A Letter to My Suicidal Self

This prompt was suggested to me rather emphatically by J after I told her honestly just how intense and difficult my suicidal ideation has been in the last couple weeks. I had, for the first time, moved past simple thoughts and into actual plans. I think this admission scared her, and it has scared me too. The depth of my challenges has always been formidable, but lately it has felt insurmountable. 

I hoped to wait until I was in a truly stable and perhaps even positive place to write this, because I wanted some true light to contrast the darkness I feel when I am suicidal. However, the difficult days continued to linger. In fact, I spent most of the weekend in bed, chained by a depression that refused to let up. Finally, finally some relief has come in the last day, and I am hopeful that it will be enduring. Since I know the course of my disorder, I know that the pain will return at some point. When it does, I hope that this will help me in avoiding giving into the voice of temptation, as a fervent reminder about what remains here for me. 

To the part of me that is suffering in a grievous pain, whether of the past, present, or the future, I have some things I want to say to you:

I know your pain is huge. It’s a great big mammoth. Always present and easily aggravated, it threatens to spear you with its giant tusks, to step on you and squish you, at any given moment. Even when it is quiet, it is always there walking beside you. Following. Stalking. And you never know when something else will set it off into a frenzy again. It really takes so little.

Day to day living is not easy for you, I know this too. You think you’ve damaged your life with mistakes that cannot be corrected for. You look around and see the friends that you could have had, feeling a loneliness that cannot be extinguished. You feel anxious at the thought of trying to begin new friendships, and even the premise of a real romantic relationship makes you want to run in the other direction. Conflicts happen, people leave; I know you struggle to trust them because you see abandonment as a rule of relationships.

Worst of all, I know the awful names that you call yourself. You know them too, so I won’t even give them the power of speaking them aloud. I know they’re on repeat in your head, those minions telling you that you’re destined only for failure and continued pain. They retreat from even the slightest glimmers of positivity, refusing to let you feel good for even a second, instead clinging like super-glue to those terrible names.

Right now, you want to die. You want to take yourself out of this world. You have plans for this, because it feels both like a comfort and penance. It makes sense to you, I get it. But living makes sense too. There are the reasons you need to stick around and stay in the battle, even if persistence means keeping your sword drawn and hiding behind your shield for awhile just to get through.

It’s understandable that you want to escape your pain. Anyone would. But here’s the thing: There are safer ways to do that the ones your mind invents.

Think of the things that make you happy. Like how completing a difficult run is exhilarating. There are still self-imposed running records for you to break. Once, you thought you’d never be able to complete six consecutive minutes; now, you can run thirteen. You know what else brings you joy? Animals. There is a homeless cat or the dog (or both) that is waiting for you to adopt him and smother him with love. Don’t let him miss out on the chance to know you. Don’t forget how much you cherish the holidays. There’s almost nothing as special to you as the process of decorating a Christmas tree or the magic of a fireworks show. These moments are perennial; they come back to you every year, a guaranteed piece of happiness to look forward to.

So many other things go on this list. Old home videos. An apple-scented candle. Pretty much every country song on the radio right now. Sunflowers. Snoopy. Your absolute favorite meal at your favorite restaurant. Lighthouses. The Green Bay Packers. Any of those cute videos of a puppy. The moment when it just clicks in your brain and something makes sense. All of these things spark happiness.

The pain may be intense, but so is the joy. You need the one to know the beauty of the other. And you do know that beauty. Think of how proud and excited you were when you got the call with the job offer, how truly spectacular it felt to reap the benefits of your hard work. That was a joy that the pain can’t touch, no matter how hard it tries. It happened, and it’s a memory to hold on to, ammunition to fire back at the pain.

You are not alone in this world. You have people, to whom you are connected to intricately. Your parents, who really try so hard to support you despite not always understanding the way you wish they would. Your grandfather, with all his charm and humor. Your aunt and cousins, who care and check in. Your friends from graduate school, who have known you at your worst and are still there. A few friends even from undergrad, with whom the relationship is fun and silly and strong. You have H & S, who you absolutely adore. You have J too.

I know that it doesn’t always feel like enough for you. I know you long for a certain type of connection and reciprocity among your friendships. I know how much you yearn for a real intimate relationship. But what you have here is something. It’s a chance to work on feeling comfortable with people. It’s proof that you are capable of cultivating lasting relationships in a positive way. It’s evidence that you are worth the love you don’t believe you deserve.

Being with people is hard, I don’t dispute this. But you cannot discount the skills you are learning to make existing in a social world more manageable. Every interaction is an opportunity for you to learn. There are so many more people out in the world for you to meet. People who will like you for your good qualities: your kindness, generosity, and empathetic heart. It will get easier, but you must not give up. Not everyone is a winner, and not everyone can appreciate or understand perfectly, but there are many fulfilling relationships awaiting you.

I’m not encouraging you to live for them, I’m encouraging you to live for the hope and happiness that your current relationships and these potential relationships can bring you, if you keep working for them.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with your current situation and even easier to believe the cruelty of those minions.  Their voices are the loudest, because they’ve been with you for years. They tell you that you are fundamentally flawed, but we are all flawed. Your humanity doesn’t make you deserving of death.

And just because they are the easiest voices to hear, doesn’t mean there aren’t other kinder voices back there hiding. Waiting to be encouraged forward.

What you deserve is kindness. I know you don’t believe me right now. You believe you deserve punishment, for any number of reasons I’m sure. But remember that you’d never say that to anyone else on this planet. You’d try to offer them kindness on even their darkest day, to find the glimmer of hope for them, so you must do this for yourself too. And if you can’t get on board with that, remember a general rule of psychology is that positive reinforcement is so much more effective than punishment.

