In Crisis; What To Do When You Have No One To Talk To

When you are alone and in crisis, the crushing loneliness you feel is overwhelming. Wanting to talk to someone you love about your thoughts and feelings is natural, but it’s also unfortunately not always an option. In these situations, you can use your coping skills, including writing or calling a warmline or hotline.

If you are alone and what you need at the moment is to verbalize your experience, I suggest writing down your feelings first. I find this is best done when you just write freestyle, with no regard to sentence structure, punctuation, or continuity of thoughts: just let it all pour out however it wants to. It may make you cry, but you will find a little bit of peace when you finish writing, and your thoughts won’t be as tangled. Writing is a good way to calm yourself down, even when the act of writing makes you upset. You’re getting the poison out on paper, where you can see it and realize that these thoughts are not who you are: they are something that is happening to you right now, and you will have different thoughts after these. Thoughts are happenings, and you are not made up of your thoughts. They do not have to rule your world. Thoughts come and go, and are impermanent, even though some of them are repetitive, commonly like “I’d feel better dead.” Or “I’m worthless.”

Hotlines and Warmlines

Warmlines are for less severe situations than feeling suicidal, so you don’t have to worry about taking someone’s time away from suicidal people. This is actually an unproductive and problematic thought: the thought that you don’t deserve help. However, I know this kind of thinking happens often when you feel worthless and undeserving of love or help, so I want to encourage you to make yourself call.

You are the person most likely to save your life, and any time you consider death as your only option, your thinking is not perfectly crystal clear. This is always a good time to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. You get to talk to a real person who can help you sort out your feelings and situation, and will talk to you as long as you need. If you feel you may commit suicide, call this number: 1-800–273–8255. Or if you would rather text, try this Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.

You deserve help, and help is available at any time, day or night. Seize any tiny moment of doubt in your plan to die, and call. These people are trained at calming you down. They are often people who have been suicidal themselves and will relate in a very visceral way to your feelings and situation. They will most likely make you feel better enough to call off your plan to die.

I know there are people and situations in which suicide is a good solution, but this is a tiny minority, mostly reserved for people already dying soon in a painful way. You are most likely not one of these people, even though death seems completely appealing in the moment. Some people need suicide, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s never appropriate. But again, this is a tiny minority of situations, and most situations and people do not qualify for the “good idea” group. This means you. If you’re not already dying, your suicide would do more much more harm than you are currently feeling. It sucks to feel guilty about the idea of hurting people with your death, but no matter how you address it, suicide is devastating, and yours may be devastating to many people. Think of your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, classmates, friends in real life, friends on twitter, friends on Facebook, people you’ve dated in the past, people who grew up with you, your employer, your coworkers, every close confidant you’ve had in your life, and all the adults who formed you.

clownfish under water

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

When you die, you just switch off. No more anything. It’s not relief, it’s non-being. It’s nothing. And while nothingness is sort of the reward you get for living, a suicide is harder on your friends and loved ones than a natural death because everyone feels they should have done something. Everyone feels guilty, like they failed you. That regret will follow them for years, possibly their lifetime. Many parents of suicide victims even commit suicide themselves because they simply cannot bear the feeling that they failed their child. They naturally, though often unfairly, feel responsible for the preventable death of their own offspring. Even if your parents are failing you currently and you think they would be better off if you were dead, that’s not true. Even parents who are blase, indifferent, or mean to their children would be devastated in a way that you cannot imagine unless you’ve experienced a suicide of someone you loved and felt responsible for. Continue reading

Humiliated

I know way more about my brain than most people know about theirs because my brain is the key to what’s wrong with me. My life’s work is coping with it. I am obligated to learn as much about my brain as I can. I have to pay attention to detail. I study my thoughts, actions, and behavior to live with minimal suffering. My brain is what I study.

My brain is the reason I’m humble. I’m not better than anyone else. I am significantly weaker than most people, and sometimes that slaps my ego in the face. Humiliation becomes humility.

There are a number of ways in which my brain humbles me. If I measure myself and my abilities against an imaginary “average” person, I come up short. No such person exists, by the way. We make that person up to compare ourselves and determine our own worth by comparison. Right now, I can plainly recognize that. But the next time I’m put in a position that makes me feel weak, small, childlike, vulnerable, or less-than, my first instinct will be to measure myself by unrealistic standards and berate myself for failing to meet them.

I am aware of how wrong I can be while being sure I’m right.

