like flashes of lightning

I really have to work on dealing with those moments I get knifed in the stomach with random but intense anxiety. They usually come when I let my guard down. Or as I’ve been saying a lot lately, when I’m not “frantically trying to distract myself.” It’s weird. It’s terrible and scary, but the whole thing is weird. I pause for a brief second and I just feel like…panicked. I’ve felt that a few times today and I’ve forcefully shoved the scariness out. And maybe I should be proud of myself for feeling them but only letting the feeling stay momentarily because sometimes it escalates and ruins my day, but like. Why does the anxiety come like that? Like flashes of lightning, they rip through the background that is my mind with shocking electricity. Whyyyyyyy.

It seems I can’t let my mind rest. And I’m just wondering if it’s bad that I don’t let it.

So I write. Frantically. I read. Frantically. I fill the time, the spaces, the gaps. Frantically.

I wonder if there’s anything I can distract myself with that isn’t quite as brain-consuming as writing or reading. Maybe that’d be better.

I guess I do have things like that, though. Like coloring. God knows I have enough coloring books. My favorite is a unicorn one, it’s fun and cute and it makes me happy just looking at it. Or sudoku or math drills, which I like to do. Those require a good amount of thought while still letting my mind roam a little more freely, I think?

I guess those are like stepping stones in the right direction. Allowing my thoughts a little more freedom to wiggle around might ultimately help me be able to loosen the reigns even more.

Mindfulness and meditation are gonna be crucial at some point. I know the benefits of those are probably written everywhere that talks about mental health. But still, there’s definite merit to them. Not that I haven’t tried them. I have guided meditations in my iTunes library, even one specifically for bipolars. I have this app that gives guided meditations but there’s cursing…it’s hard to explain but it says stuff like “exhale the bullshit” and my fave, “you don’t have to pay attention to every ranch hand at the fuckup farm.” But my point is that it’s still hard. Dunno if it’s an attention-span thing or just the issue I’m actually talking about, not being able to sit with the thoughts.

There are other DBT skills that I know could be useful (dialectical behavioral therapy teaches that there are more gray areas in life than black or white and that integrating opposites is healthy, and as a general rule is awesome…it’s hard to explain why that thought-process is helpful, but I’ll probably make a separate DBT post later). Like distress tolerance. That’s a big one. It’s so connected to my anxiety because the first second I become uncomfortable is legit scary. Why can’t I just sit with the distress for half a second? And ways to tolerate distress, it says, can be like, self-soothing or just radically accepting that the current moment might suck and you can’t change it and that’s kinda okay.

Anyway. I saw a post going around on Instagram and Pinterest and wherever else that said “feeling the need to stay busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down.”

I talked about this with my therapist a while back (naturally). She said even she prefers staying busy. And we often talk about how boredom is tremendously triggering for me. That might have to do with the ADHD, like, if I feel like I can’t sit down and focus on something I enjoy, it kills me.

It’s confusing, though, because if I had to choose, I think I’d rather be at home with the OPTION to “do nothing.” I’d obviously much prefer that than being at work. (Although, and I’m just gonna toot my own horn and say it, writing is my work…yay). So why is it such an issue for me? Does that make sense?

I’m gonna end this long and somewhat rant-like post here. I haven’t come to any actual conclusions (do I ever? lol), but at least the thoughts are out of my head, into the ether of the internet. Hopeeeefully that’ll let me process this shitshow better.

Find a safe space

You’re having a panic attack, struggling to see straight, calm your racing thoughts, slow your pounding heart, and breathe. You tell yourself you’re okay. You aren’t in actual, physical danger. But something triggered your alarm system, which sent a message to your amygdala, which made all this shit happen in your body in order to keep you safe. Too bad the danger lives more internally than externally. Still, your fight-or-flight instinct has taken over (even though you can’t run from or fight the source of your crippling anxiety), and adrenaline is surging through you, all because we inherited such a response from our ancestors thousands of years ago and our brain systems just haven’t caught the fuck up. So what do you DO?

