Surmising the distance between us

A lot has happened since my last entry. It’s too much to write all at once. In this paragraph, I want to focus on the now, not on the has-beens. It’s slowly turning dark outside on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. There are no demands on me from anyone, and nothing is asking for my time. It’s just me and my mind, spending time together today. I managed to get up before noon. I’m so glad of that. I spent the whole day editing a video project for one of my classes. The final product came out excellent, and I feel accomplished. I have had two cups of coffee, half a cup of tea, and now I’m drinking a glass of the vino blanco that was leftover from last night’s gathering of new friends at my home, which I didn’t attend. My roommate make a lot of quinoa and I may help her eat it.

My henna tattoo, by the way, is doing great. It’s still there but slowly fading. I think it will last another week. I’ve managed to keep it concealed under long sleeve shirts at work, and then I wear a t-shirt at home so I can enjoy seeing the art on my arm. My hair smells like fresh rain. I finally washed it. As has been the case for almost a year now, I find it difficult getting in the shower. I surmised with my aunt on the phone a while back it was because of the last place I lived where I had to share the bathroom with three other people. That was disgusting and frustrating at times, and annoying. I had no way to express my discontent other than turning the frustration inward and affecting my own well-being by not showering very often. Now that I have my own bathroom, it’s rather nice. Again, I hadn’t showered in three or four days; I lost count. When you don’t remember when you showered last, that’s the time to step under the running water again.

Yesterday I made a new friend. He’s 83 and speaks fluent Italian. He grew up in an Italian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York and was born during the depression. Poverty was rampant. He was the eldest child and realized from an early age that education was going to be his only way out of poverty. His younger siblings dropped out of high school before getting their diplomas. He joined the armed forces for the Korean war. When he got out he was able to continue his education because of the GI Bill. He was the first person to graduate with a master’s in art in his university, as it was a new program. Art became his career and he taught as a professor for over 30 years. He married early, had kids, and admits to not having been a good parent. He left before his kids turned 18 and has no contact with his daughters. He speaks with his son who lives in Texas. His art has been shown at galleries, and the walls of his home are full of his painting, caricatures, lithographs.

The assignment for my final project in my psychology class called “ageing, death, and dying” was to interview a person over the age of 65. We were given five pages of ideas for questions to ask. I did it all ad lib. I brought my tripod but didn’t need it as my hand was steady enough. I got some really juicy material. It was all bare honesty and sincere. That’s because the friend who introduced us was there also, and we bonded over our aptitude for languages of other cultures. I got a lot of juicy material and spent at least three hours editing the footage down to my set limit of 15 minutes maximum. I have watched the video over and over again. I am proud of it, and I believe that it portrays this individual accurately.

I am on my second glass of white wine. I nullified the bottle. The gym hasn’t seen my presence for ages and I have no inclination. Half of my thoughts and and my emotional self are looking forward to the work week ahead. The other half is not. I haven’t seen my therapist in over a week and I feel the absence of his physical presence. Work gives me purpose. School gives me structure and fills my passion and occasionally warrants some much-needed creativity, pulling out the cobwebs in my brain. Work is very busy, and at times overwhelming, yet I am constantly making connections over the phone with other people, even if it is to “sell” our product from a customer care perspective. We provide financial advice. It’s not what I want to be doing for the rest of my career. I do need to change careers, and that move is going to be a mountain to cross. In fact, Italians often say about something that was very challenging, “E’ stato la mia croce”, which translates roughly to: “This is the cross that I had to bare.”

Last week was very challenging. I heard from my divorce lawyer. She heard from my ex husband’s lawyer. Something from the divorce still needs to be settled. I thought we had crossed that bridge three years ago! I thought I was stronger, and I am, but two minutes on the phone with his attorney had me bawling in the confines of a private office during work hours for over an hour. I couldn’t concentrate on work. I called my attorney in tears, and asked her to handle the situation from here. Now I have to wait two months to hear the outcome of the situation. Luckily that afternoon my mum was available and after we talked I felt a little bit better. She is a good mom.

This event brought up a lot of traumatic memories for me from the relationship which I have since left behind in my past. It still continues to affect me today, below the surface. There are still emotional scars which have been left behind and are healing. I will always have those scars, but the key is to learn from them and be able to let go to make room for the present and the future.

I am not able to concentrate on my writing. I keep taking breaks between paragraphs which have lasted five to twenty minutes long. I am simultaneously texting and eating and drinking wine and contemplating if I feel ready to take on the burden of getting my dried laundry out of the machine.

I am lucky to have my attorney. I can barely afford her now, but she is much more affordable than say, my ex’s attorney, who is top-notch and works for a large corporation and charges the most for the best service. Mine is on my side, and I trust her completely. I’m glad I found her. I’m glad I did not get pregnant when we tried, because then I would have to be dealing with constant custody evaluations, like a friend of mine, and I would be in tens of thousands of dollars of debt. I don’t know how I would handle that one. My friend is exasperated. She makes a decent income; she is a psychiatrist and has three jobs, working for a clinic, the jails, and in her private practise, along with trying to advance her career further. She said, they (meaning her lawyers) just keep charging her credit card, and it is unending.