You can talk with a person who thinks they’re aware of their own brain’s shortcomings. This person may talk about how first-person accounts of events, given as evidence in trials, are hogwash. They may talk about how memory changes over time. Then, you can tell them something true that they misremember, and they will insist that they are right, that they know they’re right, and they remember it clear as day. If there’s a solid memory of something, almost everyone will believe their own memories over someone else’s

I don’t have that privilege. I am wrong all the time, and cannot trust my memory, regardless of how true something feels. For a few years, I would even confuse my memories with my dreams. Now, I have flat-out false memories that are crystal clear, and I am positive that they happened. That’s the natural reaction for us humans. But when someone else tells me I’m wrong about something, I am forced to admit that I can never be sure, and more often than not, I have to take the word of the other person and incorporate the new, correct information into my reality, discarding my incorrect memory.

I’m sure many of you already see the problem here: I can’t know for sure if the other person is correct, either. This makes it easy for people to accidentally gaslight me. I may be correct, be told I’m incorrect, and then believe my brain is lying to me and the other person knows what’s real. Because I’m the only person in the equation, who is (forced to be) self-aware enough to recognize that my memory is faulty, my memory will always lose the argument, regardless of who is right. I can’t even fault anyone for this. I know what being sure of something feels like. This is another example of healthy, neurotypical privilege; believing you are right about something with absolute certainty.

My brain also limits my practical skills, like running errands.

My brain’s limitations make something as normal and boring as going to the store a high-stakes event. I hate stores. Overstimulation is dramatically negative for me. It’s not fun. Grocery stores and big-box stores have fluorescent lighting, rows and rows of endless information to ingest and lots of people threatening my personal space. I walk out of a grocery store with less than half the mental capacity I walked in with, and I don’t mean just emotionally. I’m also unable to process some information and complete ordinary tasks, even if they’re simple (like making coffee). I tremble and have jerking motions in my body. It’s a lot to deal with. Being actively respectful of this limitation of mine humbles me. On some days, I tell my partner that I’m not strong enough to go to the store, and man, that hurts my ego. Most people take something so simple for granted, leaving me humiliated by my limitations when I compare them to an imaginary average person. I feel weak, or childlike, or vulnerable. I feel like I cannot protect myself. Sometimes I thought-spiral when I’m confronted with these feelings. Then there’s the double-edged sword of thought spirals. It’s easy to feel sorry for myself, but it hurts like hell.

Knowing my brain well comes with the price and privilege of understanding how fragile a person’s understanding of the world is. Most people “know” that they’re right and take simple tasks for granted, often even going on autopilot to complete them. But each of these people could be thrown off of reality without knowing it. False memories are a thing.

If you never know you’re wrong, you feel pretty good about yourself. If you can move easily through the world, you feel even better. I’m not someone to be pitied: not at all. I still love my life. But I am humbled by my knowledge of my limitations and the ways in which my brain functions. Humiliation conquers me during episodes and thought spirals, but when I’m steady, I’m left with humility, not humiliation. I am grateful that I know how small and fragile I am compared to a neurotypical person. I can see my place in the universe; I know I am impossibly tiny, just like you. Just like the earth. Just like the Milky Way.

Again, I am not someone to be pitied. I am incredibly grateful for my life, including my disorders. I even had one phenomenally positive change in my brain because of a seizure. That was an unexpected but greatly appreciated gift. I love my house, my husband, my stepson, my parents, my family, and my cat. I love that I’ve never gone hungry. I love that sometimes, in mindful moments, I can completely connect to the present. I love my life.

I am often humiliated, through no fault of my own. I hate it. But sometimes I am in a healthy place, and I have the forced gift of humility. It allows me to let the people around me be right, which makes them feel good. I am no better and no worse than any other human, and I don’t look down on many people. We are all completely controlled by the chemicals and electricity bouncing around the insides of our heads.

My brain forces me into humility during healthy times, but shame during episodes. The tasks I can’t complete leave me asking for help, and there is no more humble position than asking someone for help. Situations I can’t handle mean I am relying on someone else to keep me safe. Feeling childlike without being humiliated is something I still have to work on, and I’m not very good at it. But if I can breathe and let go of my terror and humiliation, I can (sometimes) just be a person who someone is helping. Whether they’re providing a correct memory or pulling me out of the way of a car, I always know I am not as able as they are, and I hope I can someday consistently turn that shame into humility. I have work to do. The easiest path for me is letting go of all attempts at control of the situation and just flow where life takes me. Life and my brain make my world. I am humbled daily by that knowledge.

 

Whose Pain Is Bigger?