Be kind. Please, please, please find room for kindness and care. Look at your safety plan, because it has everything outlined to keep you safe with your feelings. Fight back against the minions with whatever you can throw at them. Meditation. Music. Running. Wrapping yourself up like a burrito in your blankets and sitting through the emotions. The intensity will pass because it always has. You’ll thank yourself  for not acting impulsively in the darkness when the clouds begin to let light in again.

When it does begin to pass, recognize that you are allowed to feel better. You are allowed to feel happiness, relief, and even hope. Especially hope. The minions will fight it, they will try to remind you of all the reasons to slip back into pain, but screw them. Take each moment of the good, however brief, and live for that.

Then curse out the minions, if you’d like. They are wrong. Don’t let them persuade you back into suicidal thinking. They’d make you live there if they could, but you can stay housed faithfully in a place of healing.

Remember that healing is not linear, and that feelings of stagnancy and struggle may precede patches of growth. You may feel very differently in a few days or weeks, if only you give yourself the opportunity to get there.

Remember that your feelings are not facts; you may feel worthless and like a lost cause, but there is so much concrete evidence to the contrary.  It’s here and here and here. It’s in the way you keep trying to be better and do better. It’s in every kind gesture you show to everyone else. It’s in your sticking with therapy, even when you want to quit.

Remember everything you want out of this life: a home, a husband, kids, travel experiences, pets, participation in your community, the ability to make a difference, and know that these aren’t doors that have closed indefinitely. These aren’t far-fetched fantasies, you can achieve them. They just may be further down on your journey.

You have spent over two years getting to know yourself and building a better life for you. I know it can really fucking suck, but its worth the fight and you know it is. Now is not the time to prematurely cut it all short.

You are worth life and all it has to offer you. Plan out the next goals you have and the steps you’ll take to get there. . Plan out a recipe for the meal you probably need to eat. Plan which shows are on the docket for tonight’s viewing. Plan a playlist for tomorrow. Plan an outing with a friend. Plan a trip to Ireland or Italy or Nashville, even.

But please, stop planning to die.

You have survived everything before this and you can keep going. You have the power to keep going. You, not the minions, are in control.

Keep fighting, okay? You’re stronger than the pain. You’ve got this.

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Celebrating Success, Not Squashing It

So a funny thing happened recently. I may have actually found…a job?

It was a crazy situation. I had an interview on Tuesday morning that went really well.It was for a high school position and only a year-long substitute appointment (although with the potential to become a long-term position). By lunch, I had received an email informing me that he was going to recommend me for the position.

I felt excited, but not crazy excited, because I also had a second interview in a different district that day for an elementary position that I really wanted and am still waiting to hear back from. Still, I had this news when I went into see J that afternoon. I showed her the email and we were discussing my mixed feelings when the phone rang.

It was the superintendent of the district. He told me that things had unexpectedly changed. Instead of the original position, someone had just vacated an elementary school position within the last hour. He wanted to know if I was interested. I told him I was. He’s going to call me with more information tomorrow.

As an aside, can I tell you that I was so extremely happy and felt it so fitting that I was in J’s office when I got that phone call? She was really excited for me.

It’s crazy how fast it happened, and I’m still waiting to hear from the other district too. If I were offered that position, I might still take it. But either way, it looks like I may have finally found a full-time position and can feel some relief.

Which is really exciting!!!

But.

You knew there was a but, I pretty much told you in the title there would be one.

The minions are at it in my head. When I first got the news, my first reaction was literally tears of joy. I got off the phone and just cried. Feelings of extreme go both ways for me. While the pain feels unmanageable, the joy is also sometimes so intense that I could burst. J and I both sat there while I reveled in my happiness, because I couldn’t concentrate enough to produce full sentences. It was a really nice, good moment and I haven’t had a lot of those lately.

Unsurprisingly, that pure happiness was short-lived, as other thoughts and feelings have been creeping in. Or maybe they never really left, but were overpowered by the joy for a little while. They don’t want me to be excited. They want to push their agenda, by making sure I know loud and clear I’m still all the terrible things I fear.

It goes a little something like this.

Me: I got a job! This is such exciting news. 

Minions: Is it though?

Yes? Why wouldn’t it be?

Well, it sure took awhile. Weren’t you like the last one of your friends to get a job?

I mean, yes, but —

And didn’t you get passed over not once, but twice, in favor of them choosing one of the other interns from the district where you trained?

I did. But that doesn’t change that I got a job now. 

Yeah, but only after all the better, more skilled and capable people were already taken. Like all your friends. Funny how they always thought you were the smart one. when actually you’re just like the best of all the leftovers.

I’m skilled and capable too. I’m smart. I’m a hard worker. I’ve got great initiative. 

You can keep telling yourself that, but you’re really just the reject. Look at all those districts that didn’t want you. If all those things you said were true, one of the first places you interviewed would have hired you.

That’s not necessarily true. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough for those districts. It’s just that someone else was a better fit or had more suitable experience. I found the district I was meant to be at. 

That sounds like something losers say to make themselves feel better about being losers. A better psychologist and a smarter person would be able to make any district like them and want them.

No one has the capability to make everyone like them and want them. It’s more complicated than you’re making it.

It’s not. You just didn’t have the charisma or the skill to have made those districts want you. Simple. It took you so long. 8 interviews?! You should be ashamed.

You’re wrong! I’m allowed to be happy about this! I worked so hard for it and I want to celebrate it!

