Psycho Education: Things I Learned in the Psychiatric Hospital

I knew I needed to be hospitalized. I’ve known that for a while. Hell, I tried to get myself into a hospital prior to this, because I was desperate for some relief, and nothing happened. I guess it all accumulated for the past year or so, though. I went to my psychiatrist for a normal appointment on February 10th, and she sent me to the ER like, immediately. She actually called them and told them I’d be coming (I felt like such a VIP: very important psycho). My boyfriend left work early and picked me up and we went. And thus began an interesting journey where I learned a bunch of things that I’m going to explain in a vaguely chronological but unimportant order. This doesn’t include everything, and I have so many more thoughts that I’m dying to get onto a page, but I think it’s important that my first post is positive and talks about the last month as a learning experience.

I was in the ER for a day and a half. It was an overwhelming experience. I was crying a lot, and I just wanted to lay there on the gurney under the sheets and be “alone.” But I was on Constant Observation (since I was suicidal) and had someone watching me at all times. And apparently I couldn’t go completely under the covers because they had to see that I wasn’t killing myself under there. So I was basically inconsolable.

I hated the guy watching me, at first. He would ask questions and I’d try to answer, but I’d just start crying at the fact that I didn’t think he understood what I was actually experiencing. How much pain I was in. Like…was he belittling me? I couldn’t tell.

I came around to him eventually. I don’t know when, exactly. Maybe after he went on his break. The nurse manager watched me while he was gone, and she was really nice. We talked a little bit, and maybe that little bit where I was broken out of my shell helped me not feel so upset with Charles who had to sit there and stare at me. Not that he was creepy; he wasn’t. He was cool. It was just a hard situation, and I was emotional and all over the place. I realized that seeking comfort is okay and even brave at times, but at the end of the day, when no one else can do it you have to do it yourself. I was lying there, tossing and turning, my mind racing, all of my painfully confused…and I had to just calm myself down. I’m not saying I was successful at that (I wasn’t). But the lesson stuck with me. I asked for help, and I’m proud that I did. But I also learned that I can’t get help with everything. I can’t have someone help me control my emotions, it doesn’t work that way.

Charles and I eventually got into conversation, and he imparted a gem of wisdom that totally relates and that I wrote down as soon as I had a notebook in which to do so: no one can swim for you and no one can breathe for you. I couldn’t tell you what the hell we were talking about (I’m assuming it was the impending hospitalization ahead of me), but it’s true. The coming weeks were something I was gonna have to face on my own.

Yeah, definitely true. Although once I got to the psych hospital, I wasn’t completely on my own. I made friends almost immediately (once I stopped crying, showered for the first time in three days, and actually consumed some sort of food). I guess there’s nothing quite like being locked up together to bring about friendships. It also probably helps that we were all in a similar place mentally and emotionally. We related to one another. We grew into a weird little dysfunctional family.

And dysfunctional we indeed were. Lock a bunch of crazies up together and shit DOES get intense. I realized pretty early on that sometimes it’s best to just walk away. Walk away from a fight or confrontation, walk away from a trigger. Hell, sometimes you even need to walk away from someone crying who just needs to cry. I loved when the other patients there calmed me down as I was crying. A fist-bump and a sneaky hug go a long way (we weren’t technically allowed to touch each other). But there were moments I just needed to cry. And I saw the same being true of other people.

We were a unique bunch.  It became increasingly clear to me why you should never judge anyone without talking to them first. Like, everyone has their own shit. You literally never know someone’s story without asking them. And human beings are interesting, so ask! Listen to everyone’s story and learn from them, because my god is there so much to learn. Not to mention that people are all complicated, with or without mental illness. We’re all just different. It’s fascinating.

I sat down next to the schizophrenic who needed to be restrained and sedated the day before and actually talked to him. I was happy I did because he’s got a lot of wisdom inside of him next to all his fear. We sat there on the floor outside the med window after each taking our cocktail of pills, and started talking. The day after that was not one of my better ones. And he was the one to sit down next to me. “Hey,” he said. “Put out your hands like this.” I wiped my tears and looked up at him. I held out my hands in front of me. “Do you see them?” he asked, to which I responded with a tentative ‘yes.’ “See? You’re here, you’re safe, you’re okay.” I used that technique to ground myself a few more times after that.