Life is full, FULL, FULL of pain! Life hurts. A lot.

But that’s okay.

And it has to be okay. It has to be normal. We walk from problem to problem with the hope of turning our current problems into better ones in the future, not with the hope of creating a problem-less life.

Everyone hurts, and it’s true that some lives hurt worse than others. However, playing “whose pain is greater” only fosters a lack of empathy.

My husband had an abusive childhood and thoroughly nightmarish upbringing. He has revealed more about it, little by little, over the past seven years. I’ve had many close friends who were willing to share their darkest traumas with me, and no one’s story holds a candle to my husband’s. For the sake of his privacy, I’m not going into detail, but trust me when I say that “nightmarish” is the most appropriate word, if a nightmare can last 18 years.

My husband does not complain about his misfortune. He acknowledges it and takes ownership of it. He knows he’s fully responsible for his reaction to his trauma, even though he now has severe C-PTSD and the trauma itself was not his fault. Part of the response he has chosen is to not play “whose pain is bigger?” with other people’s horrible childhood stories. It would be easy for him to gain a quick emotional high by claiming that he was hurt worse, and therefore deserves more pity. In fact, the superiority high a person gets by playing “whose pain is bigger?” is usually the reason people play it in the first place. It feels good to feel superior, and saying “my pain is bigger than yours, so mine is more important” is a quick and easy way to get that superior feeling.

Some pain is bigger than others. But as humans, this knowledge does us no good. It harms us by robbing us of our empathy. My husband has to consciously work to be empathetic to others because, whether he wants to or not, he knows his childhood was worse than most. His saving grace is in knowing that comparing and quantifying suffering will preemptively end any empathy he’d be capable of in the first place. So, he tries to be self-aware enough to reiterate in his own mind the idea that he is choosing to listen and respond compassionately instead of letting himself ride the high of superiority-through-suffering. Even though he must internally acknowledge that his pain is bigger (because it usually is), he knows that’s not an excuse for him to be an asshole to someone else, especially a person who is being brave enough to share their pain with him.

I was never abused. I still turned out to be an extremely mentally and emotionally abnormal adult (and I know “abnormal” is not a PC word to use, but this is me identifying myself as I see appropriate- don’t yuck my yum). Statistically, among other mentally ill people, my case is more severe than most. However, if I decide that my pain is more important than yours, I will withhold my empathy for you and will treat you without compassion. This response comes from the same place as someone telling you to “snap out of it,” “just get over yourself,” or “don’t be a baby.” I think most people with mental illness would agree that those three things are horrible, terrible things to say to a person who is admitting to the pain in their life. They are cold, heartless, mean things to say. Most of us know how badly it hurts to hear them. However, even people with mental illness can still become shortsighted when we compare our pain to others’. We feel superior in our suffering, and since we enjoy that feeling, we allow ourselves to treat others poorly because of it.

If the quantity of suffering determined the worth of a person’s problem (it does not), we would all just move through the world as if we were better, more unique, more victimized, or more deserving than anyone who has not had our problems. The real issue here is…

I see this all the time.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak honestly about your pain. I’m not even saying you shouldn’t complain. I’m saying stop comparing your life to anyone else’s, especially when it comes to your struggle.

As I said before, life hurts a lot.

It is supposed to hurt, you are supposed to struggle, and you need to continue to be compassionate while you, personally, are actively hurting and struggling. Because everyone else is hurting and struggling, too, and no two struggles are equal when quantified. If you expect people to listen to you without judgment when you express your pain, you owe it to them and your own humanity to listen with equal compassion.

It doesn’t matter who hurts worse. Everyone should measure themselves by how closely their behavior aligns with their own values instead of measuring themselves against another person. The measure of success is unique to each human on the planet. The measure of pain is equally unique. 100% of what I can feel before breaking may be 30% for you (way easier) and 500% for someone else (deadly). So even if you suspect that you were hurt more than someone else, it does you no good to assume a position of superior suffering.

Empathy is the greatest tool we have for improving humanity. Unbridled empathy could solve homelessness, healthcare, war, poverty, famine, and global warming. Unfortunately, we tragically lack enough empathy worldwide to solve these problems on a macro scale. We are, in so many areas in our lives, only capable of making a difference on a micro scale; we can only influence those close to us. For this reason, you should actively exercise empathy as much and as often as possible. Your difference in the world will be seen most in the people around you.

I know you hurt because we all hurt. I hear your pain and your struggle, and I want you to know that your pain is valid. Just promise, promise, you’ll remember that everyone else’s pain is valid, too.

