes a problem a disorder.

Similarly, now my social anxiety prevents me from calling old friends on the phone to catch up, or even just calling my grandma to tell her my plans have changed and I can't come over today. It prevents me from joining a meet-up group or volunteering with a cause or going to an open mic night or getting a job. I think many people just think I'm making excuses or look at my life and think I'm being lazy: not finishing college or working? But it's all so much more complicated than that, isn't it?

All the same, and here I finally come to the point I planned to make in this out-of-control post, I have to give myself credit for the things I have accomplished. I have made a lot of art in the past six months. I started going to a therapist and I have opened up to her and made a lot of strides. I have adopted new animals and taken care of them even when I could barely take care of myself. I have gone to some doctors and dentists appointments even if I backed out of others due to anxiety.

Most of all, I am really proud of myself for having the courage and wisdom to remove myself from an emotionally destructive situation. People wouldn't hesitate to tell a woman to get out of an abusive relationship, but often we are reluctant to encourage each other to leave emotionally destructive situations. I think a lot of people live and work in life situations that make them miserable, lonely, discouraged, self-hating, etc. because they feel pressure from societal expectations to follow a certain life trajectory. I think that a lot of people my age are in very unhealthy situations in college whether because they are partying, they are in abusive or unsupportive relationships, they are mentally ill with little support or treatment, they are struggling to find purpose or to achieve academically, they are homesick, they are depressed or stressed or anxious....Yet society continues to push kids into this broken system and to turn a blind eye or even encourage them to self-medicate with binge drinking, recreational drug use, binge sexual activity, unhealthy peer relationships, etc. by perpetuating stereotypes that these are just things everyone does because they're young. Then society looks down on people who decide to leave it or forego it. And scratches their collective head over the enormous number of college students seeking counseling, committing suicide, binge drinking, partying...

I chose to avoid a place that encouraged the practice of these unhealthy methods of self-medication, only to find that students instead drove themselves ragged with stress, not sleeping or eating properly, neglecting friendships for fear of grades, creating their own exclusive communities and locking out others in an effort to give themselves power and worth. Involving themselves in romantic relationships in an effort to fulfill expectations for their life path and trying to find self-worth and an elevated social status.

That world tore me to pieces just as being involved in the world of binge-everything party party Uni would have. Emotionally, it ripped me to shreds. But people see it as the norm. They even see it as healthy. Look at these good, Christian kids studying hard, taking 21 credits, applying for internships, planning for the future, dating beautiful, seemingly-perfect (bland soul-less) people who they will marry in two years, being president of five clubs and playing guitar in chapel. Bless them! It's so good to see some kids taking a good path in life...

But a person came to mind for every example in that sentence...and all of those people were unhappy. The 4.0 GPA workaholic who knows exactly what career she wants also never has time for friends and burns herself out doing homework every waking hour not spent in class. She hurts the friends she pushes away for school and career. The devout Christian girl is engaged to her boyfriend of eight months but you wouldn't know it if you were with them but I guess they like each other because they post about it on FB and they have similar goals and faith...There is the guy who has stretched himself too thin and has the joy and humor of life robbed from him, and the people who he can't be there for because of it. There are a lot of hurting people overlooked by people too busy to stop and notice and too afraid of not knowing how to help. There's the guy dating the girl because he's supposed to be dating someone and being an RA to prove his worth to everyone and being friends with people he doesn't like to have a status he feels like he has to want. In secret, he's depressed and homesick and spiritually sick, conflicted, and he takes out his frustration and wounded pride on others to weak to fight back.

I guess I just wonder how much about people would change if they took time to step back and reevaluate everything. But then you have to deal with have everything you thought you knew stripped away and torn apart. It's a messy, long, seemingly unproductive process. It leaves you vulnerable.

But I'm glad I'm doing it.

And I'm glad I removed myself from a place of living in fear, loneliness, betrayal, emotional roller coasters, let-downs, judgment, rejection, stress, under-handed insults, exclusivity, favoritism, egotism, being ignored, not being allowed to hurt...I'm glad I don't have to hurt like that any more and that I can be surrounded by people who love and support me UNCONDITIONALLY.

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