I can’t talk about lessons learned in the psych hospital without mentioning how I learned to be thankful in a simple but grand way. I vowed that when I got out I’d stop taking day to day conveniences for granted. My phone and my laptop are wonderful tools I have, and I’ll never again forget how fucking cool they are. I was, however, already thankful for the support I am lucky enough to have. Every morning we had a “community meeting” where we told everyone how we were feeling, what our goal was for the day, and who our support was. I never once forgot how special the people around me are that they love and support me as much as they do.

Then there’s the lesson I’m continually re-learning: let it go. I really tried to tone down my reactions to minor little things while I was there. Like, I put serious effort into it. There were a few instances in the beginning when I was uhh…using humor as a coping mechanism, and it wasn’t received well by some of the staff. So I was told to stop. Which, okay, that’s fine, right? It is, and looking back I realize it right away now. But my general response is to feel stupid and dumb and dwell on the situation for far too long and then feel stupid again and just continue on and on. But I’m actually damn proud of how I let it go because I literally forgot about how angry I was at that staff member until just now. We turned out to be chill with each other anyway, and I’m glad we turned out that way because I feel happy to have known the guy. But yeah, I’m giving myself major props for that one, and I’m gonna remember this exact paragraph next time I go to overthink about something like that. I also want to phrase it differently, in case I didn’t make my point as effectively as I wanted to: don’t worry so much about what’s going on in other people’s heads, because you don’t have to live there.

As I got more stable (I’m gonna write a whole post about how that was able to happen to begin with, because holy shit was it a process), I started to get the itch to get the fuck out of there. I wanted to go home. I was naturally going stir-crazy, as you can imagine would happen after being cooped up for over two weeks, and I was even getting anxious wondering when they were gonna release me. I was tentatively scheduled to be discharged Tuesday the 25th, but on morning on the day before, I’d just about lost my mind wondering if that date was still set. The weekends went slow there, and no doctors or social workers were there, so I was left hanging and wondering. Anyway, as I was freaking out, another patient pulled me aside and told me that in his struggle with drugs, whenever he told himself “just don’t do drugs” every day, he’d inevitably wind up doing them. But “when I told myself I was gonna get up, go for a run, make breakfast, and so on, guess what I did?” I stared at him for a second. “I’m gonna go home tomorrow,” I told him, and he smiled and nodded. The moral of the story, I guess, is either that you attract what you think about, or that it’s easy to spot what you’re always thinking about. And it turns out I did go home the next day!

As I was getting ready to be discharged, I started to reflect back. I’d filled an entire marble notebook with thoughts and feelings, but there was still a lot I wanted to think about. Still a lot I had to think about. I said to the counselors and my social worker that even though I’d done so much work and self-reflection, I knew I still had a lot more work to do once I left. And oh boy is there still a lot of work to do haha. Self-discovery is a never-ending process. I think I used to let that overwhelm me, but honestly? It isn’t such a scary thing. Life is a never-ending process. Self-discovery is just a way of life.

And finally, because I actually do feel hopeful that I’ll succeed in my quest to be the best version of me: remember to have hope.

Happy things to appreciate 💙 (updates!)

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

The tippytap of my dog’s paws as he comes to me when I call him 🐾❣️

Family!! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Fairytales about princesses and castles 🏰👑

Classic Disney movies °O° 📼

Waking up without an alarm ⏰ 🌅

Selfies when I’m really feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️ enjoying that first cup in the morning 🙂

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or mentallyyy)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling for no particular reason 😃

Roller coasters!🎢 the anticipation at the top!

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

When it all comes together like a puzzle 🧩

Old school video games 🎮

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Gettingggg love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Binge watching a good show on Netflix/Hulu 🖥

Tropical vacations 🏝

The smell of mom baking apple pie on a fall morning 🍎 🥧

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Cute cats 🐱

My favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫 -notice the miracles

Getting a good night’s sleep 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎 appreciate that 👈🏻

Shooting for the moon 🚀 🌕

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Making someone happy 😃

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Comfy pajamas ✔️

Jeans that fit just right 👖

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas💡 on paper

Pride 🏳️‍🌈 for whatever I am

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Good fortune 🔮

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Shopping sprees! 🛍

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

Funny memes 😂

The incredibleee excitement the night before a Disney trip 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the world’s differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how so many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuffed elly!)