The Coping Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed

Chris's Eye CC

There Is Always Hope Of Reducing Your Pain

You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.

It takes a long time, some training, and a lot of practice, but by using coping skills, you can learn how to calm yourself during a depressive episode, an anxiety attack, a panic attack, a bipolar episode, or something similar.

When I have a situation that causes me pain, the first thing I need to do is figure out how to feel better. After that, I can try to resolve the situation. This is where my coping skills come in. My coping skills are anything I can think or do to make me feel better. They range from meditation and mindfulness to re-watching comedy specials on Netflix and cuddling with my husband. Some are extremely simple, like reading or cleaning when I’m on the manic side. Others are just statements I reread that I originally had physically written down on index cards kept in my “toolbox”, which is the box I keep made out of a re-purposed shoe box. Now I use this article to “thumb through” my tools at a glance.

Actions

I have many soothing or calming actions I can take to feel better. Here are the actions from my toolbox:

  • Read a book if manic.
  • Call a friend if you need compassion or to be heard by someone.
  • Lay down, close your eyes, and relax from toes to scalp if you are tense.
  • Play guitar if you need a distraction.
  • Listen to an affirming Spotify playlist if you need to center yourself or re-establish your personality.
  • Do the big/medium/small ears centering meditation. (This is where you sit silently with your eyes closed and imagine your ears are getting bigger. When they are very large, listen for all the sounds you can hear outside of the room you are in. Once you can hear all the sounds, shrink your ears to half their previous size, and listen to everything you can hear inside the room you are in. Imagine your ears going back to normal, and listen carefully for all the sounds inside your body. This helps to ground you in the present moment, and it also helps with fear and anxiety. It is a very quick and easy meditation, and only takes a few minutes.)
  • Meditate freestyle. Let thoughts occur inside of imaginary helium balloons in your mind, and then let each balloon go up and away as your thoughts come up. Have a thought, but then let it float away.
  • Drink cold water.
  • Sing until you are distracted.
  • Exercise.
  • Hold ice cubes in both hands and feel them melt. This is good for distracting your brain from your anxiety, which calms you down for a little bit. It’s good for panic attacks, but the relief doesn’t always last, so have another skill prepared for after.
  • Walk. Thinking while walking helps you process emotion, due to the bi-lateral communication between the two hemispheres of your brain.
  • Go outside and ground yourself. You ground yourself by noticing something near you and trying to take in as much information about it as you can. Use sight, smell, touch, color, lines, your emotional response to it, its history and where it originated. You can do this with anything. I recommend a tree or a plant.
  • Meditate any way you like.
  • Splash cold water in your face.
  • Watch something comforting you’ve seen before on Netflix. This one is great for depressive and dissociative episodes, especially comedy specials. They have no plot to follow, it’s okay if you tune out sometimes, they have the same volume all the way through (which is good if you are tense, anxious, or agitated), and if you’ve seen it before, you’re not being challenged by trying to take in new information at a time when you already can’t process things you usually know.
  • Write about all of your feelings.
  • Talk to someone in your family. It is highly likely that they want to help you.
  • Paint.
  • Draw.
  • Think about science.
  • Color in your coloring book.
  • Yoga.
  • Do crunches or lift weights.
  • Find the present moment. Become completely present. Not worrying about the future or the past, just noticing exactly what is happening right now.
  • Warm up like you would before a voice lesson (or any instrument).
  • Make sure you’ve eaten. If you haven’t, have fruit. This one is a good solution for when I don’t want to eat anything at all.
  • Meditate by watching your breath.
  • Cuddle with a loved one.
  • Give attention and kindness to your pet. Take your time. Be present with them. They are always in the moment.
  • Take a hydroxyzine or Benadryl (or whatever you are prescribed for an as-needed anxiety med). I only name hydroxizine and Benadryl because both of them are non-addictive anti-anxiety medicines to be used as-needed for anxiety attacks and episodes. You have options when it comes to psychiatric medication, so keep your doctor informed if something doesn’t work or causes problems. Please note that lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and diazepam all have the potential for abuse and addiction because they work so well and make you numb if you abuse them, so discuss any addictive tendencies you have with your doctor. Like I said, you have options.

Continue reading

I just graduated from high school. How can I make my life meaningful?

Congratulations! Now you will be thrown out into the wide world to learn how to be an adult. Don’t be scared; it’s just the ride. You’re on a ride. It will go up and down, thrill and scare you, but in the end, when you die, it’s all just been the ride.

