how will i ever get out of this labyrinth?

  • Dec. 2nd, 2011 at 12:28 AM
notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (Default)
So I noticed something of a theme in the books that were pulled for holds at the library today.

  • Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo
  • Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha N. Beck
  • The Unmistakable Touch of Grace: How to Recognize and Respond to the Spiritual Signposts in Your Life by Cheryl Richardson
  • What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins
  • Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Sharon Begley

I don't know, I feel like... everyone is looking for answers. Everyone is trying to find the key, how to be a better person, how to live, what gives life meaning, what happens when we die. All going about it different ways--religion, spirituality, advice from those older and wiser, cognitive techniques--but ultimately asking the same questions.

(Of course, people were also searching for The Great Christmas Cookie Swap Cookbook and Blues Harmonica Method Level 1, so maybe I'm reaching here.)

But then [ profile] cleolinda posted this entry, which as of right now has over 100 comments, about physical exhaustion and anemia and depression:

Because even when you grasp the idea that depression is an ailment and not a personal failing... it still feels like a personal failing. You know you're clinically depressed, but you feel like you're just lazy, lonely, hopeless, pathetic. Or sometimes you don't realize you're ill, because those feelings of anxiety and shame and helplessness sneak up on you and feel legitimate, and that's why you don't realize you need help. I mean, I've been on medication and under quarterly medical supervision for fourteen years now and my own mood cycles still sneak up on me, over and over. It's hard to teach yourself to say, "You are an awesome person, and your awesomeness is a default, and so if you feel less than awesome, you need to get your awesome tuned up." Because your sadness and fatigue and anxiety feel mild at first, and they seem like rational responses to things going on in your life, and then you end up missing some deadline or not completing some goal or not living up to your own expectations because you're already sad and tired, and then the negativity does seem justified: "I'm not depressed; I'm a loser."

And all the comments are saying, yes, yes, we feel that way too, we understand, thank you for saying this. Thank you for telling us that we are not alone.

Everyone is struggling, everyone is searching. Maybe now is a particularly hard time, or maybe it's just coming to the surface right now, making it a bit easier to see that we're all in this labyrinth together. Not one of us is born already knowing the way out.
notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (damage may be severe)
I've been thinking about accommodations and disability and school today. Most of the people reading this blog know that I have a LOT of trouble with school--I always have, or at least, I have ever since I started getting a certain amount of homework. (Before then, though, I had problems paying attention in class, so.) Since then, I've had major problems doing my assignments and handing them in on time. It got steadily worse over the years, and college was often a nightmare of all-nighters, crappy work done under the influence of paralyzing anxiety, having to beg for extensions, and getting supremely depressed that I couldn't just do my work the way so many people told me I should. And of course my parents, who shamed and blamed me the whole way, didn't help.

Grad school was worse, though. My college had been populated with people who often rejected traditional ways of learning, even if the professors didn't always agree with them. I knew I wasn't the only one suffering (although it did sometimes feel that way, especially during finals week when everyone I knew was buckling down and I was getting more and more loopy and INTERNET FOREVER). Grad school, on the other hand, was mostly Normal People (i.e. neurotypical, non-ADHD, whatever) who were capable of doing assignments in advance and handing them in on time. And the professors expected that from everybody.

And how could I explain how hard it was for me? Nobody would care. People would be like "tough shit, this is grad school, that's how it is." People would see it as a personal failing, and I had trouble myself perceiving it otherwise.

So, anyway, it was a disaster. I hung on for a semester or two and then started a rapid descent into the usual paralyzing anxiety and disabling depression that happened whenever I had the constant pressure of school and assignments hanging over my head. This time, however, I was an adult, and I wasn't listening anymore to my parents' idea that there was nothing more important than school. My mental health is more important than school. So I dropped out.