You can try to force yourself into breathing normally. Inhale slowly, hold it, exhale slowly, hold it. Repeat. Repeat. Or you can try to “ground” yourself, to reconnect with the fact that you’re exactly where you are, here and now, to live in this present moment instead of the impending future. You can try (almost desperately) to distract yourself. Solving math problems is great for that. So are word puzzles. Your brain can’t focus on figuring things out and panicking at the same time. The same is true of experiencing a rapid and drastic change in temperature. Take an icy cold shower if you can. Your brain will stop processing the paralyzing fear you’re experiencing (or so I’m told). The scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but personally, I open a familiar perfume bottle and breathe in the comfort it carries for me. I always use that perfume before I do happy, relaxing things. So I’ve (almost) effectively trained my brain to associate it with happiness and relaxation.

But something that’s been particularly interesting to me lately is visualization. A kind of intense mental imagery. A purposeful relocation to a safe place.

I have a pretty active imagination. Maybe that’s the writer in me, but I have a particular proclivity for getting myself lost in whatever place I’m thinking of. Like, I force myself there. I picture everything vividly, paying careful attention to detail. I mentally feel the sensations that accompany that place. I let myself experience the feelings that would go along with being there.

Sometimes it’s a made-up place in a random, made-up scenario. Sometimes it’s an actual place in a scenario I wish would happen there. There are the typical escapes. The beach, with sun shining, the waves crashing, the smell of sunblock wafting through the air. And the perhaps less typical cozy cafe, with a good cup of coffee and a book I’m completely absorbed in. A lot of times it’s a memory that, a moment in my past that I’d love to go back to. (Again, that might be the writer in me; I love the quote “we write to taste life twice,” and I think reliving memories is another way to do that)

I haven’t had a full-on, gasping, clutching, gut-wrenching panic attack in about a month. And after being prescribed an as-needed benzodiazepine about two months ago, I definitely feel more in control of those situations. Knowing I have a pill in my bag that can alleviate those sickening physical symptoms is often enough to reduce the unrelenting (and usually unnecessary) fear. And if that isn’t enough, I put the pill in my mouth and swallow.

But I’m still an anxious person. That probably won’t ever change. So I’m trying to get this visualization thing set in my mind so I can get a better handle on my general, day-to-day anxiety. I’m trying to set up predetermined safe places that I can teleport to at a moment’s notice. So here’s my attempt at collecting them and getting them ready for use:

Disney World. The Happiest Place on Earth. In any park, with any loved one, either in memory or projection. Perhaps it’s the Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA in the early morning with my parents and sister. There’s time-appropriate music playing from seemingly nowhere, and we’ve just turned the corner to see Cinderella Castle standing majestically in the distance, and I feel like I’m Home, like nothing else matters because this moment is perfect. The love I feel around me is palpable. The excitement is tangible. All is well.

Driving down Ocean Parkway, looping from one Long Island beach to another, singing loudly to a crazy array of music with the man who’d soon become my boyfriend. It’s late at night and we’ve been driving for hours, alternating between deep conversations and enjoying the fact that our tastes in music are so similar. I’m calm and happy and fulfilled.

The bookstore. Summer 2010, the summer I really came into my own. My best friend just walked in the door and we greet each other by immediately launching into talking about exciting plans and things to try and what’s been going on since we’ve seen each other a day ago. We get matching cups of coffee and sit by the window and we bounce ideas off each other while simultaneously bouncing off the walls. When we’ve exhausted that, we wander the bookstore, admiring the books we hope to buy, feeling the peace that comes with being surrounded by such an awesome amount of written knowledge. Things are good.

Christmas morning. My parent’s living room. The day that we’ve been anticipating for an entire season. Surrounded by my family and presents, the Yule Log on the TV, love and laughter and magic filling the entire room. It feels right.

I’m at a concert venue about to see my favorite band play. My friends and I are standing by the mosh pit, being bumped by someone dancing in circles every now and then, and we’re all screaming the lyrics to the songs we know by heart. The music fills my entire soul and leaves me feeling energetic in the best way. They start playing my favorite song. Then the singer cuts out and he points the mic into the crowd so that the crowd can take over the song. We’re all different but also so similar, most of us with tattoos and dyed hair and checkered vans and band t-shirts and the like. I feel connected and important.