Reject. Loser. Not good enough. I bet that the only reason this district wants you is because there’s something wrong with it. Your friends are all working in respectable districts, but there’s got to be something messed up here.

There isn’t. It’s just a school like any other school.

There’s something wrong. There is. You’ll find out eventually. Only a reject school wants a reject psychologist. Because they’re desperate.

My friend is working here too! It will all be fine. It’s a good job.

Well, you realize that even though you got a job, it could still fall through, right? And if it doesn’t, then you still have to actually do the job and be good at it. Which you’ll probably fail at. Are you sure you still want to be excited?

I can do it. I can figure it out. I’ve learned so much and I’m motivated to put in the time and energy to be the best I can for my students. 

But will it be enough? How can you be sure?

Can you please just SHUT UP?

Never. You know I’m right. That’s why you feel that uneasiness.

It goes on and on and on, but that’s a little bit of the internal war waging in my head. There’s a message being so clearly communicated to me that because I didn’t secure one of the first jobs, and because I didn’t earn a job before my friends, that I’m not allowed to be excited about this job opportunity.

It’s my perfectionism kicking in and a little bit of the black or white thinking. Success means I have to get the first job I interview for, before anyone else, otherwise I can’t celebrate it. If I don’t succeed within those parameter, I fail.

So to the minions, I have failed. They’re trying to make sure I know it, trying to introduce as much anxiety and shame as they can, and I’m fighting back.

The truth is, I have worked so damn hard for this position. To get better. To learn more. To be more efficient. To be good at the job. Even though I’ve had my doubts, I still showed up every day and put forward the effort to be the best intern I could possibly be. Before that, I put my heart and soul into my classes, of which the workload was stressful and taxing. And the interviewing, which has been some of the most terrifying and awful times of my life as I sat among panels and tried to sell myself.

It’s been hell and it seems now (although not officially officially) like I achieved the ultimate goal of my program. 20 years of schooling coming down to this.

Whether I got my job first or last, whether it took 1 interview or 19, I deserve to be able to celebrate. Because the end outcome was the same, a goal achieved.

Even as I type that, I feel like I need to make some sort of statement in opposition of what I’m saying, because what I’m saying doesn’t feel true. I don’t feel like I’m allowed to celebrate, I feel like I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But regardless of what I feel, I know that I am allowed to be happy and proud of myself. Earning this job is evidence that all the good things in the lists J forces me to write. Minions don’t like positive evidence, but screw them. I am a hard worker. I am persistent. I am capable.

I got a job and I’m happy. I GOT A JOB AND I’M HAPPY. Scream it from the rooftops!

I sense that the minions are going to keep sticking around, but I will keep fighting them in celebration. Whether that be telling my friends, which I haven’t yet because I’m still waiting on complete confirmation of the job (I was honestly even afraid to blog about this, because I’m afraid that’s jinxing it) and also because it still doesn’t feel completely real, or going out and doing something really fun. I deserve the opportunity to rejoice and put myself and my hard work front and center for others to celebrate as well.

It feels weird, but I can learn to accept the positive attention.

Success is success, period. Embrace it, don’t squash it.

You’re Wrong

J,

Right now, at this moment in time, I really want to quit therapy.  I want to text you and tell you that not only will I not be there on Tuesday, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back again.

This isn’t the result of a rupture. You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I think its the opposite of that. You’re doing everything right and I’m still not feeling any better.

I don’t think I’m ever going to get better, no matter what I do. I can’t escape my emotions, I’m just going to cycle through them as long as I continue to exist.

I don’t blame you for this. I blame myself, because I’m simply beyond fixing. You’ve told me you don’t like that word, but what word fits better? I’m broken; my illnesses broke me long ago and I can’t find enough pieces to put myself back together.

We’re trying, but it’s not working. Maybe we are doomed to fail.

I’ve been in this place before, felt stuck before. Many times in fact. But there’s something different about the way I’m feeling lately, the specific brand of hopelessness that I’ve become twisted up in.

You’re trying so hard to get me to see my progress. You’re trying to sell me on this life that I can have, on these goals that you tell me are good goals. You’re so insistent that I can have a happy future.

I know that you feel like this is the truth. You are not intentionally lying to me. Bless you for thinking that I actually have any amount of worth sufficient to muster up some success in this unpredictable, confusing, and scary world.

All the same, I think you’re wrong.

Sometimes, I’m angry at you, even though I don’t want to be. I’m angry with you for having all the things that I want: a job that you’re great at, friendships, a husband, a life. I’m angry with you for being happy. Not just angry, jealous.

Every time you try to reframe something, ask me to see it from a more positive light, I want to scream because I feel like you just don’t get that it just can’t be that way for me. You assume there can a positive spin because you’ve experienced the good things in life. You assume because you’ve achieved it that I can too.

But I wish you’d stop offering me hope, because I don’t think I’m capable of achieving things in the way you think I am.

I am an angry jealous monster and I hate myself for that. I hate myself for getting stuck in the loop of thoughts about how unfair it is that you and so many other people have these things, and I don’t.

Why can’t I just be grateful for the things I do have? Why can’t I just see all those good things you want me to see? Why do I have to feel so strongly to the opposite?

To me, this is all evidence that supports me being the spiteful, fundamentally inept, awful person I believe myself to be. Why won’t you believe me? The more you tell me I’m good, the more you offer me kindness, the more I want to resist it.

You’re wrong. I know you’re wrong about me. It’s like I’m trying to prove it to you.

The problem is that in my head, it just doesn’t add up. I am learning skills that are supposed to improve my quality of life. I am supposed to implement those skills and my symptoms will decrease. This should mean that I can function in an effective manner.