It's occurred to me since then that, in theory, I could have asked for accommodations. But what would I have asked for? Extra time to get papers done? It wasn't the amount of time that mattered, because I would always leave it until the last minute no matter when it was due. I didn't need extra time for in-class tests, because I had no problem taking a test when it was sitting in front of me, rather than an assignment I had to motivate myself to work on. I didn't feel like my paralyzing homework anxiety was something that could be accommodated.

Today I am thinking that the entire structure of school is not for me. (At least, not for me as I am now. Maybe as a child, if I had been encouraged to follow my own happiness rather than putting school before everything else, I would feel differently about it now.) I am a great learner. I am an awesome learner. I love to learn. I love to discuss what I've learned with professors and other students. I love to put what I've learned in new contexts and gain new perspectives on it. I can do assignments that have clear instructions and specific correct answers. I can even, sometimes, write papers about things I feel passionately about. But a long paper with vague guidelines? About a topic I'm not particularly interested in? Forget it, that is not happening.

Yet the subjects that I love (humanities, social sciences) often require this kind of paper. Apparently it is the ONLY way to show you've learned about something abstract. You can't, you know, talk about it to someone, or write about it in an informal way, because those are not formal enough and don't have a bibliography. Gotta have a bibliography.

So, the accommodations that would work best for me are things that would go against the grain of academic tradition, and therefore would be considered unworkable. But without them, school and I just don't mix.

A few other things about graduate school:

I had a class with a professor whose voice I just could not concentrate on. It was like the wah-wah voice from Charlie Brown. After a few sentences I just zoned out and had no idea what he was saying. I have slight auditory processing problems and his voice was just the worst instance of that I've ever experienced. I'm not sure if there was an accommodation I could have asked for in this case, except for taking the class with a different professor, but that wouldn't have worked with my schedule. On top of the voice thing, his syllabus instructions were vague and unclear, which pretty much dooms me in any class. I took an incomplete in that class and never finished it.

My favorite teacher in library school was also my official advisor. I liked her classes and they rarely involved long papers, so I did pretty well in them. She was kind of shocked and appalled when she found out how badly I was doing in the rest of grad school. Instead of being sympathetic, she was disappointed and shamed me. That was a huge, wrenching betrayal. Someone I looked up to and admired was basically saying that she agreed with what my parents had been telling me my whole life: that the problem is me, and if I only worked harder, the problems would go away.

On the other hand, I did very well in a seminar with an awesome professor who had studied under my dad. I liked her so much that I signed up for a required class because she was teaching it (online). However, I was pretty deep into my depression-anxiety spiral at that point, and I ended up barely being able to look at the homework assignments for that class, let alone do them. I sent her an ashamed, apologetic email saying that I understood if she had to fail me, because I hadn't done any of the work.

But something extremely unusual happened. She didn't blame me. She did not tell me I should have done better. She did not say she had to give me an F.

Instead she asked if everything was okay.

I cried when I got that email. I'm crying now, just thinking about it. How much suffering could I have avoided in my academic career if more people had, instead of blaming and shaming me, asked if I was okay? If more people had recognized my paralyzing homework anxiety for what it was, and offered solutions that didn't boil down to "just do the work"? I never felt like I could say that something was wrong, because the same thing was wrong every semester and I didn't know how to fix it. (I didn't feel like I could say to my professors "I'm having anxiety problems right now" when school was the cause of my anxiety problems, and I knew I would have the same problem next semester, and the one after that, etc.) I wish someone had recognized that years ago, and been able to help me. I wish I had had the vocabulary to articulate that rather than being lazy and having a bad work ethic, I was in fact dealing with disabling ADHD and anxiety. And that these things are not personal failures.

This shit has followed me my whole life. It's still following me. I'm afraid to start anything new for fear that I won't be able to finish it and the anxiety/depression spiral will start again. I've always wanted to do NaNoWriMo, and I think I might actually have the time this year, but guess what's still hanging around? Paralyzing anxiety. That voice in my head that says that not finishing something is a personal failing and it means I am useless and not good for anything, so I might as well not even start.