It’s Monday morning and I just sat down in my therapist’s office, on the floor by the window, where we can watch the clouds go by and the wind blow through the trees and the cars driving by. But we’re talking about important things and processing the chaos that is my life, and occasionally veering off topic to easier things, and oftentimes looking at funny memes. I’m wiggly and all over the place, but there’s safety and comfort sitting across from me so it’s okay.

I’m in our room, sitting there on the bed under my weighted blanket, laptop propped up on a pillow, and I’m scrolling tumblr. He’s sitting next to me, and every 10 seconds we stop to show each other something stupid we stumbled across online. We’ve been sitting there for like an hour in relative silence, but it’s the epitome of what love looks like. I don’t have to worry about anything because he’s there and he understands and he loves me.

My favorite places, my favorite moments. There are more, of course. And I’m sure throughout my life I’ll continue finding ones to add to the list. But for now, I’m gonna try to remember that I have these to escape to whenever the need arises.

Eating Healthy (for real), in spite of eating disordered thoughts

“Think about how it’s nourishing you.”

 

I’ve gotta cut the crap with this “falling back into my eating disorder” thing.

So I’m supposed to eat at least 2 actual meals a day and while I eat, I’m supposed to think about all the good the food is doing me. Nourishing my body. Making my skin and hair healthy, helping me function the right way. Nourishing my brain. Allowing my meds to work the right way.

I ate one actual meal today already (almost immediately after being told that I have to do the above by my therapist). I tracked it on this app I’m gonna start using called “Recovery Record” (because it’s a fucking cool app and because even though I’m once again shocked by how I’m at such a low with the eating stuff, it’s apparently necessary for me to get all the help I can). And I truly did think about how food is literally necessary for a person’s body and brain and health and happiness, etc etc etc

#therapywin

It’s actually a really helpful thing to think while eating. It’s really comforting to know that I’m doing something good for myself. I mean, it’s quite obvious that restricting and starving or whatever other bullshit I’ve been doing is bad for me. For my body and for my already dysfunctional brain. But the allure was obviously still there (for reasons I’ve said before and reasons I think I’ve still got buried under the piles of crap in my mind).

So yeah. Focusing on health. And on that note, I’ve compiled a list of things that sorta have to do with food and how it related to actual physical and mental health.

 

The obvious stuff first, some of which I’ve already said, and other general positives of eating healthily and not restricting :

— good nutrition gives your body and brain what it needs to function properly (duh)

— therefore making you feel good (as opposed to weak and hungry and overall just shitty)

— hi, if you want energy, you need food and you need calories (which, by the way, is a word that means energy)

— hi, if you also want to focus, then eat some goddamn food, because not eating reduces gray matter in your brain, which as you can imagine is not a good thing to be reduced

— eating well has a positive impact on mood (as I’ve learned multiple times and should definitely try to fucking remember because my moods are fucked up enough)

— making good choices ensures you’ll feel good and be in good health later in life (AKA don’t screw up the entire second half of your life due to dumbass reasons to stay eating disordered)

— it maintains your immune system so you don’t get sick every other week and so you don’t stay sick for months at a time when you do get sick

— basically, food affects every aspect of your life and eating like a normal human being is hella helpful (granted “normal” is subjective, but I use it to try and kick some sense into myself)

 

Stuff that happens with the disorder gets really bad:

— the loss of your period (amenorrhea), which is the result of fucking up your estrogen hormones by not eating, can decrease your bone density by decreasing calcium in your body, leading to osteoporosis, which honestly sounds really terrible, so let’s just not [sidenote about the calcium thing, taking a Ca supplement when you actually get your period totally helps cramps]

— also you might mess up your chances of ever getting pregnant, so there’s that, and the sooner you “restore your period” the better your chances of staying fertile are

— your body will start eating its own muscles, including that good old heart muscle, because of something called like, “protein-energy malnutrition” or something

— anemia, lack of iron, not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen (which is kind of important) through your body

 

List of things that are “not otherwise specified” (see what I did there? EDNOS? I don’t think that’s what they call it anymore, but whatever):

— preventing yourself from eating for a prolonged period of time only makes you eventually want to start eating and not stop for a prolonged period of time, which, if you have an eating disorder, is confusing and upsetting (not that there’s anything wrong with eating to your heart’s content, but if you’ve been there, you know what I mean)