Your last teen years and your twenties will be interesting, to say the least. You’ll make a lot of bad choices, which is totally normal, natural, and a healthy part of growing up. Don’t be too afraid of making bad choices. If you try not to hurt anyone, use birth control always, prevent STDs, go to the doctor when you need to, and stay away from hard drugs (no one tries crack, meth, or heroin just once), you’ll probably be just fine. Don’t get me Happy Fishes CCwrong; use your best judgment as often as you can. Just remember that everyone is imperfect and we all mess up sometimes. Nothing great has ever been accomplished through guilt or shame.

Your brain will stop changing and will be fully developed around age 25 if you’re a woman and age 27 if you’re a man, so you’ve still got a lot of personal growth and change coming. You’re not fully an adult yet.

For now, your job in your personal development is to figure out what you like and don’t like, what makes you happy, and how to feel better when you feel bad. A note though: don’t turn to alcohol to make your problems go away. If you do this often, you will become dependent and eventually have to give it up for good. Addiction is real and will really mess up your relationships and your life. If you only drink when you feel okay, you may be able to use alcohol successfully for the rest of your life.

There is no universal purpose or meaning to life. Everyone has to decide on their own what they want the purpose of their life to be. I decided that the purpose of my life is to learn, love people, and spread knowledge about mental illness. I get to decide, because my life is mine alone, and I’m the one who has to live it.

One of the ways everyone can make their life more meaningful is through practicing mindfulness. The internet will have better explanations of mindfulness than I can fit in a post, but the idea is bringing yourself fully into the present moment through various techniques, actions, or thought processes. When you get into the moment, it’s beautiful. The more you can get there, the happier you’ll be. There have been clinical studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness on mental health.

As far as giving your specific life meaning, I suggest you write about your feelings often. Try to pay attention to what basic things make you happy and find a way to form a life around them. If you really like plants, go work at a nursery and build a garden at home, or get a job in a local park. If you like walking around outside, get a job as a letter deliverer. If you like babies, go work at a daycare. If you like cooking, be a cook. You don’t have to be a doctor or lawyer or business executive to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy, although it is much better for Continue reading

Why Now Is The Best Time To Be Mentally Ill

This is the best time in the history of the world to be mentally ill. We have psychiatrists, drugs, psychologists, scientific researchers, therapists, hospitals, and we are working toward public knowledge of mental health as a legitimate concern. Many people know what depression or anxiety mean, and can list names of other psychiatric conditions as well, even though they may not be able to name the symptoms.

Modern life also allows us to be connected to communities online, with social media sites, mental health support sites, and many blogs that try to spread awareness and understanding of mental illness. If your family or friends don’t “get it”, you still have people to communicate with who understand what you’re experiencing. Having a social support network can save your life, even if it’s made up of people online who you never meet in person (or friends you talk to on the phone who you never see in person anymore). Talking to others who are fighting the same battle you are makes you feel much less alone or abnormal, which is tremendously helpful for your sense of self as a human with inherent worth. In other words, having a community is good for your self-esteem, and the internet allows anyone to reach out if they choose.

The digital age revolutionized my care. I use a pharmacy that is open every day for 24 hours, and I can manage and order refills through an app on my phone. My doctor’s office uses a system called MyChart, through which I can contact my doctor online with any questions or concerns, and he gets back to me in just a few days. This level of treatment is radically different from what I had for most of the duration my illness previously. Because things were so difficult before, with problems like not being able to speak to my psychiatrist directly, not being able to change dosages without an appointment, missing refills after I had run out, the pharmacy being closed every day at 6 and closed on weekends, having to call my prescriptions in and wait on hold for up to forty minutes, and then having to call and wait again to confirm that they are ready (or find out that they’re not), I count myself incredibly, unbelievably, undeservedly lucky that I am getting such amazing care. That’s largely due to the fact that everything in the world is turning electronic. The internet is helping keep me alive, and I am grateful for that.

Depression in the modern age still exists in a gray area of public understanding. Many people know what it is and can validate it, many others do not and cannot. Any individual who wants to help fight the stigma against mental illness can do so by educating people one at a time, teaching the origins and symptoms of their disorder to people and showing at the same time that they (the sufferer) are a decent, regular person. With Facebook and Twitter, we can even display our conditions to large groups of people as part of the fight against the stigmatization of mental illness.

Because of the advancements we have achieved as a world, we as a world society are in the best position to support people with mental illnesses that we have ever been in. There are elements to our care that are still severely lacking (and it varies widely based on country), and many people do still die by suicide due to mental illness, both treated and untreated. We need to teach emotional intelligence and coping skills to our children, all of them. There are many things that still need fixing in our system. But there are also many things that have already been fixed. For that, I am indescribably grateful.