Except, right now, I’m not.

Somehow, it has to be my fault and I feel like you just don’t want to admit it to me. Either I’m not working hard enough when things get tough to remit the emotions and other symptoms, and I need to do more, or I am doing all I can but I’m falling short because the emotions are just going to keep being stronger than me.

If it is the case of the former, why should I be kind to myself in the face of that? Isn’t being kind in absence of using skills just reinforcing me being destructive and feeling miserable?

I’m not trying to be argumentative. It just literally does not make sense to me. Maybe I’m using a case of absolutes again. I sense that might be true, but I can’t be sure.

Like I’ve said in other posts, and during many sessions, I feel like I’ve maxed out on my quota of complaining about the same problems. Let’s be honest, you’ve heard it all so many times. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m thinking about suicide? How many weeks will I recount the same painful emotions? How many times will I find myself in the same situations, battling the same behaviors?

What else can you say in response to me? You’ve taught me what to do and I should be doing it. I feel at this point that you might be at as much of a loss as I am.

And if all this is true, then what are we even doing anymore?

I think of going to therapy and I’m hit with a wave of dread. She’s going to try to get me to see the positives about myself but the good is not enough to compensate for the bad. She doesn’t understand how it could not be enough, but it isn’t and I don’t know how to explain it. 

I don’t know how to make it be enough for me. I want to, I swear I do, but my emotions keep betraying me. They keep swelling with intensity all the damn time.

And then I feel dramatic and whiny for saying that at all.

I’m sorry, because sometimes I can sense that its frustrating for you that I can’t see my progress like you can. You tell me again and again and again, and all I do is argue with you.

Sometimes, I wish you would just give up on me now instead of later.

Of course, I also don’t wish that, because the emotional attachment is so strong at this point that I can’t bear to break it. Because as much as I want to quit right now, I’m terrified of losing you.

Even a slight modification in the typical therapy schedule fucks with my emotional state. I’ve never once successfully cancelled a session. How the hell do I think that I could actually say ‘screw it’ and stop coming to therapy?

You’re the only person who has ever really seen me for who I am and still believed so resolutely that I’m a good person. You listen, empathize, validate, and somehow still make me laugh. You’ve treated me like a person, not just a client, and have been invested in me getting better. Never judging, always encouraging. I didn’t know how much I needed that until I had it. How much I needed you.

But the emotional attachment I feel is equally breaking me.

You expect me to come in every week and be so vulnerable. To talk about the tidal wave of feelings I experience daily. You think that it will help. You want it to help, and so do I. But it hurts. It’s bleeding me dry, to be so brutally honest and feel supported for a brief moment, only to have that come to a crashing halt as the clock strikes a new hour. My emotions don’t operate on a timetable like that. It continues for me, even after I walk out the door.

When I left your office on Thursday, I sat on the floor of the building’s bathroom for almost twenty minutes staring at the wall, trying to will myself to move. All my emotions were at the surface and it was so painful. I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole, so that I didn’t have to go back in the world and contain all of it again.

In short, it sucks to keep reliving that.

In that moment, I was angry at you again. For being able to detach and go home while I was in hell. She doesn’t care, I thought, even though I know you do. Replaced by the thought she doesn’t care enough. 

But what would be enough? Caring enough not to leave me alone when I’m as low as I was? Caring enough that you somehow manage to take away all my emotions. Caring enough to fix me?

Nothing is enough for me. That’s on me, not you. It’s not your job to extend your boundaries, which you already do enough of, to help me contain my feelings. You cannot singlehandedly cure me. You can’t be more than you are without it hurting us both. But I can’t figure out how to both recognize these truths and accept them without feeling rejected and alone.

Yet over and over in my mind, the words are on repeat without my consent. She doesn’t care because you pay her. Or she only cares because you pay her. This is not real. This is an artificial relationship produced only by your weekly co-pay. That’s why she wants you to keep coming, so you’ll keep paying her

I feel extreme guilt and shame for these thoughts and feelings. I try to banish them, but they keep coming back. The minions like to feed wherever they find fodder. I’m so embarrassed to admit any of this, because it feels so needy and childish and I don’t want to have these stupid thoughts. 

Anger, primary emotion. Shame, secondary emotion.

What do I do? How do I escape the pit of catch-22’s that I find myself perpetually trapped in? There is no winning for me. The minions will not let me and I don’t know how to escape from it. They’re pushing me away from everything good in my life, and now they’re making me feel like I’m failing at therapy too.

The minions are telling me to quit. Loudly. Repeatedly. Intensely.

I feel like at this point I should just hold it all in and deal instead of talking to you incessantly about my dark and difficult feelings. Maybe that would be more effective for both of us?

Maybe therapy can’t help me, because my BPD makes me therapy resistant. I’m scared that I’m starting to believe it again.

Maybe you’re ready to be rid of me too.

I don’t know. Things have been so tough lately, seemed so bleak, that I feel like I’m going crazy. My thoughts are a fucking mess.

I know this. I believe that you’re wrong about me. I don’t feel like I have enough good, enough worth, and I’ve let it ruin my life beyond any measurable repair. I want to believe you, but I don’t, and it’s just making me hate myself more. Not only do I feel like I’m failing me, but I feel like I’m failing you.

How do I keep coming to therapy if that’s the case?

If I Came With a Warning Sign

This post has been sitting in my drafts for over a month now. Maybe even two months at this point, I’m not sure.  It came about from a prompt that my blogger friend KD had completed, which inspired me. I thought it was a really intriguing question to consider: if I came with a warning sign, what would that sign say?

downloadRoad Sig

 

If you know anything about me at this point, you have to imagine that the little voice in my head automatically comes up with a variety of ideas, all of them very negative. I mean after all, it is a warning sign. That does not instill a person with feelings of hope and light.