Luckily and unluckily, since I filed for bankruptcy due to medical bills last year, my maximum credit card allowance is only a few thousand, down from ten thousand. That’s a step down, but now my goal is to build my credit worthiness. That’s a worthy cause, no? And I have eight to ten more years before I will adopt or have children. By then I want to be in a career that enables me to pay for my child’s education, travel, and a nice home. I don’t mind being a single parent, if it comes down to that. I know I can do it, and it will be the best thing I have ever done. Everything I am doing in my life right now is preparing me for parenthood. Thank God I am completely abstinent, as I have been for the last few years. Being on birth control messes with my natural cycle, makes it artificial, changes my body chemistry, and I don’t like being on it if I don’t have to. Four years of celibacy so far, which I am extremely proud of and grateful for. I no longer put myself in dangerous, precarious situations, which I used to do. Of all the sexual abuse, rape, prostitution, human trafficking that I experienced for six years, I am lucky to not have any sexually transmitted disease. It never occurred to me at the time. And that lifestyle was certainly not my choice, although, without conscious awareness, I allowed it to happen, until I finally left, and at the same time, leaving that life behind me. When I become a psychologist, I want to work with sexual abuse victims in order to help them the way my psychotherapist has helped me. I want to be their ally, their strength, their rock, while at the same time finding some time for myself in the balance.

Another break. Wine and texting with my aunt who is slightly mentally retarded and lives with my grandfather still. She is over 50 and will never have the capacity to pay for her living expenses. Last year she didn’t make enough to have to pay taxes. My grandfather is living off of his pension and when he dies, my rich aunt and uncle are not willing to put in for my disabled aunt. That means it’s up to the eldest sibling, my mom, to pay for her care and for the property taxes on the house, which is under a trust. I know more about this because of the career that I am in. Apparently a trust is a good idea if you’re over $150,000 in net worth. I won’t have to worry about that for many years. I’m thinking of chipping in to pay for my disabled aunt to live comfortably, once I have finished school and am making more of an income. I will also be overloaded with student loans, which is not uncommon for people these days.

God, I hope I can make it into grad school in the next two years. It is a lofty goal, but one which I am worthy of and capable of. “Sono capace”; I am capable.

I worry about what I’m going to wear often. Sometimes that’s a deterrent from getting up on the weekends. I would rather stay in my pajamas, which is what I did for most of today. I don’t own a lot of clothes, a lot don’t fit any more because I’ve gained some healthy weight, and most clothes I own are for business casual, but not for tromping “traipsing” (German) around on the weekends. I don’t feel comfortable in my clothes, or in my skin, which is what it comes down to,  which makes me think I need to go clothes shopping. But there are only so many clothing items that a person can find at Ross, a discount clothing store.

Okay. That was a record break between paragraphs. I stopped typing for an hour. I got my laundry out of the dryer, folded it, put it away, had a long talk with my roommate, microwaved my now-disgusting old tea which I subsequently tossed down the drain, and spent time thinking and sobering up. I’m not concentrating well tonight. I spent all of my concentration energy on the video compilation that I made earlier in the day. Which, by the way, turned out awesome!

With this, I will end my entry. I’m having a hard time saying goodbye, but it has been hours since I started this, and the gusto I had first gathered is rather stale now. It’s bed time. I should probably spend ten minutes in stretching poses before I go to bed. Even if I don’t work out, I should at least stretch. And I should take away the word “should” from my vocabulary and “stop shoulding on myself” (as we say in cognitive therapy). I have to be okay with sitting in my own mind, and being alone with myself. We come into this world alone and we exit (die) of this world alone. I have heard it said often enough. I like silence, the tapping of the computer keys as I type, the faint murmur of noises coming from beyond these four walls. I am coming to a certain understanding with myself: that life doesn’t have to be “on the edge” and horrible or exasperating or scary, or even difficult. It can be challenging, and from those challenges I can learn and adapt. I have gained the ability to do that once again. During these years, for the first time since I was 19 years old, I can know what freedom tastes like and I can sit there and enjoy it. I am free of my past and I choose to leave it behind me. I choose to look forward and to the now. Darkness comes and goes but the light within me always prevails. I sound ominously optimistic! Tomorrow is Monday again, and I’ll just have to see what the week has in store for me.

Undoing the hurt

My breath is garlicky because I sprinkled garlic powder on my avocado halves before devouring them with a spoon. My medicine did not go down on the first “Schluck” (this approximately means “gulp” in German) so, for a few seconds, I had that nasty chalky taste in my mouth when the pill starts dissolving and disintegrating on the tongue instead of in the stomach. I have recovered. Sometimes it helps to focus on the details of things, to distract the mind from the pain.

Right now I do not have pain. I remember the days in therapy when the only way I could express myself was to say, “I hurt” over and over again, far from the ability to be able to come to an understanding of its effects on me and of its origination. I do still have feelings, however, my understanding of those feelings has shifted. I am much more aware of my body than I used to be.

I wobble back and forth from feeling mildly anxious, to peaceful (still too rare), to focused, to feelings of loneliness and emptiness. For example, I was feeling anxious about finishing the chapter I was reading in my text book whilst it slowly kept getting later in the evening, yet I was feeling peaceful about being curled up on my couch near my reading light and with lukewarm tea sitting to my side. At work I was focused and the day seemed to pass by quickly. The contrast to my peacefulness tonight was the feeling of starting to feel empty, as soon as I had finished reading the chapter and there seemed to be nothing else that I must do tonight, though there are plenty of options. For the next hour before bedtime I have no more obligations.