Apr. 5th, 2010

  • 6:44 PM
notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (little miss sunshine - primal scream)
We took Hypatia to her first visit with her new vet today! We had been putting off taking her back to the old vet for her rabies and distemper vaccine updates, because we didn't really like the old vet. The doctor was fine, but the clinic itself wasn't great about communicating with us when we took her to get spayed.

The new vet is the one my parents take their doggy to, and it's also much closer to our house. Miss H was kind of freaked out, especially when there were some barking noises coming from behind the door, and she wouldn't stay on the scale to be weighed so it was hard to get a reading on that. But she didn't cry out or even flinch when she got vaccinated, just shed black and white fur all over the place. The vet gave her a clean bill of health and said her new vaccines will be good for three years. She also said Hypatia has a great face. <3.

This gets me one step closer to my dream of fostering kittens, because now teh kitty is up to date on shots and certified healthy. I've been so depressed this week, though, that I'm finding myself going "They'll never approve me to foster kittens, my apartment is too small and how could I ever think I would be a good person to do that," and other defeatist messages. I have this vision of the humane society people coming here and scrutinizing my apartment with disapproving looks on their faces. And then they'll turn me down and also never give me a job there because they think I'm irresponsible.

I don't know if the depression is due to the medication change or the fact that for my birthday my parents are no longer helping support me financially so I have to find a full-time job with health benefits (that start RIGHT AWAY), like, tomorrow. I don't want it to be the meds because if it's the meds then my doc will probably put me back on the higher dose of wellbutrin which gave me heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I would rather not have to be on a med that makes me feel like I'm going to pass out. That's not one of those things like dry mouth that's annoying but tolerable. It's more... scary. I feel like I can't exert myself at all, and any little bit of anxiety triggers the not being able to breathe feeling.

(Either that or he will put me on a new med entirely and then I will have to get used to that. While job searching.)

But if it's not the meds then I'm stuck in this endless loop of, I'm super depressed, but i have to find a job, but I don't feel capable of doing that while I'm depressed, but if I don't get a job I can't afford my therapy and meds... etc.

notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (firefly - river/bird)
^That'll be my new country song. I will invent a whole genre of psychiatric medication blues.

The meds-doc, who still doesn't take me seriously and talks over me in sessions but is relatively tolerable, wants to take me off Lexapro. Gradually of course, so a week with half-doses, a week with half-doses every other day, and then nothing. The plan is to see if Wellbutrin is good enough on its own to manage my depression. If not, back on the Lexapro I go, I suppose.

Lexapro was great for my anxiety back in the day. One day with half of it and I am already feeling the familiar tightness in my stomach. It's easier when I know it's just the drugs, but it had better wear off because nothing paralyzes me like anxiety. And I spend enough time being paralyzed.

Meds are so annoying. Like, I want to see if this works, but at the same time I have to go to work and clean my house and make meals and be a person, and the side effects of going on or off meds always get in the way of that stuff. I know the show must go on and all that. I just wish I could get a free pass for this month.

One thing I am looking forward to, if it happens, is feelings coming back. Obviously I am not an emotionless zombie on Lexapro but I did stop crying at movies... I stopped being so sensitive, which is something I always liked about myself. I still feel the same things but... not as intensely. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe it's just part of growing up. But I do feel like I have been numbed a bit and I would rather not be numb. It took pretty dire straits for me to go on drugs in the first place, precisely because I was afraid of losing that part of myself. I had to be almost non-functional before I was willing to make the trade.

But then again I'm afraid of the feelings making me stupid. Making me follow every impulse. Maybe it's safer to just bury it all. No, I don't really believe that, but I don't like feeling like an impetuous child. Suspecting that everyone around me finds me hard to deal with. I already suspect that.

I have to be careful. I just watched one of my favorite CSI: New York episodes and it made me all nervous and stomach-clenchy. I should stick to comedies for a while.

