Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Riding the wave

image by niall62 on flickr

I graduated from my therapist the other day. That was new. I am quite certain that this is the first time ever when one of my counseling relationships didn't end with me (or in the early years: my mom) going "Fuck this shit!".1
It's doubly amazing to me because less than a year ago I was here and here and here, having one of the worst breakdowns of my adult life, and the only thing I could hope for at the time was that I would be able to make it out of that without needing to go on meds again or being hospitalized. This last concern went away after a week or two, but they were two hellish weeks (extreme serotonin depletion will do that to a person, and in my case, leads to a level of derealization that is borderline psychotic. Fun stuff!).

This makes it extra astonishing to be able to say that I am really ok now. I have made it to the other side. I am riding the wave again. And I don't even have that feeling that I normally get whenever I am up there, that I may be up there but I am also riding a unicycle on a tightrope while juggling all kinds of scary shit that wants to bite me in the face and I desperately want my mom to look at what I'm doing but I am painfully aware that if I even look at what I'm doing I'm going to drop everything and fall to a horrible death, and get bitten in the face. It's not like that. It's more as if a moment ago, I was trying to steer a three-master through a hurricane and failing, and the next time I blinked I found myself washed up on one of those beaches where they take all those photos for inspirational quotes on Pinterest.

Because those doors of perception are impossible to see through from either side, whenever I manage to step through them, what lies beyond becomes something I can only recall in abstract. I immediately forget about the road that brought me there. This sucks, because the result of this is that whenever things go right, I tend to attribute it to luck or circumstances, while when things go wrong, I will still find a way to blame myself. The truth is, of course, that it will always be a combination of both. But I really did do a couple of important things right this time, and I want to remember.

The other reason I want to write this stuff down is that whenever I am feeling this much joy, I want to share it with everyone. I want to catch it, bottle it and distribute it, and not even in an internet self help pyramid meme-scheme kind of way, but in a genuine you're-welcome-to-it-as-long-as-I don't-have-to-go-through-the-trouble-of-mailing-it-to-you way. Because if it helped me, it really might also help you someday.

So in no particular order,2 here's what I did:
  1. I made sure I got enough sleep. This was actually the most difficult thing to fix, and in the end the only thing that sort of worked for me was taking melatonin supplements for a while. I tried all the other common sense stuff like making sure I got enough sunlight during the day, installing f.lux on my computer and accumulating an impressive collection of ASMR-mp3's (which do relax me, even if I rarely get the elusive "brain tingles"), but in the end, I'm just happy I could sort of fix it without having to resort to any prescription drugs. It still takes me one to two hours on average to fall asleep, but bedtime no longer automatically makes me feel like I'm in 'Nightmare on Elm Street', so I'm fine with that.

  2. I switched therapists. Not that I want to speak ill of my previous therapist in any way, but a thing that many people don't realize is that just like in any other relationship, sometimes you have to acknowledge that things just aren't going anywhere. A therapist is someone you hire, so if you've given it a genuine effort and still don't feel like you are making progress, it's not a betrayal if you want to try someone else's approach. Different people respond best to different things, and there are so many approaches out there that it's definitely worth looking into what's best for you. The reason I switched was because I felt sick to death of talking about things, and wanted to go out and do stuff for a change. This meant that cognitive behavioral therapy was a good fit for me. We set out clear goals that I wanted to achieve and broke those up into steps to get there. This doesn't mean that this is the best approach for everyone, but it was for me.

  3. I took a pretty intensive mindfulness course, which filled in the blanks in what I (thought I) already knew. The course was an extremely valuable complement to my regular therapy, and has since turned into a daily practice that has become as much a no-brainer as brushing my teeth. I could probably write an entire post about what I learned from mindfulness alone, and maybe I will sometime. One of the coolest things about it is that when you practice meditation daily, you are actually strengthening the part of your brain that makes you able to step back and breathe when things get too intense to handle, and that little pause can make all the difference sometimes. This stuff shows up on brain scans too, so there's nothing voodoo magic about it at all (though it can be, if you think it's more fun that way).

  4. I rekindled some of my old obsessions, which not only enabled me to feel real passion again for the first time after a long bout of depression, but also gave me the opportunity to take two trips abroad (one of them all by myself, which, yes, scared the shit out of me) and meet a bunch of cool people, both on-line and in the outside world. When your depression tries to convince you that nothing in the world can bring you any sense of joy, it can be a good idea to look back to the things you used to enjoy, and try and see if any of those will pull you out a little bit. I realize this can backfire, because the main problem with depression is exactly that it renders the things you used to like incredibly void and stupid, so it's probably something to try when you're already on your way back up. But you never know, one of those things might be exactly what will stoke the fire you need to get out of the hole again. Because it was for me.