The pictures above are meant in jest, but they seem incredibly appropriate to describe the kind of sign I imagine would represent me. Something that reflects the level of complexity, confusion, and frustration that is likely involved in being in my life.

Seriously, good luck. Even don’t understand what’s going on in my head sometimes.

Then there’s this one, which I dreamed up in my own mind.

Great intentions, sub-par execution.
Also known as: Well, you sure tried, but it didn’t work the way you planned. Again. Good job, loser.

I said that to J once during our session and she immediately corrected it. Because that’s what J does. She’s all about focusing on the good. She wouldn’t like the idea of there being a warning sign at all, I know it, because warning sounds remarkably close to judgement. 

So let’s try to reframe that a little.

The strangely convenient thing about me putting this post off as long as I have is that it now seems quite apropos now in light of the pit of depression I’ve been trying to surface from the last few days. One that knocked me off my feet for a whole weekend as I laid in my bed playing games on my phone.

I said I was cancelling my session. I didn’t do that. I considered skipping work, I didn’t do that. In fact, I actually went to an interview on Wednesday and did very well. Although I’m not quite there yet, I’m trying to get back into a groove of mindfulness, running, and choosing healthier foods.

osha-traffic-safety-sign-oce-14414_300.gif

I don’t give up. One of my most redeeming qualities is that even though I have recurring bouts with the mental illness minions that knock me on ass, I always get back up. I come back from those awful feelings and keep going. A phoenix from the damn ashes.

That’s my warning sign:  You have to be prepared for the fact that on any given day, mental illness may come for me and stop me in my tracks. There may be days retreating from the world, a brief cessation of skills. But then, eventually, I keep moving forward. I am persistent.

Like I said about a week ago, I have survived everything that has been hard for me before.

I know there will continue to be stops, and I hate that, but that just means there will also be opportunities for me to go. To regain control, to get back on the skill train, and chug forward.

Warning: Healing in progress. 

 

Hello from Rock Bottom

There is really no point in reading this post. I only wrote it to try to get some of this out of my head.

I’m stuck. Paralyzed. I have spent the majority of the last two days in bed, playing games on my phone and watching Grey’s Anatomy. For as many times as I’ve felt my depression sink me to rock bottom like a weight, I can’t ever say that I’ve ever felt this unable to act or move or do just about anything.

Self-care has gone so far out the window I’d have to go miles to retrieve it. I am still tracking my moods and to a lesser extent, my diet, but I’ve been eating terrible. Other than that forget it. No mindfulness, no self-affirmations, no coping thoughts. I am not utilizing my self-care box. The most of my relaxation plan that I’ve managed is using my oil diffuser.

It’s bad. I feel really awful and low. I haven’t done a single productive thing in days. Every time I think about doing it I either feel tired or I think, what’s the point? 

I finally got out of bed this morning, but I’ve just moved over to my desk, where I can conveniently continue watching Netflix on my laptop.

After some reflection, I’ve decided that one of the biggest triggers of this awful depression is the holiday weekend. It’s Memorial Day Weekend in the US and I had a total of 0 plans. As I laid in bed feeling the hopelessness of inaction, I saw a whole slew of posts on Facebook and instagram of people who are off traveling in other countries or are attending cookouts with family.

Don’t go on social media and look at pictures, you say? Fine, I’ll give you that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I know people are out there having BBQ’s, going to the beach, and doing other fun activities. It doesn’t change the fact that they have friends and spouses and families who want to do those things with them and I don’t.

I have my parents, but it’s not like they had any plans. And honestly, I’m currently still dealing with a lot of pent of resentment towards them for not being the people I need them to be. Being around them makes me pretty angry sometimes. Even when they have good intentions and are trying to help, I find myself easily annoyed and looking for an escape because I’m so wrapped up in how their faults screwed me up. I can’t get over how different we are, how our values are so far apart

Which makes me feel like an ungrateful asshole. What kind of terrible daughter can’t spare any tolerance towards the people that gave her life? What kind of person can’t just accept and move on, instead blaming two people who did the best they can for her own failings? What kind of awful, unappreciative person times leaving her room so that she doesn’t have to run into them?

Let’s not even discuss the fact that I’m pretty much trapped in my room, because it’s my only personal and private space in this house. That’s it’s own trigger.

I don’t want to feel this emotions towards them, but I do. They are eating me alive, overwhelming me. I feel so much shame for all of that and the fact that I do a piss poor job of hiding it.

I’m not just angry at them. I’m angry at everyone who had plans. My therapist, who took days off to spend at the beach with her husband. My friend, who was just in Florida and is now at the beach with her other friends. The family I babysit, for being able to take three vacations in six months while I get to stay home and watch their dogs to barely make enough money to pay what would be one month’s rent.

It’s not anger, it’s jealously. I’m jealous of all the people who had things to look forward to while I spent my time alone in the same four walls where I always am. I’m jealous of all the people who have the means to live their lives. I’m jealous of the people they have to experience that fun with.

I’m awful.

I’ve made propositions to my group of friends from grad school to do fun things. We talked about going to Mexico after we graduated, but that never happened despite mentioning it multiple times. We’ve talked about Niagara Falls this summer over drinks, but that hasn’t transpired. They all go on vacations with their families or boyfriend or group of friends from high school or undergrad. This isn’t a priority to them and I don’t have my own group where it would be a priority.