My favorite perfume 🥰

The first snow ⛄️ of the season 🗓 [peaceful!]

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Tattoos 🌀

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

My infinite internal power ♾ 💥

The journey 🛤

Climbing into bed feeling accomplished after a long day 🛏

A new haircut (or color!) 🆕👱🏻‍♀️💙

Reliving memories 💭 / looking through keepsakes 🎟🎫

Being the perfect amount of energetic🔋

Finding light in the darkness 🔦

When good things fall apart but better things fall together 💔➡️❤️

Counting down on New Year’s Eve just like the entire rest of the world 🎆🎇

Making someone proud (even if it’s myself)☺️

Late night adventures 🌙

The fact that I kicked the fucking shit out of anorexia once and I can fucking do it again 🍽

It was dark.

The only light in the room was coming off the clock on the nightstand, which indicated that it was 4:02am by way of a dull blue glow. It was too fucking early. And too fucking dark. And cold. Fuck the cold.

Insomnia ravaged her. Again.

The grunting snores of her boyfriend, fast asleep next to her, sent her temper spiraling but she was comatose despite the succession of jittery shockwaves pulsing through her body. She didn’t get up. She didn’t move. No matter how hard she willed herself to, she didn’t so much as roll over.

Why bother?

She didn’t want to wait til dawn to break. She wanted it to come now. She needed it and needed it now, in this moment, because waiting is the worst and she didn’t have the patience for it. This sucked.

It was her fault, she hated to admit. She’d drugged herself to sleep (thank you sleeping pill, melatonin, and cbd oil) at 6:27 because she couldn’t stand the thought of being awake for a moment longer, staring blankly at the wall. No, her brain was too loud but it wouldn’t allow her to move and her stomach growled angrily but it couldn’t bear the heaviness of food and there were texts to answer but no words were available to her. No, fuck that. Time to fucking sleep.

At two in the morning she’d opened her eyes but forced them shut again. Forced her brain into a quasi sleep mode by having made up conversations in her head, half concentrating on them until she couldn’t any more and the fake attempt at batting away the longing for a friendly voice, a friendly presence, faded into unfulfilling sleep.

Two hour of tossing and turning and it brought her to her present wide-awake state. Fuck.

Get up and do something, she berated herself. Get to your headphones, blast some metal, or open your laptop, do some writing.

No amount of internal urging seemed to be enough to summon the motivation to move.

She was just about to attempt to get another round of restless sleep in, but the thought of doing so was more exhausting than actually doing it. So she finally got up. Cold enveloped her.

She paced. She paused. She stood motionless like a confused zombie trying to get her thoughts together but it was a messy, tangled web up in her mind. Wires were twisted. None of them were plugged into the right connections.

Gravity amazingly pulled her to her desk, where her headphones thankfully sat on a pile of books, which thankfully was next to her laptop. A sweatshirt was thrown over the back of her chair, and she used what little energy she had to pull it over herself. It was a miracle that the setting was now one that allowed for a meager amount of productivity to take place.

A miracle. That’s what’s worth calling a miracle? How stupid. How pathetically stupid. But whatever.

Headphones on. Music loud. Laptop open. Document pulled up. Aaaaand, go!

“Going” took another few minutes of zoned-out staring, but somehow her fingers were brought to the keyboard and somehow they started moving and somehow the movements formed words that appeared on the too-bright screen in front of her.

Why is this happening again? Why did I let this happen again? Why did I make this happen again and why am I continuing to push myself father into it. Again. I’m guilty as charged. I hate myself.

It went on like that for a while. Her words chased themselves in circles. Negativity. Self-hate. Anger. It went on until she began to write fervently and passionately and quickly, so quickly, her fingers barely keeping up with the pace at which her brain threw thoughts into formation.

She shrugged her sweatshirt off. Rolled up her sleeves. Was it getting hotter, or was she becoming overheated like a computer that’s been on for too long? Did it even matter?

Her eyes flicked away from the computer for a fraction of a second.

Bad move. Losing the flow was always a bad move. She lost the momentum and let her thoughts wander and…fuck, no. Why did she let her thoughts wander?

But the tattoo on her left forearm shouted loudly from its type-written font: Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!