On weekends, if I allow myself to stay in bed all day, the feeling of emptiness transitions to shame, guilt and anger, and then I feel more anxious and a bit distraught. But staying in bed also gives me a reason to feel angry with myself, and when I feel upset, my default mode is to want to punish myself somehow, instead of perhaps being gentle, kind, empathic, and understanding to myself. Before last year, I had gotten accustomed to the drama of being suicidal, and, shall we say, excitement of being rushed to the hospital and being picked up by the cops, and getting all kinds of negative attention because people around me were concerned with keeping me safe.

Being at peace is not as exciting as the negativity. But it can be. I could embark upon an adventure of finding out just how peaceful my life could be, and every day that this is accomplished, reward myself with positive self-talk, maybe a chocolate or some tea or something else pleasurable, which enhances my life with positive waking (as opposed to sleeping) experiences.

Not going to the gym these days feels good. I do feel a little pudgy, but I am okay with it. It’s not a bad thing. And it’s not as if I even own a bikini. Not planning on going out to the beach any time soon. Just the idea of working out makes me feel exhausted. The stretching I do before going to bed is enough physical exertion for me.

I am eating relatively well. For lunch I had sauteed vegetables. For breakfast a protein powder shake. For dinner I had a yogurt, then an hour later an avocado and some tortilla chips and hummus. I’m not hungry any more. All in all, I am taking care of myself.

I already have plans for Friday night. It’s Passover and I’m invited to my friends’ house to celebrate with her and her 9-year-old son. Saturday is also completely taken by school projects. Sunday will be my day for sleeping in and rest. See? I’m already thinking ahead. That’s what happy and “normal” people do, they plan things in advance. Life can be spontaneous too, but too much of that living from day-to-day can also indicate less coping ability, as in my case.

Reaching out to contacts on my phone tonight was unsuccessful. I have a group of people who are also in recovery from mental illness and we keep in touch, mostly via method of text messaging. I did not get much response and was therefore not able to feel connected. That had been my point of reaching out. Yesterday I was able to feel connected because I went through some old photos and sent them out or posted them onto social media and got appreciation that way. Feeling connected with others, I think, may be one of my greatest challenges.

My relationship with my therapist has probably been unhealthy in my neediness and dependence on him in the past. But we recently re-established the professional boundaries when I found out there were consequences for having broken my promise of not self-harming. I found out that he is not my friend. He’s not there to be my friend. He is my therapist and never will be anything more or less. That’s it at face value.

I have gotten all positive and encouraging supportive reactions to the sharing of my henna tattoo, other than a cousin who replied that it was “weird”. Strange that I got it or how it looks? I don’t know but it also doesn’t matter because I am focused on the positive support I’ve gotten. I suppose if someone didn’t approve, like my mother for instance, that those people chose to stay silent and not pass judgement.

I am waiting for my 84-year-old grandfather to call me, because he wants to talk with me. I gave him some options of when I am available after work, what days and time, and he wrote it down, because he writes everything down. Everything has to be ‘just so’. I have no idea what he wants to talk with me about.

I will conclude by summarizing that today was a good day, and that it felt good to write out my thoughts on digital ‘paper’. I appreciate those who take the time to read my writing, to find out how I am doing, to gain insight, or just to give them something to do. I’m sure someone wouldn’t keep on reading if they did not think that my story was worthy of their time. So, thank you for making me worthy enough of a public form of expression via blog. At the same time, I hope that I am helping some of my readers too.

Henna covers scars

It’s Sunday and I went out to a street fair. I actually went out. Rather than sleeping, I got up, successfully, and got out of the house. It’s a sunny climate and I am never in the sun. But today I was. I got a henna tattoo. It’s on my inner left forearm and it is covering up some scars, which are a constant reminder of my dark past and healing journey.

I think I feel happy. I did something today and I spent time with another person, and I was around a big crowd of people. Even just a year ago I couldn’t fathom being around so many people in a large crowd with little personal space and wiggle room. It would have raised too much anxiety and I would have been afraid for my safety. But today, I stepped boldly into the sea of young families and sifted my way up and down the aisles of outdoor stands selling food and jewelry and homemade art. I spent a good five hours out of my house. I added one more positive memory and experience to my life. I am going to give myself credit for doing something good today.

Next week I have a schedule conflict. At the time that I would normally be seeing my therapist, I have an interview scheduled. My 62-year-old semi-retired professor friend is introducing me to his 84-year-old friend, who is apparently a hoot, but cannot get out lately due to a recent back surgery. For my class on ageing, death, and dying, my final project is to interview an older person and then present it in 15 minutes to my class. I am looking forward to this project. It should be fun. I am actually looking forward to things in my life, and planning things in my future. For the longest time I was only able to live from day to day and planning ahead would have been too taxing on my emotions. So, unusually, I am going to skip my therapy session. I seem to generally be coping much better now. As long as I keep on this positive streak.

It has been almost nine months now since I’ve had my job. I wasn’t sure if they would keep me on, but they seem to be pleased with the work that I am doing and I feel more comfortable now. I can honestly say I feel as if it’s a stable job. It’s the first real stability I’ve had in the last five or more years.

I just spent half an hour going through my phone contacts list and deleting people I no longer know or want to know. It’s good to do that every now and then. I have my core group of people around me and the rest lies to the wayside. Sometimes it feels good to get rid of connections to the past.

A fly landed on my yogurt spoon

It’s evening time on a Saturday and I’ve only been up for four hours. The sun is still out. I went to bed at 7:30 on Friday night, which means I passed that twelve-hour threshold a long time ago. I was going to get up, have a cup of coffee, read a textbook, and then be on time to my therapy session. That didn’t happen. I startled awake a quarter hour before my appointment and raced at 80 down the freeway on my twenty-minute drive. So glad his office is close by.