— dude, you’ve gotta get them vitamins, and yeah taking supplements helps (I certainly take all mine when I’m not eating because I might as well hold onto a sliver of health, amiright?) but those don’t do as well as vitamins and minerals from actual sustenance

— I keep thinking about the skin and hair thing that my therapist mentioned, and I love remembering that eating makes my them healthy (because that stuff makes me look healthier in a way unrelated to weight, and that’ll make me feel better) [also, when I went back to school after being in the hospital for a few months due to the anorexia that I’d suffered from for three years, one of my teachers complimented my hair specifically, and I remember thinking that that was the absolute most perfect thing to say because it didn’t have to do with my weight, and it made me feel proud to be healthy]

 

I could keep going with these lists, but I feel like that’s a good start. Maybe I’ll continue adding as I think of more things. We shall see, but tbh now I have to go focus on eating another actual meal. I’m gonna think about this stuff while simultaneously trying to eat “mindfully” and “intuitively” haha, so go me, I guess?

 

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Standing in my own way (?)

She wanted me to know that she wasn’t frustrated with me, that lots of people who see her have some type of roadblock (usually maladaptive behaviors, or repeatedly putting themselves in bad situations) that stop them from being the best version of themselves or the most mentally stable they can be.  But like, she explained to me that I’m standing in my own way.  How I’m a barrier to my own recovery and mental health, I guess.

I’m talking about my therapist (obviously) and what she was trying to get across to me while we sat on the floor by the window (where we always sit, because it’s more comfortable and somehow safer and easier and because I can be my fidgety self and even tug on the hem of her pants, which makes me feel connected and reassured that someone is there and present and near me in case my anxiety skyrockets and and and).  I’m standing in my own way.  I looked at her as she talked to me, making phenomenal eye contact if I do say so myself, and promised to think about it all (meaning write about it all, since that’s how I process shit) when I got home.  So hereeee I am.  Let’s gooooo…

The first thing I assume she was talking about was med compliance.  As in, taking my medications like a good girl, the way they’re prescribed, and every day, and at a regular time, etc.  And I’ll admit, for a (long) while there, I was not med compliant.  I was shitty with it for so long because the psychiatrist I saw for 11 years, the only one I’d ever seen, didn’t really impress upon me its importance, and because I had virtually no psychoeducation, and because let’s face it, taking that shit can be hard.  As I got sick and tired of continually going through the exhaustive cycles of bipolar disorder, as I started to do the right things without anyone ever telling me they were the right things, I downloaded an app that would let me keep track of when I took my pills.  For a year or two, I thought it was GREAT if I only missed like three or four days a month.  Which realistically fucking sucks.  It makes my moods more chaotic.  Duh.  But worse than that, when I feel shitty, I have even MORE trouble taking my meds regularly, because I’m kinda just like “fuck it, this sucks anyway, I might as well play into it.”  Not smart, my friends.  Not smart.

I wrote a whole list a while back with reasons it’s hard to stay on top of the meds thing.  There were things 17 on that list.  Things like “I forgot,” “laziness,” and “I choked on the pills” (I have lots of trouble swallowing pills, ugh).  There were also things like “I resent having to take them,” and “because they make me gain weight and that’s a huge issue to me.”  One bullet point was “I’d rather be fully crazy than have the vague sense of impending doom at half-crazy because at least when it’s full-blown I have a valid excuse for my horribly erratic behavior.”  There were darker reasons.  “I’m always gonna be insane so I might as well be really insane.”  “I’m violently angry that I’ve been given this bullshit fucking disorder and that anger is corrosive enough to wear down my will to choke down a handful of pills.

But I really have gotten better with it!  I made a counter list with reasons to do what I’m supposed to do.  And even that aside, I’ve only missed 2 pills in four months, and that’s a tremendous fucking achievement.  Not sure if it still says “not med compliant” in big letters across her notes about me (come to think of it, it may still say “suicide risk” in even larger letters, hmmm) but like.  I take my fucking pills.  I do.

Agh okay, maybe I struggle with the ADHD one, because in my mind “I don’t have to concentrate that well allll of the time.”  And I just got one for anxiety, and it does say to take it as needed but fuck, okay, maybe I should take it more because the endless surges of adrenaline, the unceasing rapidly palpitating heart, and the like?  Just not good for me.