I could push the issue a little more, yes, but then I’d worry relentlessly that they didn’t even want to go somewhere or do something fun. Unless they show any initiative, I can’t be sure that they even want to really be with me. It’s so defeating to ask about when we are booking a trip and get only a half-hearted response. I’ve given up.

Sometimes I think about trying to do these fun things on my own. Taking a day at the beach. Actually traveling somewhere. I wish being out in the world didn’t make me so anxious. I wish the thought of doing those things alone didn’t make me feel so pitifully empty.

I also think about going out and trying to make some new friends, people that I could do these things with. That seems like a possible solution, except I have absolutely no idea how to go out and acquire new friends at this point in my life. Even if I did, I have no confidence that I’m worth anyone’s time and I’d be too damn awkward about it.

I have a lot of shame for these feelings too. I feel like I should just suck it up and be grateful for what I have. Some people don’t get to do all the things that I want to do. Some people just get what they get, they work hard and live a simple life. Some people have it so much worse than me. What I have should be enough for me.

Are you catching on to all the reasons I’m not the good person everyone believes me to be?

My critic is in overdrive, as has been stated by some in the comments of my last post. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m put off by the dark circles under my eyes, red marks on my face, the size of my pores. Every time I look at my thighs, I’m put off by how fat they are.

And yet what have I been doing the past couple of days? Eating more than I should be, making unhealthy choices. That’s certainly not helping me be less of a fatass. I’m so impulsive when it comes to food. It’s always easy choice, the lazy choice.

Every choice I’m making is a lazy choice.

Possibly the worst part of all of this is, and maybe a secondary trigger, is that I bombed one of my interviews on Wednesday. I don’t know that for sure, but even being as tough on myself as I am, I just know that I didn’t put my best foot forward. I felt completely frazzled and just froze up when they asked me questions. Like an imposter masquerading around as someone who is actually deserving of a job.

It’s been so hard to go to interviews and not know whether I’m being perceived as competent or unfit. I feel like a little kid in adult shoes, and I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to function independently. As much as people say kind things about me and how I am “an asset” to the team, I feel like they just don’t get how much I struggle to make decisions when confronting teachers and administration.

I do not trust myself. I don’t believe in myself. Why should any of them believe in me?

I feel like I stand no chance of doing this job well: the one I like but also spend ample time questioning whether or not I’ll even be able to make a difference.

Ungrateful. Lazy. Loser. Selfish. All of this is running through my head 100% of the time. I feel helpless to it, and have kind of resigned myself to the fact that it’s true. I’m failing. I’m failing all across my life.

It’s my job to at least try to be better. Literally no one else out there can care or put in the effort that I can to be better. But what happens when even I don’t feel like there is a point?

I can learn skills, great. I can tell myself some nice things, sure. I can spend an hour a week paying for someone to be nice to me, awesome. I can keep pushing, keep surviving this.

But why? Why should I do that?

I feel like I’ve made all the wrong decisions, messed up all my chances to be happy and have the things I want. I can’t go back and fix any of that, I’m stuck with where I am and what I’ve got. Now, I feel like all that’s left is coming up short in life, not achieving what I want. I’ll go to work (maybe), come home, rinse, repeat. That sounds miserable.

Maybe I should hope for more, maybe I should fight for more, but from this dark place I have no fight in me. I just don’t care.

Since I don’t care and since there is no point, I’m really thinking about cancelling Thursday’s session, more than I ever have before. Plus, I feel like I’m more undeserving of J’s kindness than ever since I’ve only spent the weekend hurting myself and laying around. If I go to her and complain about all this again, it’ll just prove how attention-seeking I really am. This is my consequence. This is my punishment.

Of course, it’s not easy to cancel, but I feel like I should. J deserves the break from me anyway. The holiday weekend is over tomorrow, so I’m going to try to force myself to text her then.

A week ago I felt so hopeful and was seriously looking forward to graduation. Things have gotten so bad so quickly. You never know when it’s coming. But it always comes back.

J thinks good things about me. She thinks I’m a good person. She thinks I work hard. But she shouldn’t. She’s wrong. Maybe this feeling is temporary, but the truth about the flawed, shitty person I am is permanent.

 

Measuring Success in Therapy

I had a therapy homework assignment this week. Well…sort of. If I remember correctly, I assigned it to myself and J just went along with it. But whatever! This is an important one.

Last week, J and I talked at length about the post I sent her. We talked about how I was having trouble seeing my own progress, mostly because it felt like I have been showing up for the last month having self-harmed, feeling suicidal, and then dissolving into tears on her couch. This is coupled with thoughts like: I’ve already been in therapy almost two years! Shouldn’t I be 100% all fixed up and ready to go by now without a single symptom of BPD or depression or anxiety to be seen?

I don’t even have to say that thought aloud to know that it isn’t rational.

Anyway, black-and-white thinking aside, sometimes I have a lot of trouble perceiving the growth that I’ve made in therapy. More specifically, while I will easily admit that my insight about the connections between my thoughts/emotions and knowledge of strategies to address this has grown, I deeply struggle with integrating these skills into action when my emotions flare. In that moment, I feel like I know what to do but I can’t bring myself do it.

Plus, I still regularly have periods of intense, oscillating emotions and suicidal thoughts that compound hopelessness, shame and self-directed anger. If I don’t feel better, how can I say I am better?

This leads me to feeling like I am no longer deserving of being there, because as I see it, if I’m not working hard enough to improve outside of therapy I definitely don’t get to go to see J and whine about my problems for the 100th time.