Fucking positivity.

Yet there was a pale light in the distance now. It fell through the window as if by accident but it stayed like it was comfortable in the bedroom. Morning had come. She shut her laptop.

She collapsed back into bed, weary from the exertion of being awake and alive.

But at least she got an hour and a half of sleep.

*

“If you have the courage to make it through a lonely night with nothing but your self destructive thoughts to keep you company, darling, you have the courage to make it through anything.”

Bipolar and the senses

So last year, or maybe it was two years ago, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop propped up against a pillow, listening to Duel of the Fates from the Star Wars prequels on repeat. I remember it rather vividly. I’d had a huge mental breakdown the night before, where my then best friend and soon-to-be-boyfriend drove me until one in the morning as we listened to music and I alternated between crying and singing along to the loud punk rock hitting me in waves out of the speakers. I was home from work, having called out by leaving a frantic voicemail detailing how I was insane and the thought of coming in to work made me want to die. So appropriate, I know. But there I was, sitting there trying to hold on to some semblance of calm, the vague, fleeting feeling that came and went throughout that entire day. I hadn’t eaten. I’d barely had any water. I was just existing, trying to write just to be doing something, thinking about something. Not one of my better moments.

And here I am now. That same Star Wars song on repeat. And it’s weird because I can taste the insanity of my past. I taste the feeling of hunger, acerbic in my mouth, just like I tasted two years ago. I can feel my insides grabbing for what little bit of calm it can grab. The memory of the thoughts I thought are echoing through my head, bouncing off the walls of my mind like that someone slammed a super ball as hard as they could in a gymnasium, the ball going going going with seemingly endless momentum. Or maybe it’s more like a balloon flying every which way after someone untied it and let it loose. The point is that I’m there again. I’m sitting on my bed, legs crossed, laptop in front of me, fingers flying frantically over my keyboard just because. I’m there again. Because of this song I’ve got on repeat.

It’s weird how that happens. The taste of my gummy melatonin does the same thing. That strawberry-esque flavor melting in my mouth, even now, transports me back to the nights I was plagued with what I’ll call violent, agitated insomnia.

On the flip side, I have this one roll-on perfume that calms me down. I always put it on before therapy and now when I roll it on before work, I smell the panic going the fuck away and my chest easing up. I feel full, deep breaths steadying my heart rate as I take actual air into my lungs (as much as I’m able to, at least).

I have an elephant stuffed animal that I hug close to me when I sleep at night. And I have a mini keychain with the same elephant on it. And I make a point to take out that little keychain and rub the elephant’s ears when I start to lose my cool, when I feel the anxiety bubbling up from my stomach all the way up my esophagus and ultimately reaching my head, dizziness ensuing.

And lastly, I’m comforted in the best way possible when someone I love wraps me in a protective hug, sending love vibrations into my being with the pressure they put on me, squeezing my broken pieces together with a strength that can only come from true care and concern.

It’s amazing how this shit works. What our sense can do for us.

How to know it’s coming on again (short version)

  • No matter what song I put on, it doesn’t feel right
  • No matter where I go, it doesn’t feel homey or safe or okay
  • So much dread
  • The fact that I have to get through a whole day (and subsequently a whole night) feels like I have to scale a mountain
  • “Life hurts”
  • I’m overwhelmed by everything
  • I’m having trouble doing small, menial tasks
  • I want to drive really fast so the anxiety can’t catch up to me
  • I can’t decide what mood I’m in or how I feel, I just know I don’t feel right
  • Oh dear GOD the irritability

An unfinished piece about change…

A change is gonna come

There is a vague dotted line connecting what was, what is, and what will be. This is a constant and inescapable truth. The line isn’t always straight. In fact, there are probably times when the dots are few and far between, and you can scarcely follow their path. Furthermore, the transitions between past, present, and future aren’t always balanced on either side of the decisions that lead from one to the other. It doesn’t happen seamlessly, yet the metamorphosis happens nonetheless. Change is gonna come because that’s what it does. Change is gonna come.

Sometimes change is exactly what we need; meeting new people, exploring new places, a different routine, a different set of opportunities, it is often the solution that we know exists and we know we can make possible. But the onward march of time and the changes that it brings don’t always come without fear and doubt. Stasis, more time than not, feels safer, and comfort or contentment or nostalgia pull us into its depths. It happens. And it is a trap.