Questions the meds-doc always asks: Crying spells? Thoughts of harming yourself? Feelings of not wanting to go on living? (always, always no, but they have to ask.) What do you weigh? I have no idea. I actually think not focusing on what I weigh all the time is BETTER for my mental health, thank you very much doctor guy. Sexual appetite? Food appetite? Ability to laugh?

These are not the ways in which I measure my life.

Depression tastes like sawdust.

  • Oct. 18th, 2009 at 9:41 PM
notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (firefly - river/bird)
Everything I eat turns to ash in my mouth some days.

Reading FWD/Forward, the new feminists with disabilities blog, and feeling sorry for myself because my disabilities aren't visible enough, or severe enough, for anyone but me and a few people close to me to give a shit. Because sometimes--too often--days like these happen, where everything seems to be behind a dull gray fog, and I take three naps in one day, and I'm lonely and my stomach hurts and I lie there thinking about things I could/should be doing and just thinking about them is exhausting me, so I take another nap. And then the real world comes crashing back in, and I have to go to work, and go to school, and explain why I still haven't done my late assignments, and I don't have an excuse. "I lay around my house all day" isn't an excuse. So I keep going, and hope the next day is better.

Depression is a chronic condition now. Part of my life. Better some days and worse others. Might always be that way, might not. I'm a lot better than I used to be. But I still have bad days, bad weeks. And honestly, I don't know how to explain them to other people without sounding whiny as fuck.

(I think I should start using my Happylite again. It might not help that much, but it can't hurt. Attack depression on multiple fronts, that's my strategy. Medication, therapy, mindfulness, simulated sunlight, kittens...)

IBS makes my life difficult in other ways. But IBS is easier. If I say, I had an IBS attack and I was in physical pain and had to lie down, that's understandable. Something people can relate to. Everyone knows what pain is. (That's not to say I would feel comfortable asking to lie down in the middle of, say, my work shift.) From the outside, depression can look like laziness. Which I already have a reputation for since I'm chronically late and a constant procrastinator. But I think those are more often a consequence of my depression/anxiety than a comorbidity, and they've just been a part of my life for so long that I don't know what's an illness and what's a personal failing anymore.

Anyway, I really like that blog and I admire the courage of the writers there. But I have trouble claiming the title of disabled for myself. Even though the spoon theory applies perfectly to me, the facts that (a) in my case it's not usually physical pain taking away all my spoons and (b) I'm not in an acute state of depression and anxiety like I was three years ago, usually keep me from saying out loud that I am disabled. I'd rather say I have mental illnesses, or I have chronic depression, or something like that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I feel like I often straddle the border between able-bodied (or -minded) and disabled, if there is such a thing. I'm not sure where I stand. Where I deserve to stand.


notemily: Photo of me, a white girl in her mid-20s, wearing glasses, smiling, looking up and to the right (vm - white chair)
Dear depression, I hate your face.

I don't really have much more to say to you than that. Just that you kind of ruined my day by making me feel tense and fragile and oversensitive, so that when a library patron challenged me on their fines or whatever I was (mentally) like WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?!? And also for the headache and the backache and the weariness, thanks. Big help. And making every dream or idea of mine seem laughable before I even begin, especially when I need those to keep me going, when Dr. G says I won't be happy unless I follow my passions. I'm trying to put the seeds of my ideas in little greenhouses so they can grow big and maple-strong, and your claws slash through the glass like it's paper. And then you laugh.

(Depression, I think, looks a lot like Voldemort.)

Today was raw and tender when around other people or thinking of the future or thinking about other people I might have to be around in the future. And then weary and drained when I got home, but I pushed through it, because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and I'm not going to spend mine lying on the couch in defeat.

And now, a softness, a calm quiet strength.

I'm not tough leather on the outside, and I don't like growing spikes. I'm not great at calluses; I get scraped instead. I bruise.

But I know how to heal.


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