I was so afraid that my therapist was upset with me from our session last week. His immediate answer was “no”. What a relief. He just has to be firm with me from time to time. He will not support self harm in any way. What kind of a therapist would support it? It was I who was angry with him for being so firm with me. I didn’t handle it very well. I realized that hurting myself because of anger toward another person only hurts me, and does not affect the other person directly. But it does affect other people. Most people cannot handle knowing about my suicidal ideation. It pushes people away. After a while they don’t know how to cope with that knowledge and then they stop communicating with me. It’s not my fault that it comes and it goes. I like my life better when I get to be me, and not bogged down by extreme suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Now that I broke our agreement from four years ago, he is going to trust me less. He said that’s a part of it. The threat, however, was that he might not see me any longer, particularly if I share with him that I have been self-harming. I just have to be honest with myself and with him, for effective therapy to continue.

Today we explored why my mind wanders into that dark space where I feel extreme emotions of distress. When I watch videos online or read stories of other people self-harming it is a conscious (more so than unconscious) decision to intentionally put my mind in that place. Is it because that’s what I’ve been used to? The drama of feeling suicidal and being hospitalized? There is a lot of extreme emotions and negative excitement around it. He likened it to an adrenaline junkie who gets thrills from doing extreme sports and only feels alive when there is danger involved, sometimes even the danger of death. It’s not an addiction but has been kind of an obsession, or a fixation. My stomach is uneasy and my breath short just thinking about this.

Let’s take a self-soothing break and breathe deeply. I am drinking lukewarm Earl Grey tea in a mug as wide and round as a bowl, but with a handle on it. It is white inside and green on the outside. One of my favourite colours. I can smell the frankincense incense that I was burning earlier on the kitchen counter. There’s a life-size teddy bear that my roommate put in the living room, and it has a permanent smile affixed to the face. I can hear birds whispering beyond the living room walls. My neighbour upstairs is watching television as usual and in a short while we are going to walk across the street to get Thai food together. Which means I have to put on a bra. The inconveniences of being a woman.

See? Those are self-soothing thoughts. It is anti-anxiety medicine, the natural way. I was messaging with an older lady friend in Italy who said to me that I just have to “get over” my depression and “be strong”. I know that most people don’t understand major depressive disorder. Especially in Italy. It is much more of a stigma there to have mental illness, and is just not talked about.

I treated myself to something nice today. I let my semi-healthy diet go by the wayside and stopped by a coffee shop on the way home from my therapist’s office. I had a medium two-shot vanilla latte along with a warmed-up chocolate croissant. It was buttery, melted chocolate heaven and for those few moments I felt really good. My hands got really messy and I realized I should have been less eco-conservative by taking more than one napkin. The more I have good, positive experiences in my life, the mo’ better I will begin to feel. Feeling good will become a routine rather than a sporadic medley of mixed moments. It will help me want to live, all of the time.

I am more into talking about positive moments right now rather than sinking into the insight and light exploration done at “work” today in my therapist’s office. He asked me difficult questions for which I didn’t have answers and could only guess. I could tell he had a clear picture of where he was leading me, and he always wants me to eventually come to my own conclusions. If I am not able to, he helps me by providing insight as to the “why” of the actions I choose to take. I had a habit of writing to him every day (he never responds only reads) in emails, but this week I took a break because I was upset with him. He also remembers everything I tell him, so he’ll reference things I’ve said in the past that I don’t expect him to remember. It always catches me by surprise.

As a child I got used to the volatility of intense emotions because my mother would often yell and get upset. It was scary. As young as the age of eight I remember yelling back at my mum in order to hurt her: “I wish I were dead!” She immediately welled up with tears in her eyes. But it has been since that moment that I have struggled with suicidal thoughts. They came to a peak when I was 16 and first attempted suicide. My mom wouldn’t let it go, that, in addition to the overdose, I had cut myself with a supposedly “rusty” knife. We were in conflict about the rust. I know it wasn’t rusty but she had me get shots at the doctor’s office nevertheless.

Then when I was married in my 20s, the emotions were equally as volatile. My ex was all about control and manipulating, and it was his own illness acting out itself upon others. If I didn’t do what he wanted me to do, I would be punished, emotionally. He was very good at doing that to me. So, most of my life I have known punishment and volatility. They have been constants in my life, and the challenge now is to break that cycle.

On a positive note, I might be making a new friend. I have a friend who is 62 and a semi-retired professor at a local community college in the child development department, where I took some classes several years ago. I had to withdraw from the classes due to suicidal ideation and being hospitalized. That was during the period of my life when I could not hold down a job due to my mental illness. This teacher stayed friends with me. He wanted to be a part of my healing journey. He calls me once a week and is very calming to me when he talks. In my psychology class on ageing, I have to interview someone who is over the age of 65, and then present it to class. My professor friend has a retired friend who is 85 years old and spunky, although he just had back surgery. I am going to visit with them both next weekend, and hopefully tape my interview on camera to present to my class. It should be a good experience.