Because what once was has already given way to what is. Progress has already been made. And we’re here having survived, still breathing, still going. We’ve climbed the mountains and looked back on mere hills. We’ve crossed oceans and remember only nonthreatening lakes. It’s easier when it’s said and done, of course, but once it’s done I’ll bet you anything we rarely ever regret it. So can’t we apply this logic to our futures? What exactly is preventing us from diving into the next unknown, throwing apprehension behind us and heading straight into possibilities?

I know. Accepting change is fucking hard. I also know it is our only option when it comes to life’s one given.

Morning Affirmations

The sky woke up with a dull, gray covering this morning. And although I usually prefer when dawn chases the night away, forcing it to retreat while purples become pinks become oranges, I’m trying to view this rainy, stormy day as a potential adventure. The heavens are open, life-giving water is pouring into the earth, and the sound of rolling thunder is somehow calming. I’m at my favorite coffee shop. The meditative, chattering background noise along with the raindrops pitter-pattering against the large window in front of me soothes my mind —which is fairly quiet this morning compared to a typical day in my life. I’m taking slow, full breaths, inhaling the deep aroma of freshly brewed coffee and positivity. Exhaling thoughts of today’s potential chaos. My insides are expanding to allow space for observation; today I will watch my emotions flow back and forth, melting into one another, as an impartial judge. I refuse to contract, to fold into myself. I refuse to decrease in size, to shrivel into fear, to let myself tighten when I needn’t let myself tighten. I am vast and all-encompassing. I greet this day with a curious disposition. And as I sit here in contemplative stillness as the world and I wake up, gaining conscious preparedness, following the tried-and-true routines that keep us safely secured amid the rush of life, I know I can retain the cozy comfort of this rainy, stormy morning.

“We’re only given one spark of madness.”

I have this hooded denim vest that I stick all my pins and patches on. It’s fun to wear because it’s fun and colorful, and overall just an outward expression of who I am, how I feel in the inside. My favorite pin on there, as of lately, is an orange one with a Robin Williams quote: “You are only given one tiny spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” I’ve thought a lot about those words lately.

Madness is something I know well. I know it may sound like a subjective thing, madness. Who’s to say what makes a person mad? What are the qualifications? Who’s a typical example of madness, who can we base our judgment off of? I know personally, I feel I’m mad because my ridiculously extreme mood fluctuations and my tenuous grip on my sanity makes me act in an over-the-top, out of control way. So like, I’m pretty sure I know madness in the way Robin Williams meant it. I know how he must have felt as he said those words. He was known to have suffered from depression, and unfortunately lost his battle against it.

But taking the definition of madness and putting it aside, what the comedian was saying is that madness is a gift. It doesn’t have to be veiled in darkness, the word doesn’t have to hold a negative connotation.

I agree to an extent. My insanity can certainly be a gift (although that might be a fairly magnanimous way to view it). It’s given me many wonderful things: my creativity, my capability to show empathy, my motivation, my passionate personality. Maybe neither the bad or the good outweighs the other, maybe comparing the benefits and disadvantages of being crazy is like comparing two totally unrelated things. But what I know for sure is I wouldn’t change who I am, madness and all, even if I could. I simply wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to risk losing the good, despite all of the bad.

Because as much as it sucks, my bipolar makes me see things differently. I see the world and all that it encompasses in a unique way. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s not always ugly. It is always my way, though. It is always true to me.

Again, it makes me creative, it helps me manipulate words, helps me bend them, helps me to warp their meaning by surrounding them with other words of varying meanings, all to get you to understand or allow you to escape or propel you into your own imagination. It makes me empathetic, allows me to understand the other human beings that walk this earth alongside me. It helps me connect to them in meaningful, beautiful ways. It drives me forward, and although my one-track mind isn’t always ideal, the passion behind it is powerful and glorious.

This all brings me to the ever-popular question amongst those with my affliction: where does my bipolar stop and where do I start? If the qualities I value about myself are so inextricably linked to my disorder, then is my disorder the only thing I like about myself?