  5. I started a blog to act as a consistent reminder to get out of my comfort zone. And I really did suck at stuff a whole lot more. This is something that will probably always be painful to me, but I can tell that I'm making progress from the fact that this week, for the first time ever, I actually played guitar with other people. Granted, "other people" in this case means "my boyfriend" and we all tend to have a somewhat lower shame threshold with people who've seen us naked and have been smelling our farts for the past 7 years,3 but I used to not even want him to hear whatever horrible jangle I was producing, so I'm calling it progress.

  6. I decided to start saying yes to things. Again, this is probably something that is best attempted when already on the upswing and you can see some light at the end of the tunnel. It is also something I still have trouble with, because I tend to forget that while "no" is a great way to protect myself from the outside world, sometimes "yes" is what will actually allow me to have some fun for a change. I'm still working on this one, but if you are someone I like and you ask me out these days, there is at least a 40% chance that I'll say yes to you. This may not sound like much, but that number used to be a hell of a lot closer to zero.

  7. I got active. Maybe not all that gracefully, but I did, and I am. The trouble with this, as with many of the others, is that you kind of need a minimum of base energy to get going. But if you can even as much as work up the courage to go for a walk, studies have shown that taking a 20 minute walk each day has about the same effect as a mild antidepressant. Sunlight is good. Fresh air is good. And once you really get going, you get all the benefits of that sweet, sweet dopamine your brain produces once you get your body moving. Just like anything else, exercise is something that you can possibly overdo, so this may not be the best tip for everybody. If you are anything like me though, it is crucial.

  8. I learned to say "that's not my problem". Another ongoing learning process, but you'd be amazed how much mental energy you can free up if you stop trying to fix everybody else's problems. I now say it (quietly!) multiple times per day at work, and that alone has made a world of difference to how I feel at the end of my shift. Saying it to the people you love (again: quietly!) is a whole lot more challenging, but it's a hard truth we all have to face some day. As much as we can be there for each other to lean on, in the end, our problems are our own to fix.

  9. I made some tough decisions. This may have been more of a result than an action, but I am mentioning it because I really did make them (more on those in my next post), and I wouldn't have been able to a couple of months ago. A cool brain fact about decisions is that we are all wired to rationalize the choices we make in hindsight. This is called choice-supportive bias, and means that we tend to feel a lot happier about a decision after it is made than we did before, no matter which choice we picked. The decisions where this effect is the strongest are actually the ones we don't have the option to undo. Not that I am encouraging everyone to drastically turn their life upside down (this may be an especially bad idea if you're dealing with mental instability), but if you're a person who, like me, lets herself get eaten by analysis paralysis as if it were a swarm of fire ants, it can be good to just pick something and be done with it. Some of these giant conundrums actually seem somewhat silly now, but that's only because:

  10. I remembered who I am and what I used to like about myself. Again, maybe more of a result as opposed to an action you can take, but that's only if you look at it a certain way, because trying to be unashamed is something you can actively strive for (possibly inspired by other bloggers). I saved this one for last because as I finally found myself on the other side of the doors again, the thing that astonished me most was how much I had allowed myself to be erased by what I thought other people wanted me to be, until there was almost nothing of me left.

    The sheer immensity of the fear and relief I felt when I finally realized this, is what makes this the most important one, and the one I need to remember most of all, because come to think of it, that may have been the one time when I was able to see beyond the doors and stare into the abyss that lies on the other side. I know that the nature of the wave is that it must come down again sometime, and I'm sure that it will, but I never want to fall into that abyss again. I want to remember.

    I am trillie. I have an anxiety disorder. I probably always will. That doesn't have to mean I can't still do stuff or go places. It just means that when I do, I get to experience having a panic attack in a different place on earth. I know I am a quitter, but I am also a start-overer. I am fragile, but I'm also brave. I am a stubborn know-it-all, and I am a generous friend. I love silly things an embarrassing amount. Sometimes I am funny, but not as often as I think I am. I am a 30-something woman without a driver's licence who still wipes her hands on her clothes as a reflex, and can be counted on to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I will probably never do any of the things most people associate with adulthood, but there are more than a million ways to be an adult, and one of those ways is to know who you are. And when the wave comes, I ride that fucker home.

1 My mom obviously doesn't say "fuck". Or "shit". This is a dramatization.
2 Are you proud that I didn't call my post "10 things that X"? Because I kind of am.
3 This number should probably be corrected for the standard period at the beginning of a relationship where you pretend there is no such thing as farts. Or leg hair. Hey, does anybody happen to know how long that is?

I apologize for the length of this post, and would like to thank anyone who has read this far. I feel like any of these points could be expanded into a post of their own right though, so if anyone has a point they would like me to write more about, feel free to suggest it to me. In that vain, I now have a brand spanking new contact page, so if anyone wants to email me about anything at all, they can now do that. Yay!


  1. I'm so happy to hear that you're making progress in conquering your demons. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote in this post. May you continue to ride the wave with joy in your heart and sun on your face.

  2. Thank you! That is very sweet :)

  3. You are one of the best ever. Really and truly. And even when you felt like you were your most erased version of yourself, you were still so much brighter than so many others. Also, check out all that work you did. I'm sincerely in awe.