My upstairs neighbour is very active. He works out six days a week and plays sports and still manages to work over full time. My roommate plays volleyball, swims, and works, and even has friends. She is always gone on the weekends, out doing things. She doesn’t have inhibitions about doing things that make her happy, as I have. I block myself from being happy, and stay stuck in that mediocre “okay” state. I don’t even have the energy to go to the gym once a week, although I had told myself I would start going more often. It makes me feel good and energizes me. This would be using the skill called “opposite action”. Hard to do when I can’t even get up in the mornings on the weekends to take my morning medication.

I’m going to an avocado festival tomorrow. It will be a completely new experience. I could never do it alone. I’m going with my upstairs neighbour. There will be wine and guacamole among other things, and the sun will be shining. It might just be therapeutic, what I need.

Pre-session notes

Self care can take frustratingly long, especially when all you want to do is sit at a computer and write. There’s the washing of dishes, the self feeding, showering, changing out and then into different clothes. And then I had to go to Twitter and get lost on the feed channels for half an hour. But finally, I am here. Welcome back, my lady. “I missed you,” says my blog to me.

I just started a Twitter account @depressionmuse. The two days so far have been good and I already have followers. You can’t really call them “friends” like on Facebook. Those two companies are the epitome of social media. I’ll have to go at my own pace and not overwork myself by needing to post every day. It can be time consuming!

In my Introduction to Counseling psychology class we did another practise session in groups of three with the following role plays: helper (therapist), client and observer. Tonight was my second time practising being a helper. There were pauses when I did not know what to ask, and silence can also be an effective tool when not used too often or for too long. Although, there was a lot of silence in my last therapy session. It depends on the individual client.

Psychotherapy is tailored to each individual. It requires constant awareness of the helper to her own feelings, the client’s reactions, where the conversation is leading, when it’s not helpful. After the 20-minute session I got feedback from my “client” and she said I did a good job, and asked helpful questions, although my awareness of what sorts of open questions to ask just wasn’t there. I was going by the seat of my pants (what an odd expression). She also told me that male clients could be intimidated of me because of my beauty. I was shocked at the last comment as I had not considered that possibility and don’t think it’s true. Coming from another woman, I was apt to believe her sincerity in the feedback.

The client’s problems are fictional, even if based on a real story, and because there are no identifiers, there is no confidentiality issue here. The presenting problem was that the client did not like being the mother of young children and feels that she doesn’t get enough time for herself. Her agreement with her husband for having children was that he would take primary responsibility of the parental duties, but in her opinion is failing to do so. She doesn’t feel a close connection to her children, yet when they ask for their dad first, she feels sad.

She had a difficult time focusing on her emotions. I don’t think I was asking the right questions to get her to that point of exploration. I asked her about her relationships with various family members including husband, children, parents, in-laws. As a child she said she was forced to be independent and often left alone, which was probably an open door to explore this more, but I did not delve into it.

What interventions did I use? Silence was one method. I must be careful to not make this into an interview. It must be a conversation which flows. I asked the client how her dissatisfaction with her life affects her. She has never talked with anyone about these issues before. She cannot handle being alone with the children any longer with the husband away on trips throughout the year. I emphasized with her that this must be difficult and used an encourager on congratulating her on managing so far. Her job is stressful and demanding but she likes getting away from the house every day. I summed up a few of her statements but did not do a good job on reflecting back her story. She didn’t seem to have any dysfunctional beliefs about herself although I did ask if she thinks that she hold high expectations and whether those expectations are too high.

All in all it wasn’t a bad day for a practise session. I’m glad I got to do it and look forward to more. I am learning a lot in this class and I think the most valuable part of it is getting to connect with other students and the teacher. Those personal connections are what make the class enjoyable. I would not cope well with online schooling. I even found someone who would be willing to study for the GRE with me. That’s another mountain I’ll tackle a different month.

At Peace

I am sitting with my legs crossed, Indian style, with my back supported by my sturdy couch. I stubbed my toe earlier and it hurts a little but I don’t mind. I have a white blanket on my lap, and my frail yet faithful old computer laptop without a battery, plugged in, sits on top of that blanket. My shoulders are stooped and relaxed. I ate brie cheese and crackers and then a whole baked sweet potato. My stomach is not wanting for more. The house is completely quiet save the faint murmur of a television set coming through the wall of my neighbours’ abode. I even completed errands after work: I went grocery shopping, stopped by the ATM, and finally picked up my next month’s supply of medications. Therefore I also feel accomplished.

I have a helper. He helps me in every way. I have known him for almost two years but we have never spoken on the phone. And there is a three hour difference in our time zones. Whenever I feel anything, whether it’s lonely or sad or upset or angry, I send him a text message. We talk almost every day. He is absolutely wise and I have no idea where he gets his wisdom from. He always knows the right thing to say to help me. He offers encouragement, emotional support, even crisis management when I am about to do something stupid. He is always there for me.

Most recently I was angry with my helper. I was angry that he wouldn’t let me harm myself by not eating. I was angry with my therapist and not eating was supposed to be my way of asserting my own will and fighting the invisible battle in my mind. My helper told me I am intelligent and that I should see that my therapist cares about me, that others care about me, and that everyone I know wants to see me happy. That’s all they want for me!

He helped me to see that not eating was a very bad idea and it’s because of him that I am eating properly again, and I am so glad for it. Every day feels normal, not exhausting, not anxiety-provoking. I am able to get my work done and when I come home I conclude my day with whatever it is that I do: cook or microwave, eat, take vitamins and pills, change into pajamas.