In terms of recovering from anorexia, it wasn’t a matter of going back to who I was prior to diving into the depths of the disorder; rather, it was a matter of reinventing myself, new and while and happy, once the detrimental mental clutter was all cleared out. I couldn’t go back to before (a literal child). I couldn’t stay within it (utterly and painfully obsessed with food and calories and weight, chained to self-destruction). I had to decide who I wanted to be and be it.

Of course, deciding who I wanted to be wasn’t easy. So many options, ya know? I wanted to be me. Just me. But I needed a clearer image of what “just me” meant.

Bipolar is an entirely different animal. First of all, I’m stuck with it. It ain’t goin’ anywhere. Second, it’s more of a personality trait thing than a behavior thing.

Not to mention how some people with bipolar experience periods of normal stability in between major episodes. Or so they say. I’ve heard that and read it a thousand times lately. But like, what does that mean for me?? What is normal? What is stable? What is an even keel? I feel like all of that alludes me, or maybe I just like to feel down on myself.

One spark. One glittering, luminous, dangerous, shocking spark. That’s all we get in this life, and maybe if we were to let it fizzle out prematurely, we’d regret it.

One spark of madness. One diagnosis. One chance to utilize what it’s given me.

One chance to survive and thrive, to take the bullshit along with the best of it and make this thing work, because one day I may regret it if I don’t.

The point I’m trying to make is that madness is not a punishment. I mustn’t think of it in that way. I must open the madness up to the sparkling light, applying the benefits of it to my life. I think by understanding it in that way I’ll be better able to discern who I am.

How are names, a Harry Potter quote, exorcisms, and mental health related? Well I’m glad you asked…read on:

I think it’s obvious to anyone reading this that I have a natural affinity for words. Finding vocabulary that fits certain feelings I want to convey, finding phrases and linking them with other phrases that capture the essence of a particular topic, grouping sentences that are applicable to certain experiences together with one another…I fucking love that shit.

I like metaphors, I think in terms of them often, but still, whenever possible, I strive to call things what they are. There’s always been a particular kind of power in doing so. There always will be.

Yet calling things what they are can be scary in some situations.

Which brings me to a certain Harry Potter quote, naturally: “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Said by none other than the wisest of wizards, Albus Dumbledore, it refers to calling Voldemort (a dark wizard, a totally evil-as-shit kinda dude, if you haven’t read the books) by his actual name as opposed to “he who shall not be named.” When I read the books growing up, it never occurred to me to question the fact that everyone and their mother was afraid of saying his damn name. It drove the point home about what a scary, inhuman motherfucker Voldemort was. As I got older it definitely seemed silly and almost childish to dance around calling him his real name. But as I was coming to such realizations about Harry Potter, I was simultaneously struggling with calling my own shit what it was.

As I began to develop the anorexia that ultimately had me in its grasp for three years, I truly didn’t realize what I was doing had a name. I was just stressed and nauseous and upset and anxious and overwhelmed and sad. And therefore, couldn’t eat. The disorder gathered speed slowly at first but gained momentum rather quickly once I came to understand that, “holy shit, there IS a name for what this is.” I remember the exact moment. I was standing on the scale in the bathroom on December 23rd, 2007. I remember sneaking in there to step on what would define my self-worth that day, I remember that I’d faked my way through eating half a bagel with my parents, sister, and grandparents who were visiting for the holiday. I remember gently putting the scale on the floor, ever so quietly so no one would know what I was doing. I remember stepping on, I remember what I weighed. And I remember when truth knocked the innocence out of me, stepping off the scale, and staring into the mirror at myself, looking gaunt and pale and fearful. There was a fucking name for it.

I spent two more years hiding the name and accompanying behaviors from anyone and everyone. I didn’t say the name, I didn’t write the name, I tried not to think the name.

When I eventually had no choice but to acknowledge said name (and subsequently be hospitalized and treated for anorexia, something that literally saved my life), it was revolutionary. There was a certain freedom in saying it around other kids and teenagers like me. It was phenomenal to say it and be heard saying it and to be proud of saying it, all while trying to rid myself of it. To top it off, I discovered the language behind it. The medical terminology, the psychological terminology. Even slang used by the other patients, my friends. There was power in saying those names and those words.

