Happy Revolution Around The Sun

I just got home from dinner celebrating a friend’s birthday. Today is the first day in a little more than a week that I’ve felt like myself, so being out with people celebrating my friend’s life felt a little bit like stretching my legs after being stuck in the cramped backseat of a car for hours. Due to insurance changes, a medication that I really need to be on for my mental health stability was denied under my policy even though the same company had been paying for it previously for the past year and a half. Said medication also costs $60 per day, so it was not something I could afford to just buy at out-of-pocket costs, so during the week while I was waiting for my psychiatrist to sort of the prior authorization with my insurance company, my mood tanked as I ran out of medication. To make matters worse, I’ve had a house guest for the past five days, which while she was very nice and easy to get along with added stress on to my overflowing pile to the point that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep forever. Today, however, I was back on my medication and I had the energy and mental clarity to actually function for the first time since this nightmare began and it felt good to leave my apartment for the evening.* Which is awesome because I got to wish my friend a happy birthday and eat sushi with him and his friends and who doesn’t like that?


(The above image is the birthday card I drew for my friend. It reads “Happy 20th Birthday” and has a drawing of the Crystal Gems from Steven Universe on the right hand side.)

*I want to give a moment of thanks here for my partner who is the reason my medication was actually covered today because she sat on the phone with our insurance company twice yesterday for extended periods of time arguing with them as to why they should be covering my medication and actually got them to pay for it! If it hadn’t been for her I would still be curled up in a ball in bed waiting for the world to end.

Autumn Begins Again

Fall is trying so hard to arrive. Yesterday the temperature never climbed out of the sixties and while it is supposed to be warmer today, I’m hoping the air keeps the crisp freshness I woke up to. There’s something that just feels comforting about slipping into long sleeves again after summer’s end, something about the way the cuffs of my sweatshirts gently curl around my wrists and hands that just feels more secure. Fall has always been my favorite season, even if it is not always the kindest to me. I love to watch the leaves change color, to hear them crunch under my shoes on the sidewalk after they fall. When I was a kid I loved to jump in raked piles of them, to toss them up into the air and watch them flutter back down around me even if this meant more work raking them back up again. I’ve always loved the cold, crisp air of the fall, sleeping under greater numbers of blankets in a fight to keep the windows open in my apartment just a little longer.

Fall for me is about bolstering reserves, building things up to survive the long months of winter. Maybe because I grew up in areas where winters were long and harsh, I am used to equating winter with battle. And these days, winter is just that. Within my brain, winter often becomes all out war. The days grow shorter and I begin to lose myself gradually until there is no sure footing to climb out of a deep, seemingly endless pit. I sleep more because it feels like that’s all I can do, but sleep is no refuge from the war, filled itself with nightmares and its own unique horrors. And I realize this makes it sound like I don’t fight. I do. I fight until I just can’t anymore, until I am numb and bone weary, until every last reserve that I set aside in the fall has been consumed. I fight until the only thing I can do is burrow in and try to hold on until spring rides in to my rescue, if it brings rescue at all. But every fall, every fall I try to find new tricks to make those reserves last longer and go further. Every fall, as I start to decline, I continue to store for the worse days that I know are coming.

It helps that I know what some of my triggers to collapse are. It helps that I am so familiar with my depression, though after so many depressive episodes it would be difficult not to. Treatment resistant depression is fucking awful and I don’t get many periods of complete remission. Medications help, therapy makes a huge difference, I’ve done group programs to learn skills for coping with overwhelming feelings and urges to make my life more manageable but no one can really prepare you for life when the best for what you can hope for on average might be someone else’s mediocre. It helps that I know that I usually get worse in the winter because I can plan for that, but I can’t depend on winter being the only time I have an episode or that things will get better when winter ends because my brain doesn’t work that way.

For me, there are things that always make my life more manageable. How much success I have with following these things, especially when I am depressed or triggered from trauma symptoms, are varied, but there are specific things that I have found make a difference. Waking up earlier in the day rather than sleeping in until ten or eleven AM make me feel a little more mentally alert and less fogged over. Eating regularly and often enough that my body is getting balanced, adequate nutrition helps keep my blood sugar from spiking or dropping, both of which make me more emotionally unstable. Getting out of my apartment and outside makes a huge difference. My partner knows that something is going wrong immediately when I start resisting leaving home. My agoraphobia is a lot better than it used to be so my usual resistance to going out is much lower now. When I start inventing reasons why we shouldn’t go someplace, or my answers revert to agoraphobic ones, something is wrong. I see a therapist once a week. When my life is unmanageable, I see her twice a week. Exercise. I hate to get up and move when I’m depressed and I hate to be told to get exercise, but when I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode, going for a walk makes me feel better! Hot showers. Deep breaths that fill my lungs with air because I tend to hold my breath or breathe shallowly. Watching something gentle and calming on TV. Drawing, if I can feel at all creative. Listening to music, though it can’t be depressing music that drags me deeper. Petting the cat who these days is almost always willing to be affectionate.