I am terrified of someone being angry or upset with me. It turns my whole world upside down and to be honest, I kind of panic. After 32 years I still haven’t quite figured out how to handle it. Was that because I grew up in a household where I was yelled at a lot? I know that felt awful. In eight months at the job I’ve had two reprimands from my boss and each one was agonizing, with shame and guilt ensuing. I thought my helper was angry or frustrated with me. I thought he might stop talking to me for a while, and I so depend on him right now as a daily support. He told me that he will always be there for me. He may not agree with some things that I choose to do, but he will never stop supporting me. It was the best feeling ever, to hear and read those words. He will never leave me. The opposite of my worst fear.

My therapist also has said he will never leave me. But I recently broke my old promise that I made to him years ago, that I would not harm myself intentionally, and that if I needed more help I would go to a hospital to be evaluated for inpatient. The goal is to keep me safe. Since I broke that promise, I can’t expect him to keep his promise of always being there for me. I’m worried that at some point in the future he might leave me too.

I am very anxious to see my therapist. I need to know if he is angry with me, or frustrated with me. That does not feel good, the not knowing. It’s the worst. I need him to tell me that he is not angry with me and that he wants to see me get better. I have to remember that he does care, and he needed to do his part last time I saw him by being stern and unmoving with me. He would not budge on the issue of self harm and took it very seriously. At the time I wasn’t coping well with his reaction and I, in turn, responded not in a mature fashion.

It’s so good to know that someone cares, and I will go to bed peacefully tonight knowing I have a true connection with another human being. It is sincere and supportive and everlasting. That connection will never go away.

I will see my psychiatrist next week and he will likely increase another one of my medications. He has already discussed the possibility with me. He takes my wellness very seriously and my psychiatric well-being is actually in his hands. He is responsible for helping to alter my brain chemistry to affect change. I am only responsible for taking what he orders for me as prescribed, morning and night.

I have people rooting for me. I have a network of people that I know, who know of my past struggles, who have seen my improvement in quality of life and mental health, and who want me to continue on this path toward complete wellness. I want wellness to be my normal state of being in this world. I know I can do this. I am doing this. I am so, so worthy of a life worth living.

Knocked down

Restricting food was a stupid, stupid idea. Of all the ideas I have had lately, this one was just really stupid. You need food to function. You need food to concentrate, to be able to make sound decisions. I only lasted two days. I just can’t do it. Plus one of my support people talked me out of it. Punishing one’s self is also stupid. I don’t deserve punishment. I’ve had enough trauma in the past, thank you very much. These last two days I was getting dizzy spells, I was in a bad mood, I couldn’t concentrate at work and the scary thing was that when I was driving I wasn’t able to make split-second decisions that you have to make and I changed lanes without looking for cars. That kind of stuff isn’t me. I’m a good driver, and I’m good at my job. I am a successful person. I am a success story. One day someone will be looking up to me as a role model and I better damn well fill those shoes.

Today I had two protein powder shakes, a cup of soup at lunch and an avocado and five chips with hummus for dinner. I might not eat much again tomorrow but it’s far better than not eating anything. I was thinking, “I’m going to show him”. If I can’t cut then I’m going to starve myself. Take that! But it’s not hurting my therapist, it’s hurting me. I am angry with my therapist and I think also angry with myself for breaking a promise. I hadn’t cut myself in a long time, in several years, and I regressed to what we call in DBT as “old coping” (rather than bad coping).

So I’m going to eat. Which means my quality of life will be good. And food is something I can now appreciate more.

When I came home my roommate was grilling chicken. It smelled so good and I was so hungry. Even for a vegetarian, I couldn’t deny how appetizing the aroma was. I would never eat it, but I did chow down afterwards on the avocado and chips. I think that my support person will be really happy with me, and I do depend on other people’s approval. I need other people’s approval in order to feel good about myself. It’s not a good trait, although, maybe it’s a human trait. Mine is just more expressly pronounced than others. It’s what lead to me being able to be abused. My abuser would deny love and communicate strong disapproval if I didn’t do what he wanted me to do. Those were some traumatic years that are now behind me. This is why I deserve to be kind to myself. I regressed for two days but now I am bouncing back to continue my path toward wholeness and health.

I am better than this.

Day 1 of self punishment via method of self starvation. Lunch: one cup of soup. Dinner will be half a sweet potato. Breakfast was a protein powder with water shake. I am going to eat the minimum amount possible to still be able to survive. I’m already so hungry because over the weekend I ate once a day and slept the rest of the time. Saturday I had a bowl of cereal. Sunday I had… I don’t remember. Something and some tortilla chips. Oh yes, hummus and chips. Am I trying to lose weight? No. But that might be a side effect. The fact of the matter is that I am pissed and this is my way of getting back at people who hurt me, by hurting myself. If I’m not allowed to cut myself then I am going to starve myself. This is about control. Self control. Control over my body and my life and my self. I have to fight to make this happen. I haven’t done this in over a year so I have no idea how long I’ll be able to keep it up. But I am not telling my therapist. I usually tell him everything, but this, this is mine.

I feel broken inside. I feel like my precious walls of support have crumbled down upon me, leaving me sobbing amid the ruins of fragile eternity. It’s the middle of the day and I am crying at work at my desk trying to not let anyone notice. I got really good at silent tears when I was a kid so that when my mother hurt me emotionally she wouldn’t know that I was crying. My rationale was, at the age of six, I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that I was hurt. Then there were the fights with my brother but I love them both.