Because by saying them, by naming things what they were, I regained control. I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. Or, I wasn’t more afraid than I had to be; yeah, it was pretty terrifying to have to face this brand new concept (recovery), but I didn’t have the additional fear of a simple fucking word. And furthermore, I had the language to explain it all and described it so it would be understood. I had the tools to fight it.

For some reason, that had always reminded me of exorcisms. Go with me here. If you’ve ever seen a movie about that nonsense, you know that the priest always tried to get the thing that’s possessing the human to say it’s name. I just checked it out in some religious website, so look:

“Naming something (the demon), or knowing its name, means having power over that thing. In fact, God gives Adam the power to name things. At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.”

Now, I’m not religious. But I like the analogy here. Because as I said, naming things puts the power back in my hands.

When I call my anxiety what it is and just allow the use of its name to settle, I feel like I have at least a sliver of an ability to make it go away. It’s anxiety, that’s all. It’s real and it’s there and it sucks, but it has a name and other people know its name. It’s okay.

If I call my depression what it is, if I declare that I’m in a bipolar depression, it isn’t as scary bc at least it’s a legitimate thing that has some potential to be managed. If I call my hypomania what it is (if I make myself acknowledge that I’m going a mile a minute and it’s not because I’m superhuman), it’s a real thing that I’m going through and it has an end, because it is defined, and I’ll make it to the end without seriously attempting to fly.

If I’m suicidal, I have to call it that. I have to label the sinister desire within me with a word that matches it in strength and character. I have to call these things what they are.

I’m not saying this naming business is the end all be all for recovery and mental health management. I’m not saying emotions and behaviors without names aren’t legitimate. I’m not even saying you can’t pull yourself out of a dark spot without being honest about it all (although I wouldn’t advise going that route). I just mean to say that there is so much fucking good that can come out of naming things what they are and not fearing what doing so may mean.

Hope.

“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”
—Finale, Les Miserables

I hadn’t even checked to make sure that one was actually from Les Mis. I remembered hearing the line on broadway one of the many times I was lucky enough to see the production.

It turns out it’s a small little line, very near the end of the last song of the show.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

I got it tattooed on my left forearm, over faded and non-faded self-harm scars. It was a day or two before I was propelled into yet another major mood episode. It was literally so close to the edge of where I was thrown into the abyss and dragged through the tormenting hell that has been such a part of my life marked my bipolar.

Throughout my agitated hypomania and the subsequent major depression, I didn’t see how the tattoo I’d previously been so excited about could possibly be true. I was tempted to take a sharpie and cross the whole thing out. In my darker moments (of which there were many), I contemplated cutting it off my goddamn body.

I’m glad I didn’t.

Although I am literally, truly, 100% incapable of finding the light in the throes of my major depressions, the ones that seem to be getting worse and worse and worse, I know that positivity is one of the few answers. It’s a fucked up joke that such positivity seems to allude me so, but maybe that’s why I’m supposed to rely on others in those moments.

And there are other things I can do, of course. I mean, I was doing all of them: taking the meds and the supplements, eating healthy, drinking water, sleeping and waking at the same times daily, keeping a routine, moving my body as much as I could, doing the breathing and mindfulness things, using the apps that help me cope, distracting myself, going to therapy, asking for (begging for) help, journaling, tracking my symptoms, etc etc etc. You name it, I was doing it.

(As a side note, I stopped eating gluten. I’ve heard a few times now that the rash I’ve had or my arms and legs since forever could be related to gluten intolerance, and after a few days of doing the whole gluten-free thing, the rash is a lot better. And I’ve also heard this can affect moods, which makes sense. You know, the whole gut-brain axis, serotonin being made in the stomach, blah blah).

I don’t know what sent me spiraling into chaos this last time. I don’t know if it was random, if it was having gone through a time change because of a vacation, if it was me “thinking myself into it” (I’m still not certain that is an actual thing)…I don’t know. I can’t know. I shouldn’t care so much about knowing.

But, for better or worse, there are a few things that are known:
-This will happen again
-I will survive it again
-My doctor and therapist know how to help me better now that they’ve seen me cycle a few times
-There’s something out there that’ll help me make these episodes fewer and farther between and less fucking intense
-Even the darkest motherfucking night will end and the sun will rise

And by the way, how poignant that my tattoo should heal completely on the day I emerge back into the light. The night has ended. The sun has risen. All is well.