Next week I have my first session of trauma-informed yoga. I’m hoping that this will be something to ground me in my body and help me through this winter. Between this and the other tools I’ve gained over the years, I’m hoping to make it through the winter without a hospitalization. In the years that I’ve been back on the east coast, I have yet to make it through the winter without being admitted to an inpatient unit. The header image on this site is from a piece of artwork I made in art therapy at the hospital I was in over Christmas of 2013 (the holidays are a huge trigger for me). The hospitals are always my fallback plan in an emergency, but I would really like to not need to use them this year. I would like for my work this fall to be enough to prepare me to get through the winter without needing an admission. For now though, fall is beginning and I am beginning another year’s journey of making preparations and readying myself for what is to come. And today, I am enjoying my long sleeves in the process.


Recognizing Patterns, Making Changes

When I came out to my parents, I was offered an ultimatum: change my mind and pretend that I had just been going through a phase or get out of their home and their lives completely. Years later, when I’d begun talking with my mother again after years of cut off communication she got angry with me about something I’d said and called me a liar. She didn’t respect liars, she told me, writing that my family had never disowned me, seemingly rewriting conversations that had long ended. In some ways, I wish I still had a copy of that e-mail from her as a reminder to myself of her remarkable ability to not only reinvent the past but thoroughly believe it.

After a recent argument with my partner where I shut down emotionally, I realized that I don’t have the ability to discern between healthy disagreements and gas lighting. Because of years of living with my mother and the years I spent in an abusive relationship, both of which where it was common to be told that my memory was incorrect, especially when they had done something particularly manipulative or cruel, I get really defensive or shut down when my version of the past doesn’t match someone else’s. If my memory of the events leading up to an argument differ from my partner’s, I can’t deal with the argument. I either feel like I’m going to be be punished for arguing that she’s wrong about what happened, upset that no one ever believes me, or paranoid that no one will ever believe me and that my memory is really just shitty and not to be trusted. It doesn’t help that my memory isn’t always trustworthy about certain things. When I get emotional, my ability to recall what is happening around me goes out the window. This has gotten worse over the years as I’ve been in more aggressive treatment for recurring major depressive episodes to the point that I don’t always trust my memory of current events.

A good friend of mine has a habit of asking me if I remember when x happened, only I have no recollection of what he’s talking about. And under normal circumstances this would probably be fine, but at times, I feel like he’s trying to convince me of a memory that isn’t mine and I feel an urge to protect myself against what feels like a “false” memory. All of this makes me feel like I am losing my mind, which is the way I felt when I was actually being gas lit by people in my life on a regular basis. Only now that I’m not, I don’t know how to convince my brain that it’s not happening anymore. Part of how I protect myself is by limiting conversations with my mother to things that we agree on and by refusing to argue with her about things. If she says something that I disagree with, I say one thing while mentally reassuring myself of my own truth at the same time and then change the subject. By not engaging her, I don’t give her as much opportunity to gaslight me. Which, I realize is kind of the same thing I do with my friend subconsciously, agreeing and changing the subject but disagreeing in my head and telling myself that it’s okay.

I think it is progress to have recognized this pattern in myself even if I don’t know how to change it yet. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, but that’s how these things usually go. My partner and I talked this over the other day, so she is aware of what is going on in my head. My depression being in remission makes it easier, I think. Thankfully it’s summer, which is always easier for me to get through. Between the light and the endorphins from walking everywhere, my mood has been pretty even. I’m hoping that I can keep things stable through the fall and maybe even into the winter months if I keep walking and getting outside. My therapist and I are already starting to talk about tactics for hopefully keeping me out of the hospital this winter, so maybe if I’m able to stay on top of everything for once, it’ll make a difference. I’m certainly starting out in a strong place. As for all of this, it’s something I’ll bring up with her the next time I see her because I’m sure she’ll have ideas too. It’s just another one of those gifts in the never ending cycle my past brings. Thank god for trauma therapy.