Thankfully, J is much nicer to me than I am, so she proposed that maybe I am being slightly hard on myself? I am working so hard, she says this every chance she gets, and I am getting better.  But our barometer of ‘better’ is different. Thus, J suggested maybe we find a way to measure my progress that is more concrete and will be sensitive to small gains. This way, I can truly see the growth, which will hopefully be reinforcing for me.

So how will we measure it? Well, J didn’t know. And I didn’t know either. Hence…this post, which I am now almost 400 words into and stalling because I still don’t know.

Except wait…maybe I do.

I think the problem with measuring progress is that, for me, there is not a go-to question that encompasses all of the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors I struggle with. There are going to need to be multiple probes for multiple areas of mental health, but I need to make sure to find a balance without overexerting myself. If it takes too much effort, I’ll never do it.

It’s funny, for all the goal-setting I do with students, you’d think I might have come to this conclusion sooner: If I’m so worried that I’m not doing any better emotionally and that I’m not working hard enough, these are exactly the things I need to examine more closely!

Only, I’m going to rephrase those topics for the purpose of keeping this progress monitoring positive: mood and skills.

Let’s break it down a little further.

Mood: 

My mood has fluctuated like crazy for months and months (and years) now. However, I feel like it has been particularly unstable since the whole job search thing started. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to J: How long has it been now that I’ve felt this bad? When was the last time things really seemed good?

When I ask her, it’s not rhetorical. I really don’t know, because I have nothing other than some blog posts that can speak to my daily moods. And my brain isn’t exactly stocked with memories of the good moments.

There’s a really great app that J introduced me to months ago. It’s called Pacifica. I actually coughed up the 30 something dollars for the paid version and I can’t overemphasize how much it was worth it. Pacific has loads of awesome crap, including meditations (I don’t love meditation, but I can tolerate these and find them helpful), step-by-step guides to thought reframing, and a gratitude journal.

You know what else Pacifica has? Mood trackers.

I was really good about keeping up with the app for about a month. Every so often, I get back on the Pacifica train, but I’ve mostly just been steadfastly ignoring the reminders every day for awhile now.

Well, no more! I think it could be really valuable in recording daily data on my moods to help me discern whether or not I’m feeling well. This way, when I’m feeling low, I don’t have to rely on my negatively biased memory.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I set Pacifica to notify me twice a day (noon and 7:00). When it notifies me, I am going to chart my mood. The response options I have for mood are: Great, very good, good, okay, not good, bad, awful. Ideally, I would like to choose one or two emotions that go with that mood, because I can as a part of the app. I am not required to use any of the other built-in tools, although it is a bonus if I choose to.

I’m going to aim to do this instead of randomly recording my mood throughout the day, because this seems like it would bias me to over or under-identifying my bad moods. If I’m set to consistent times, this seems to be more representative.

Skills

We’ve already established that I may have a tendency to put myself down. J identified that within about 30 minutes of knowing me, so it’s probably a valid statement. Part of being a self-defeatist means I’m excellent at failing to give myself credit for my hard work. No wonder I can’t see progress. In my book, it’s perfection or nothing.

Let’s work on that by finding ways to recognize my hard work.

First, Pacifica also has a health tracker (you can choose the categories you track, I just decided to choose these). I think doing this will be great not only for recognizing that I’m taking care of myself but for helping me visualize the associations between actions of self-care, like sleep and exercise, and my mood. Pacifica literally graphs it and everything. I swear this isn’t an ad for the app, I just really like it.

Thus addition to the mood alerts, I’ve set one daily reminder to record the following health information:

  • Sleep: Number of hours the previous evening
  • Eating: Very good,  good, okay, poor. I still haven’t figured out exactly what characterizes eat category, but I’m thinking it has something to do with number of sweets consumed during the day
  • Exercise: Number of minutes
  • Self-Harm: Number of cuts

After I did this, I felt like something was still missing. Then I realized, I consider hard work to be employing the DBT skills I’m working on with J. That’s what I was missing: a way to document those skills. So as if that wasn’t enough, I have one more idea of the “measuring progress” variety

I downloaded an app called Counter. It’s as simple as it seems. If I do one of the skills, at any point, I go to the app and add a new tally. Simple and takes a second. Currently, these are the tallies I have listed, but I can add more as I learn more DBT skills.

  • Self-Affirmations
  • Coping Thoughts
  • Radical Acceptance Thoughts
  • Mindfulness Activity
  • Distraction Plan Activity
  • Relaxation Plan Activity

This may seem like a lot, and maybe it is, but I can’t honestly think of a more concrete way of showing myself that I am getting somewhere. I really feel like this is a solid idea, so I’m going to try really hard to stick to the plan I laid out. I’m going to try not to shame myself if I miss a day.

One day, down the road, I think I’d like to complete some type of inventory to determine whether or not I still present with the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors expected of a person with BPD and depression and anxiety. I’d like to know that maybe my diagnoses are no longer as severe. Or if perhaps some of the symptoms have remitted altogether.

But that’s a long-term goal. Right now, I’m just working on the short-term. I want to see the growth, I want to believe that it’s there. Hopefully this helps things become clearer.

So there we have it. One homework assignment complete!

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Suck It Up

There are many phrases that I, a member of the mental health community and also someone imbued with the distinct experience of having mental illness, despise because of the implication of the message.

The one I hate most right now? Suck it up.

I’ve heard this used by many people in my lifetime. To me, it is one of the most invalidating things you can say to a person who is struggling. It simplifies a very complex and nonlinear healing process into a one-step solution. I’ve noticed that I hear it most from people when they have been interacting with someone who is repeatedly struggling. If all attempts to help the person are met with continued sadness or poor choices, the previously empathetic helper becomes frustrated and defaults to ‘suck it up’.