 

Like my artwork? Lots of different paintings are for sale here on Etsy!

“How do I comfort a loved one who is in mourning?”

red moon during night time

First and foremost, be patient. This is a wound that will only heal with time. And don’t worry. There’s nothing for you to fix.

Be supportive. This refers back to patience. You will temporarily have to pick up some extra responsibilities, because there are things your loved one can’t do right now, like dishes, running errands, or laundry. They just can’t. They’re not being lazy, they are actually incapacitated.

You will also have to help them with self-care, by reminding them to eat, shower, and brush their teeth. If they are not sleeping well, buy an over-the-counter sleep aid and remind them to take it, because if they sleep poorly, that will drastically worsen their depression. Inversely, if their sleep gets better, they will have an easier time with their depression.

Since this is what is considered a situational depression, these problems will not be long term. The depression will probably be over in less than a year, and will gradually get better day by day. It may even be better in a few months, depending on how quickly your loved one processes their loss.

If you can make an appointment for them with a therapist, do so, and offer to drive her/him to her/his first appointment. If they hate the therapist, try again with someone else. A therapist can teach your loved one coping tools that will help ease her/his suffering. You can learn coping tools alongside your loved one, both for you to use yourself, as well as for you to remember so that you can remind your beloved to use specific tools. If you would like to borrow some of my tools, I have a list here with explanations of how to use them: Coping Tools You Can Borrow! – The Goldfish Painter

Let them be angry, and remember that if they get angry with you for doing nothing wrong, it’s their grief talking and that their anger probably Continue reading

Angry At Everything

I’m really struggling, and I just want to be heard. Please hear me. Please don’t be offended.

I need to vent.

This is me angry. I’m not angry at you. Please keep that in mind. I just need someone to hear me say all of this. I need it out. I need it said. You’re my readers, so I’m having faith in you that you will still follow me after you read all this mess that I just want out of me.

I almost feel like I don’t have a right to complain about my circumstances, but fuck it, I need to do it. Some things feel like poison if you keep them inside. My therapist says “Some things just need to be said.”

I am angry.

I’m angry that I’m not autonomous. There are so many “normal” things that most people take for granted that I just can’t do. And since I don’t look sick, people around me assume I can do normal, daily things like

  • drive: It’s too dangerous. I’ve been in two car accidents, and now when I get behind the wheel I get terrified and tremble. My family is also uncomfortable with me driving. I haven’t driven a vehicle in over a year.
  • walk through a grocery store without having my soul catch fire with anxiety, which usually triggers a dissociative dysphoric episode: It leaves me confused and dumb, unable to complete simple tasks. When I dissociate, I lose my rights as an autonomous adult: I am not allowed to use knives, the stove, or our gas heaters (our only source of heat, so if I’m by myself, I just stay cold). It’s not safe for me to wash the dishes. I can’t plug in or unplug appliances because it’s too dangerous. I can’t go for a walk by myself because I might get lost. All of this, triggered by 20 minutes in a grocery store.
  • have any sort of conflict without shaking like a leaf for hours afterward: In any scenario involving someone having a negative feeling that I caused or a scenario in which I’m nervous or feel judged, my hands start to shake. Actually, my whole body shakes, but the tremors in my hands are the most visible. I’ve had people tell me to calm down and not be so nervous. I lie and say I have a tremor from a seizure disorder. It’s close to true, but not the truth.
  • have any strong feeling without crying: this is typical of dissociative disorders, which I learned about recently, when my doctor added “dissociative disorder” to my official diagnosis. It is very inconvenient, and even more embarrassing. I can’t stop it. A very strong feeling can make me cry anywhere: the store, out to dinner, in a movie theater, in the mall, at the salon… I can’t escape it, and it hits me hard where the self-esteem lives. It makes me feel like a child if I’m in front of other people. These strong feelings, followed by crying, usually lead to the same kind of episode I described in the grocery store.
  • remember anything about a movie a few days after I watched it: I have no retention. I forget everything. When my husband mentions a movie, I hardly ever know anything about it and have no clue whether I’ve seen it or not. Last night, we watched a comedy special that I had already seen 3 times, but I was convinced that we were watching a slightly altered movie because parts of it were completely new to me.
  • remember a date with a friend even if it was important to me: Like I said, I forget everything. This includes friend dates and family dinners at my parents’ house. I can be told the day before and still forget and miss the meeting. For doctors’ appointments, I write down the appointment on the paper calendar on the wall and put a reminder in my phone. It’s not so easy to remember to put every date in my phone right away. That’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate because at least I have that little bit of control.