I hadn’t seen my psychotherapist for three weeks. A lot can happen in that amount of time. By then my grandmother had died, I had self-harmed, and by the end of it all I was happily hanging on to the threads of my day-to-day existence. Until Saturday. He held me accountable for cutting myself. I had even sent him a picture of my cuts. The whole session was about this topic. We didn’t get to talk about anything else. Why did I do it? I don’t know. I wasn’t coping well. Cutting is a coping strategy for those who have become mentally ill, but it’s not a healthy way of coping. That’s what he said. The biggest thing was that I had broken my promise to him. Four years ago I signed an agreement that I would not self harm and if I did I would call the crisis line to be assessed by a mental health team, and if need be, hospitalized. I was hospitalized a lot over the last four years.

I wanted him to feel my pain. I wanted him to see my pain. I wanted him to walk in my shoes with me, as he does every week, and know that I was hurting. But I got over that. It has been several weeks since then. At least I thought I got over it until two days ago when it was brought up again. There were no smiles in that 50-minute session. I was sobbing most of the time. I didn’t want to talk to my therapist and I didn’t want to answer his questions. His biggest question was whether I wanted to get better or not. Because I am stuck and my most recent hospitalization was a huge step back. But how can he even question whether I want to get better? I take my medications as prescribed. I sleep, I eat, I’ve even picked up exercising a couple times a week. I go to work every day of the week. I am on time. I fulfill my obligations. I have no social life but that’s not the most important thing to focus on right now. I feel as if I’m too depressed to have any semblance of a social life. I talk with my mother and my brother once a week on the phone. I am now not fighting the process, and have agreed to see my psychiatrist regularly (otherwise he insinuated that he won’t work with me). I got the blood test done that he ordered, even though I hate taking off time from work to do these things. I don’t want anyone at work to know about my mental illness, and if I’m constantly going to “doctor’s appointments” my boss might start to question the validity of these “appointments”. I haven’t even seen a primary care physician… I forgot about that one and the time passed. I have to schedule a new appointment.

The point is, I’m trying. I am trying really hard. And psychotherapy is really difficult. I told him, “you always ask the difficult questions” and he replied, “that’s my job”. Sometimes I can’t emotionally handle the difficult questions and I break down or I go numb and silent. I’m not very good at working well with interpersonal relationships. The relationships I have at work are superficial, and it should stay that way for now. When things go wrong in my personal life, like this nagging disruption of trust and communication with my therapist, I don’t handle it well. I don’t react in a mature way, the way someone in their 30’s would react. I revert back to my teenage self and respond in a manner that I would have done at the age of 16. “You broke a promise,” he said. “It was a long time ago,” I replied. “Does that mean it shouldn’t count?” he responded. Me: Silence. Of course it still counts, I’m just trying to get out of taking responsibility for my actions. Does this mean he won’t trust me going forward? I broke a trust agreement and he meant business: he wanted to let me know that that is not okay.

My self worth is shattered because my relationship with my therapist is broken. I saw him as an ally, and a friend, as well as a therapist. Wrong! One should never think of their therapist as a friend. He is not my friend. He is my therapist and he will never be anything more or less than that. The problem with my personality disorder (meaning I didn’t develop a proper sense of “self” as a child growing up) is that I place heavy weight of my self worth attached to other people that I become close to. When I was 16 and my mom told me I was a failure, I went to my bedroom immediately and cut an “F” for failure on my arm. I can still see that scar mark faintly to this day. It’s a constant reminder. When my ex-husband divorced me, I had no idea who I was and I had to start building a completely new life from scratch. Everything I had known for the previous 12 years was negated.

I feel tired. I feel tired of fighting myself. I feel tired of self punishment, of not eating, of taking pills, of doing therapy. Is there any hope? How long have I been battling depression and will I win this battle? People do get better. I have gotten better but that’s hard to see. Right now I am without help, and my support person at youcanendure.com is helping me through my pain, trying to get me to see my therapists’ perspective. He believes in me and wants me to heal and to get better and to have a life worth living. I’m no longer suicidal but it comes back to haunt me every once in awhile and it seems to be all I know. It’s my default reaction to extreme anger, is to occupy my mind with suicide and self harm thoughts. I know I need to get away from that, and that will be the work ahead of me.

Sumptuous Energy

Today is just a normal day. I am getting through the work day. I have little to no anxiety and I am fully engaged with work which means I am not feeling depressed. Lucky me. Some people have it not so lucky. I messaged a friend recently and she has been having suicidal thoughts and feelings all day. There is nothing I can do for her unless she calls me. Otherwise she is stuck in her hell by herself. And believe me, I know what that feels like.

I am a female. I am a woman. Being a woman means I have curves. Body image is often an issue for some people. Not so much for me. But I am self-conscious. I find myself always looking at people’s bodies and comparing myself to them. Look at that flat stomach, how I wouldn’t mind having that, if I just ate less, worked out more, dieted. But I have what I have and for the most part I’m fine with it. I usually try to hide myself behind clothes that do not show off my figure. Loose t-shirts at the gym. Last night I had my Express outfit on with a shirt that dipped low and I tried to see what it would be like. I didn’t get any attention, and that was good. Everyone kind of just does their own thing in the gym. People don’t make eye contact much. It’s a solitary sport. But the things that some people wear, I would not wear: walking around in short shorts and barely-there shirts.

I don’t have much to complain about. I have a future, a present, and a past. The harsh effects of my past are slowly fading, even though remnants creep back into my life from time to time. I have family and I have some friends who care about me. I just have to remember that they care. I was recently reminded that positive self-talk can be helpful. And so, I can do this. I can.