To wit, it is pretty much equivalent to saying figure your shit out and stop bothering me with it.

I get it. When people make comments like this, they aren’t necessarily referring to the illness itself. I think there is a common understanding that most people cannot help what their thoughts and emotions do sometimes.

Where I believe that understanding changes is in consideration of people’s response to those thoughts and emotions. There appears to be a statute of limitations on falling apart. When something happens, you get a period of time where you’re allowed to react. Think about how people respond when someone close to you dies. For awhile, emotions are okay, reaching out is okay. To some extent, it’s even okay to make choices that aren’t the best. It’s okay for your struggle to be visible.

At some point though, you’re expected to just get past it, or at the very least shove it inside enough so that it no longer affects you visibly. So that no one else knows its there. This is what we value in society: stability, happiness, security. Even if we don’t feel it, we are expected to fake it.

Lately, I’m realizing the way this is true for mental health. We get a pass at the beginning, when symptoms first start manifesting in a public way to others. People empathize with us. They step up, show concern, try to help us. They say you can always talk to them (which, as nice as it is, often ends up being a lie they don’t realize they are telling). You get the space to be a little bit of a mess.

But at some point, we are expected to pull ourselves together already! We’ve been dealing with these demons long enough, aren’t we done yet?

That’s why even the most well-intentioned friends get irritated when you haven’t taken their advice and blossomed into a perfect, functioning, no-longer-depressed soul. They feel like you’ve overstayed your welcome at the pity party. Surely, your suffering at this point must be your fault.

Which is probably at least partially why I’ve cycled my through a fair share of friends. Many of whom probably thought I should suck it up.

The last few times I have heard any comment in this area, it has been from people who work in the mental health field. Just the other day, my friend said it when she was talking about a client of hers who is currently choosing to wallowing (client’s words) in her miseries instead of pulling herself together.

I’ve heard similar statements elsewhere too, from others in helping positions. These are the same people who purport to care about students or clients and then assign them labels like hot mess, lazy, or manipulative in the same breath. The things that we say behind the backs of those who are struggling: it’s innocuous, maybe, with no malice intended, but I think it sets a precedent.

Remember when I was triggered by a comment by a colleague? Remember when I asked: if the people that are volunteering to work in the mental health community, those who are trained to understand, are making these comments then what does that mean for everyone else?

It’s exactly like that.

Are all of these people right? Did I use up quota of ‘mentally ill’? It sounds ridiculous, and I would say so to any one of you if you asked that question. Yet, as much as I hate the phrase Suck it up, I’m starting to wonder if that’s exactly what I should be doing. Especially in therapy.

Here I am, feeling completely emotionally unwell, and a voice in my head is telling me (screaming!) that I should cancel my session for Thursday. Perhaps it’s a minion. Perhaps not. How do I know the difference?

What is the truth?

I know that when I walk in there, she will look at me and ask how I am. In that moment, I’ll have a choice. 1. Say that I’m fine, quickly guide the subject into DBT skills, and hope she doesn’t notice I’m lying. 2. Fess up to some of what I’m feeling at a shallow level, but brush it off in favor of wherever she takes the conversation. 3. Be honest. Brutally honest. Give her the truth, the same truth I’ve spoken on and off for months. Say how hard it is. Say how much I’m struggling. Say that things feel hopeless and impossible to overcome. Potentially, fall apart.

Except I no longer feel like I have the right to go in there and fall apart. I am no longer entitled. I’ve shed enough tears, repeated the same useless things about how things are hard and I’m so angry and ashamed and also really don’t want to do this anymore. How many times do we have to have this conversation? I’ll ask. As many times as it takes, she’ll say. And round and round we’ll go.

I have insight I did not have at the beginning of our work together. I have skills. She is literally teaching me skills. Good skills, too. I believe in them, so I should be using them. J says not to should myself, but I should be! I always have the best of intentions to use them and then things get hard and it just doesn’t happen.

If I were using them like I should be, I would be feeling better.

I lamented the other day how hard it is that she cannot fix me. She cannot fix me. She could hand me the key to solving all my problems and it’s still my job to put that key in the door and turn it. It’s my job to make things happen.

I’m not though. I’m failing myself again and again. I’m failing her too.

J is patient. She is so patient with me that she deserves a damn medal. Is she thinking that I should suck it up? Because at this point, I don’t even think I’d blame her. If I were in her shoes, I would definitely be frustrated with me and self-influenced my lack of growth. I should be better by now and it is my fault that I’m not.

I want my hour with therapist, I do, because she is safe and trustworthy. She reminds me that I am not the bad person I think I am. She encourages me to see the silver linings, always, even when I don’t want to hear it. But I do not feel like I deserve her time. I do not deserve her care and support.

Perhaps if I’d spent the last week really putting everything I could into using all my tools, then I’d feel like I’d earned my safe space. But I haven’t. I spent last night staring at my computer, paralyzed by my own depression and exhaustion. I could barely follow through when she told me to take care of myself after last session.

Is it true that I felt like I couldn’t do it in those situations? That the minions were too strong and even something as simple as writing felt herculean? Sure. But that just sounds like an excuse. Saying that I couldn’t is a lie, because I could have tried to do some more positive things, but I just gave in to my mental illness and didn’t.

Failure.

I haven’t cancelled, and I know I won’t, because I’m selfish. But what else is there to say? It will not change anything, will it? I can say it all and still leave at the end of the hour, completely alone with my problems again. It’s on me to handle them. I have to continue to keep it all in. Figure it out.

I’m not trying hard enough. I have to try harder. I just need to suck it up and deal.