I can’t do these things. And these are only some my limitations. These are all part of my disability. If I’m being measured by healthy standards, I will always fall short of what I “should” be. I will always fail.

I don’t want to be measured by healthy standards because I don’t want to be a disappointment or a failure. But I don’t get to choose how I’m measured. I can live up to my own expectations all I want, it doesn’t stop me from being a problem for other people.

I need you to hear this because I need SOMEONE to hear this. It’s exhausting to constantly be failing in the eyes of others, especially when I am absolutely powerless to change the scope of my abilities. I didn’t ask for this, I did not choose this for myself, but I’m responsible for it and it’s something that becomes a problem for the people that I love. And it’s a problem I can’t fix. I can apologize all I want and still be stuck in the limbo of watching other people get disappointed or irritated or angry with me over things that I can’t change.

I fight to get healthy and stay healthy because I know that if I don’t fight, if I don’t keep this as under-control as possible, it will exhaust my support system and people will start giving up on me. I don’t want to be put in care because I have no one left who can put up with me. If I did not stay on top of my pill schedule, keep my blood sugar level, exercise, go to all my therapy appointments, use coping skills to get through most of the day, and do everything I can to keep this under control, I would lose everything.

To people on the outside, I’m sure it looks like I have it extremely easy. No job. Not many bills. There’s nothing I can do to change that perception outside of telling people the reality of my situation one person at a time and trying to find a way for them to relate to things they’ve never experienced. But I don’t know how to communicate what a dissociative episode is like. I can’t bottle the essence of dysphoric mania. I can’t describe the terror of delusions and paranoia. Sure, I can describe a hallucination, but the relatability stops there, at the physical. How could they possibly know how it feels to be hungry but do not know how to make food, or even what I can eat? How could they know how it feels to be terrified of making even a tiny decision, like which candy to buy? Or to be cold and be afraid to light the gas heater? Or to have to rely on the emotional and monetary charity of others daily, just to survive? Or to watch myself upset people over and over in so many different ways because of things that I am responsible for but not able to change?

This is not a pity party. This is an expression of anger. I’m angry at my circumstances and my brain. I’m angry at my limitations. I’m angry at my life. I’m angry because most people don’t understand that by healthy standards, I am always going to fail. These are things that I need to be said, and I’m also angry because I don’t think this will be well-received, and may even fall on deaf ears. If you’re still reading, thank you for falling down this hole with me. It’s dark and lonely down here. Knowing that someone will read this is what is sustaining me today.

I don’t deal well with anger. I don’t deal well with any strong feeling. I can’t help it. I’m getting ready to double up on therapy to try to get more control, faster. I know I’m exhausting my support system. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Just continue to fuck up and continue to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness? I don’t see any options. Just the shitty, shitty status quo. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m sitting here, terrified of losing everyone, terrified of exhausting everyone, terrified of hurting everyone. I’m scared. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I’m trying, I promise I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying. I’m so tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

I know I just have to keep moving forward. Therapy helps me gain some control over my feelings and thoughts, but not the chemicals in my brain. My self-esteem is shot to shit right now, so I’ve got to build that back up. I feel worthless. I’ll keep doing what I can to change.

 

Post-Script: I wrote this during a dissociative and mixed-state episode, and it began as a letter to my partner. I decided to edit and then publish it even though I’m worried that it may be offensive to some people. Not everything in this is objectively true: my partner assures me (he’s an honest person when it comes to my shortcomings) that I’m not exhausting him or my support system. The problem with incorrect thinking inspired by negative feelings is that I believe all of the horrible things I tell myself, which increases my fear and despair. In the moment I wrote this, none of it felt like hyperbole. In the moment, I was sure I’d lose my partner, my family, and my friends because I was too large a burden and not worth the effort. Self-esteem is a bouncing ball for me, and that day, I was on the floor.

If you live with mental illness, please, please recognize that your thoughts lie to you when you feel bad. They can make you feel worthless. They can make you believe horrible things about yourself and your life that are simply not true. You eventually see that when you come out the other side. If you’re stuck right now in a place where you hate yourself and think other people hate you too, and if it might be a while before you see daylight again, you’re going to have to take your own thoughts and beliefs with a grain of salt. That grain of salt is “I cannot be sure this is objectively true. No matter how true it feels, I cannot be sure it’s true.” Take those thoughts and beliefs to someone else to help you confirm or deny the truth of your beliefs. Then, trust that person to tell you the truth. This takes some practice and some courage, but asking others to help you fact-check is amazingly therapeutic. I had to take these feelings to my partner in order to figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

I’m not worthless, and I’m not exhausting anyone. The rest, unfortunately, is true.