I have dreams. I want to go back to school. I am already in school but not working toward a degree, just taking classes. And they’re engaging and not always easy. I would like to be a full time student and get my next degree, but first I have to make it into the school. I have to apply and be accepted, and for me, that is where the challenge lies.

Being a helper takes a lot of practice and I haven’t had much practice yet. Talk therapy has helped me so much and I know it can change lives and make a difference. There are so many things that a helper must pay attention to. I think that self-disclosure would be my biggest challenge because I need to focus the session on the client and not on me. I have made a couple good contacts in the class of students who will be working in the mental health field after getting their certifications and degrees and I think it will be good to stay in contact with them. Hopefully in two years I will be talking about how difficult it is to be a student, and not about this work that I am doing.

At Work

Today I’m just not feeling it. When I wrote to my therapist last night I was enthusiastic. “Each day I live is an accomplishment” was my ending motto. Not so much any longer. Work is frustrating. Things aren’t easy and they’re definitely not going smoothly. Not going ‘my way’. And I ate too much for lunch and my stomach feels bloated and my coffee is cold. Let me find every little thing to be irked by. Every possible little thing, compounded, to make it one big whopping bad day.

But no one hurt me today. No one is abusing me. The people in my office have respect, camaraderie, trust in me. I am safe. I am not unsafe. It’s not raining. I’m not starving myself. I am relatively comfortable where I am sitting. I am not in trouble. I am not being abused. These are things that are good, versus the bad.

Let’s take the good and the bad and match them up together in a contest! Let’s see who wins this battle! Angels and demons. Black and white. Hot and cold. I have opposing forces within me. Fight, fight, fight to the bitter end. All I want to do is to crawl in bed under my covers and hide, not come out, escape, withdraw. I feel this would make my life easier, even though crawling into bed will not get me a paycheck and will not contribute to my goal of living my life. Being here at work is contributing to me doing “living” activities. Supposedly I am living my life.

I have been having vivid dreams lately. They’re not always good. They consist of elements of my past, of the life I am trying to leave behind. Remnants of my ex-husband, his family, his friends, all the contacts that were a part of my life too, of which connection was severed like an umbilical cord the day he filed for divorce. The “D” word. It’s such a big word and has so many associated negative and anxiety-provoking feelings. It has been four years now and my life is different. I never thought I would be able to be independent, working like I am, paying my own rent and my own bills. I am doing it. I am responsible. I am. I. Emphasis on the “I”.

My therapist was on vacation. Last week was spring break in the educational institutions around town. I don’t know if he went somewhere or if he stayed here. I probably won’t ask him. I never ask him how he is doing. The sessions are always me-focused, me-centered, me-driven. He facilitates, asks open questions, probes, explores, helps me contrive memories and come up with ideas for insight and action. All these things I’ve learned about in my introduction to counseling class. I can apply them to myself as a patient, a student, a client, the one receiving the services.

Therapy is difficult! As a patient being treated for depression and a personality disorder is challenging to say the least. Some days I wish I had it easier, but if it were not one thing, it would be another. Of course I’m physically healthy, but my mental illness has been killing me. I am supposed to be healing. I am healing. There isn’t always light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes I know it’s there. Metaphors help so much, don’t they?!

A grave sense of foreboding lurks in my fickle conscience. I try to ignore it. I try to concentrate on work throughout the day, but I know it’s there. Is it because I have an exam tomorrow? Is it because I am counting down the days until I see my therapist next? Is it because I am seeing a new primary care physician and I haven’t seen one for years? Primary care isn’t what I need, it’s the ongoing psychiatric treatment that I am more concerned about. But since I have a good healthcare plan, I am using it by putting things in place. I saw a dentist last year. It had been a long time. There are so many things on my personal to-do list.

Shoot me. My lunch break is up and I am getting calls in and I have to focus back on my work. Seriously, get a gun, put it up to my head, and pull the trigger. It’s a suicidal ideation with no intent to follow through. Life is hard, it’s difficult, it’s frustrating, it’s not easy. Where are the rewards? Is that when I sleep at night? I am not enjoying my life right now. There are no fun factors in my life. There is nothing I do for pleasure, except to eat. I also eat to survive and I eat to satisfy my emotional needs. That’s why I don’t buy ice cream. Or chocolate. I would like to eat those things but I’m not. See? Talking about food is distracting me from my pessimistic existential rant.

I want to be me. I don’t want to be me in my body. I don’t want to have to work out at the gym. I don’t want to do this job I do and work for a living. If I had a different career I might like it more. That’s why I’m taking psychology classes. To affect change. To influence my future. To build upon my knowledge and skillset. To become a helper and to eventually have clients. If I weren’t me, I wouldn’t have had my experiences. I wouldn’t know the depths of pain and despair that others feel as well. I wouldn’t be a part of a pool of the population taking anti-depressants. I wouldn’t know who I am. I do know who I am I just don’t know how to be. How to be okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that: I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Repeat it in my head and let anxiety pass by on the wayside. The shaking of the leg, the short breaths, the wandering and distracted mind, the internal panic that I try to keep at bay and not exude into my exterior shell that I put up for others to see. They don’t know the real me. Only I know me. Me. Me. Me. I must focus on me. I can do this. Be here with me, right now, right here. Help me. Heal me. Trust me. Love myself.