Alsoooo, I see my psychiatrist Thursday, and basically, I have to come at her with more data so we can figure out what to do/where to go from here.

My therapist also said a week or two ago that I’m not even fully treatment compliant.  Because I was having a shitty fucking time, crying and being sad and anxious and just ugh fuck blah.  The anxiety I have usually sits in my chest but it was expanding into my stomach making it gross and upset, it was bubbling up my throat causing acid reflux, it was making me dizzy and shaky and weak and terrible.  And oh hey, that’s a fucking panic attack, so.  Yeah.  She said to me a few times to call my psychiatrist because “there’s no need to suffer” and because my psychiatrist can fucking HELP ME WITH MEDS which is SUCH AN ATTAINABLE SOLUTION.

I listen, though.  I listen to both of them and do (most of) what they say and come home and consciously try to process what we talk about when we see each other.  I put in the effort.  I work fucking hard.  I’m trying.

It’s making me wonder, though: am I just sitting here trying to convince myself that I’m not actually standing in my way?  ‘Cause I mean, even though I try really hard doesn’t mean I’m still not causing it to be harder than it has to be.

I guesssss the point of this rambling stream-of-consciousness is that I’m gonna try to figure out how I’m standing in my own way.  Figure that shit out so I can be honest with myself about it.  And that seeing/acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it.  Not to mention when I’m able to think about it more clearly, I’ll be able to go back and hash this all out with my therapist and “do work,” the work that therapy requires.

I guess there’ll be more on this subject later.  So stay tuned???

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.

The Cutting Thing

February 2008:

I was home alone, able to relax and not worry about judgmental comments about my eating habits for a few days. It was going to be a welcomed respite.
But when the deadlines drew nearer and the clock hands spun too quickly around their center, the all-too-familiar panic began to rise like floodwaters. I wouldn’t finish on time. I couldn’t. The dam broke. But I had no choice, I had to get everything done. I had to. How do people deal with this? I wondered exasperatedly. How can ANYONE deal with all this?
I had to do something.
I had this exacto knife that I used for cutting pictures for my scrapbooks. And I saw it, gleaming there, reflecting the afternoon sunlight as if heaven itself cast the beam onto it. There was no other answer, no other conceivable escape or release from the painful, clutching anxiety, so I grabbed it hastily. I walked into the bathroom. Uncovered the knife. And sliced through the skin on my left forearm. Five times I pressed down the blade and dragged it across my wrist. I took the rubbing alcohol from the cabinet. Poured it over my bloodied arm. Wiped myself clean. And walked out of the bathroom.
Aside from my heart palpitating rapidly, I didn’t feel anything abnormal. Cutting myself did not feel wrong. It didn’t register that anyone would have a different opinion about it.
In fact, I could think clearly again (for a short while).
Days later I was sitting in my ninth period English class. We were in the library and I was trying, really trying, to work on the assignment. But I had a day’s worth of terrible feelings behind me. I couldn’t get anything done. All I had thought about for over a week was tearing open my wounds, and my mind was completely fixated on the idea. Dragged blade, ripped flesh, bloodied arm. I was consumed with it. I wanted to. I had to. I had to go home and cut. I had to run that ever-saving blade over the scabs, repeatedly, over and over and over, tracing the bloodlines until I felt my mercy. I had to let out the anger, the pain, the frustration, the tears I could no longer bear to shed…let it all out in the form of crimson liquid. I had to ruin my fucking innocence so I could take a goddamn breath without wanting to explode.
I was angry. I was a total wreck. So I went home, locked myself in my bathroom, and carved meaning permanently into my skin.
I was pathetic and I knew it. After all, I was the girl who went to the bathroom during passing to just CRY. The girl who stared at the mirror, looking at her sunken, vacant expression, tears streaming down her face. The freak who looked down as she walked, too afraid and anxious and scared to keep her chin up.  Pathetic anorexic, pathetic cutter, pathetic.
Fast-forward to this morning in therapy when my therapist noticed the somewhat-recent, angry red line on my left forearm next to my newest tattoo.  “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” next to a basically-new scar.  Yup.  Doesn’t make much sense, as she pointed out to me.
It’s still sort of the same, the cutting thing.  I still do it when I’m overwhelmed and need it all to stop.  I still go about it matter-of-factly and nonchalantly, and it still doesn’t register as abnormal.  It still stops the mental chaos, if only briefly.
But it’s different now, too.  Thoughts of harming myself don’t run through my head in obsessive circles (at least not usually).  I don’t really do it because I’m angry.  And I certainly don’t think of myself as pathetic because of the whole thing.
Not to mention, I’m a friggin’ adult.  Who the hell’s gonna stop me?  I mean, maybe I’m still doing it purely because I can, but seriously, what can anyone say or do about it now?  Judge me?  Ooh, I’m so scared.  Other people’s opinions about it don’t really matter to me.
But then again, as my therapist pointed to my arm when she noticed my mark/line/cut, I instinctively hugged it to my side.  I’ve been trying to work on identifying my feelings using exact words as opposed to writing essays that describe them in fluffy, extravagant ways.  So I guess I’m identifying how I felt as “embarrassed,” right?  I was embarrassed.  My ears got hot and I assume I turned red and my eyes jumped to the floor, away from her eyes full of kindness that were looking at what I’d done.
Professionals really aren’t supposed to bring attention to cutters’ cuts.  They’d talked about that in a class she took a while back.  I guess any sort of notice of self-harm somehow reinforces the behavior.  But she put it into perspective, saying how I have a booboo and she wants to make sure I’m okay.
Which I am.  I don’t think it’s about that anymore.  There used to be pain behind each self-inflicted wound.  Weeks, months, years worth of tormented thoughts warped into bodily discomfort that threatened to detonate at any moment –that was the impetus behind the whole thing.  And I couldn’t make sense of that emotional pain, I didn’t GET it.  But actual pain?  Pain that I could see for myself?  I liked the idea of that.  Proof of my unending sadness, the physical manifestation of how I felt inside…it was just better.  But it’s different now.
Right?  Like, jeez, what IS it about now?  I’m tempted to say habit.  I do it just to fuckin’ do it.  It’s also partially because it feels good in a way I can’t put my finger on.  I know it “feels” better on my left arm, and it’s not just because I’m right-handed.  It just feels good.  There’s also a part of me that’s like, “oh hey it’s cool that I can still tolerate the experience of carving of my own flesh.”  That maaaaay be linked to how with the anorexia stuff, I couldn’t just “go back to that” even if I wanted to.  But the cutting thing?  I can still do that, dammit.  And that kiiiind of makes me special?  In a fucked up, terrible, ridiculous way?
I sat there not looking at my handiwork, but my therapist, sitting next to me, took my arm in her hand and flipped it over and looked down.  I twisted my arm in her hand and she twisted it back.  I looked down eventually.  And the random thing, the weird part, the shameful truth?  I actually liked looking.  At my type-written tattoo over faded, white-lined scars.  And at the recent ones peppered around the poignant and significant words.
It’s somehow poetic, the contrasting positivity of the quote with the obviously negative connotation that accompanies self-inflicted wounds.  Is that what this shit is about?  Being poetic?  Nah.  No way.  I hate when people romanticize mental illness.  It ain’t a pretty thing, and making it into some disordered version of art is just plain wrong.
Alright alright, real talk: the cuts/scars/marks/lines mean something to me.  They’re memories, not particularly good ones but still important to remember ones.  I don’t want them all to fade.  I’m scared for them all to fade.
There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement.  Like, am I worried I’m gonna lose a part of who I am if I get over this thing just like I got over the eating thing?  Oh GOD, do I think of myself only in regards to my mental illnesses???  And if that’s the case, is the cutting thing related to my being so wildly bipolar still?  Wait wait, I’ve been mostly stable for like three months.  Am I doing this shit because I need SOME sort of crazy going on?  Fuck.
Honestly, I cut myself like three weeks ago when I couldn’t sleep.  I was thinking too much and I wanted my brain to shut the fuck up and I cut myself and it did and I went to sleep.
I dunno.  I’m tired now, from thinking about it all, but I think I made some progress with this whole thing.

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.

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.