 

Like my artwork? Lots of different paintings are for sale here on Etsy!

The Difference Between Normal Emotions and Mentally-Ill Emotions: The Color Explanation

nature red love romantic

The way I explain the difference between normal feeling experiences and my feeling experiences (with bipolar, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) is with color:

 

Imagine you’re holding a ball. It is deep blue. This ball contains all of your sadness. This ball is 100% of what you experience when you are sad.

 

Now imagine walking into a room. The walls and ceiling are painted the same deep blue as the ball. This room contains all of a depressed person’s sadness. This room is 100% of their experience when they are sad.

nature red love romantic

The important part is that the ball and the room are the exact same color, and each of them contains 100% of each individual’s sadness. One is larger than the other, but the sadness is based on the same color. If you have felt 100% of your sadness at some point, you have experienced the same sadness a depressed person feels, only you experience that sadness to the extent that the ball can contain, and they experience it to the extent that the room can contain. It’s the same color, and either way, you’re both at 100%

 

The room full of sadness causes far more problems than the ball full of sadness. A ball doesn’t take up much room and can Continue reading

How To Help A Friend with Anxiety

Holly CC

Talk to your friend about what activities are soothing, as well as what the things they really need to hear from you are. Encourage them to write these things down, with the goal of giving you the piece of paper to keep, so that you can say or do helpful things when they are having a hard time. Note: it is also very important that they make a similar list for them to refer to.

Some of the things you can say that might make a difference are:

Breathe slowly. You’re going to be okay. You’ve always gotten through this is the past, all you have to do is wait it out. I know you are strong. This will be over soon.

You are so loved, I care about you deeply, and I will help you any way you need if you tell me how.

We can get you out of this situation if we need to. (Make sure you can follow through on this.)

You are not in danger. This is your anxiety trying to take you over. I am here to help you feel safe. (If they will not respond positively to you saying that their reaction is coming from their anxiety, just promise them you will keep them safe.)

Some actions you can take to help are:

Try to remove your friend from the situation that is causing the anxiety response, like a social or family situation, the store, the mall, or a party/formal event. Go outside with them and encourage them to breathe in slowly through the nose while counting, and breathe out for half as long out of the mouth. This physically slows their heart rate. You can count out loud for them to help them concentrate, and feel cared-for. You can also offer them the option of leaving the situation entirely, if possible. It’s okay to cancel plans with friends and family in order to help your friend function. It’s something that they will need sometimes. If their friends and family can’t be understanding or supportive, they are going to lose those people eventually anyway.

Remind them to eat. Low blood sugar can trigger an episode. When you go somewhere with them, keep a piece of fruit with you.

Encourage your friend to get in to see a therapist if they don’t already. If they can’t afford it, there are some therapists who offer sliding-scale pricing, which means your friend would pay according to what they make. When they see the therapist, they should go in with goals in mind. These goals could be “I want to be calmer in public places.”, “I want to feel less anxiety.”, or “I want to struggle less with my daily life.” The therapist will then help them build tools and skills to use every day that are aimed at lessening their pain. If your friend is reticent to go to therapy, offer to help them find a therapist and to drive them to their first appointment.

Remind them often that they are loved and supported, in and out of anxiety episodes.

Remind them to do any of the activities they wrote down as “soothing”. It’s easy to forget your tools when you’re in crisis.

Please remember that your friend can get better and experience less anxiety, but they will probably never fully recover. The goal is not to be cured, the goal is to learn to live successfully, in as little pain as possible. Most of the responsibility to get better rests on your friend’s shoulders, not on yours. Make sure you take care of your own mental health before reaching out to help your friend. It’s okay to sacrifice a little for them, but if you find yourself slipping into a depression because of their situation, take some time to yourself to get better, and then return to your friendship refreshed. Since your friend has a mental illness, they should be understanding if you express the need to take care of your own mental health for a while.

It is very loving and honorable that you want to help your friend. If you have a very close relationship and you are willing to take on more responsibility, this has more ways you can help: How Outsiders Can Help – The Goldfish Painter

 

Like my artwork? Lots of different paintings are for sale here on Etsy!