mental health

If Only I Had An Enemy Bigger Than My Apathy

As some of you know, I see a therapist each week.  Last Thursday, she challenged me to write about the hopelessness and apathy I’ve been feeling.  I’ve struggled with writing over the past couple of months as the words seem to crawl into my brain slowly, I forget them quickly, and my hand doesn’t want to put them to paper.  Those symptoms, the hopelessness, and the apathy are all pretty classic indicators of depression.  I’m 27, this is not where I thought I would be in my life, and it feels so unfair sometimes.  I feel hopeless about several things, but the big ones are wellness, future success, financial independence, and competence.

If I’m this ill when on medications (I have taken my meds as prescribed since I was diagnosed in 2013 and still had to be hospitalized at the end of May), I can’t even imagine how bad off I would be without meds.  I don’t see a light at the end of this endless tunnel and that’s frustrating.  I don’t feel like doing anything besides binge watching tv shows alone in my room and I’m not getting enjoyment from things I would usually enjoy.  Anhedonia is the word used to describe the inability to feel pleasure, and I’ve definitely got some degree of that going on.

Because I’m not enjoying things and I can’t write much or well right now, progress on my memoir is going much much slower than I thought it would.  It makes me feel like I’ll never finish the book, let alone find an agent or publisher that are willing to work with me and put my book out into the world.  At my core, I just want to make a difference and help other people.  I think the book would be a good way to do that as it would help normalize thoughts, feelings, and behavior for people with Bipolar Disorder, help friends and family members of people with Bipolar Disorder understand the illness a bit better, and offer education for others who read it.  I am also currently feeling like it will never get finished or see the light of day, which is frustrating and makes me feel sad and incompetent.

I’m the type of person who always had a plan for what was happening next in my life, and now I have no idea what that will be.  I have a huge fear of the unknown, which is why I used to plan things so meticulously.  I picked out all of my classes for high school freshmen year.  I declared my college major at orientation.  I knew I was going to grad school a long time before I finished college.  I applied for the Peace Corps a year before I finished graduate school.  Now, life is primarily a large question mark and that is terrifying for me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be 27 living at home with bipolar disorder.  I never anticipated that one day I would have legitimate need of a service dog and a daily regimen of medication that includes taking multiple medications three times a day.  This just isn’t where I thought I would be.

In terms of financial independence, I can barely afford everything now living at home and having a car that my parents graciously gave me when I was 17, let alone trying to rent an apartment or house and having a car payment.  It just doesn’t seem like there will ever be a time when I can live on my own and pay for everything I need to pay for.  I can save up some money each year, but it isn’t enough to live on and I usually use it for travel because travel feeds my soul in a way nothing else does.  Some people probably think that’s irresponsible and stupid and a mistake, but traveling makes me really come alive.  Last year, I had alternated between a mixed state and a depressive episode for months when I left for London.  I got to London and the next day started my longest period of stability to date since my diagnosis.  8 months of stability that are at least partially attributable to spending 2.5 weeks in the UK with one of my very best friends.

I used to feel super competent.  I could set goals and accomplish them.  I loved making lists and checking things off.  Now, it’s hard to get one or two things done a day, so forget about a whole list.  I just don’t have enough spoons to do everything I was able to do before the Bipolar Disorder.  Aside from the exhaustion, anhedonia, apathy, and hopelessness, I have a definite pattern of negative thinking going on that’s keeping me down.  It goes something like “I am not _______ enough.  I am too ________.  I am incompetent.  I am stupid.  I am fat.  I will never be ________ again.”  This isn’t how I want to live my life, but I’m having trouble figuring out how I can live boldly, courageously, and authentically while using as little extra energy as possible.  I can’t currently work.  I’m not good at social interactions with people I don’t know well.  My memoir and my children’s book about River the Wonderdale the service dog are promising, but I’m having so much trouble working on them currently that it’s very disheartening.

I know logically that it will be better in the future.  Historically, that has been true.  But my brain and heart aren’t connecting on that at this particular moment and it’s really hard to live my life feeling this way.  I feel so unfulfilled and incompetent and down and apathetic.


Fifteen Years

I can’t believe it has been fifteen years today. Fifteen years since I learned the world wasn’t as safe as I thought. Fifteen years since we were attacked on American soil in a big way that I was able to comprehend. Fifteen years since I sat glued to the television, watching as the second plane hit, people jumped to their deaths, the buildings collapsed, the footage of flight 93, and the footage of the Pentagon.  We watched in each class as the body count grew higher and higher. I cried in the hallway with Mrs. Wilcher and other kids didn’t understand why I was so upset.  Throughout the whole day, I only remember one teacher turning the television off for any length of time. Thank you, Mrs. Shope.

September 11,2001 was the beginning of a very long (and still continuing) anxiety ride for me. It was the most frightened I have ever been. It shaped my world view and affected my decision making abilities. Even though the attacks happened over 500 miles away, the effects were immediate and long lasting. To this day, when I see a plane flying what I perceive as too low, my heart starts pounding and my hands get sweaty.  Even though I still have so much residual anxiety, the attack desensitized me to violence in many ways. SO many people died that day- 2,996- and so many people have died of related causes since- somewhere around 1,000- that other disasters don’t seem as bad to me, even though any loss of human life is a tragedy.  I remember watching the news about the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and thinking, “oh, that’s not too bad.  At least it was only seven people.” The death count from September 11, 2001 has somehow become a type of gauge to me for measuring other disasters, and I’m rather uncomfortable with that.

The most formative event of my youth and one of the most formative of my life, I don’t see how there could possibly be a time in my life where 9/11 is no longer this enormous black spot.  I even have a morbid collection of 9/11 “memorabilia.” DVDs of the news footage, documentaries, magazines, and even the New York Times from September 12, 2001.  At times, 9/11 is less consuming, but it is and always will be a part of my life and who I am as a person.

I didn’t know any of the people I watched die on live television, but I knew that they were people’s brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and friends. I had never considered before that day that something so horrible could happen to friends and family members. I had also never watched people die on live tv before.  Now days, when there are tragedies happening around the world that the news deems worthy of covering, I elect to read about them on Twitter, Facebook, and newspaper websites instead of watching them unfold on television. The anxiety is just too much and I know first hand what effect watching events live can have on a person.

On the other side of things, I have never felt profoundly happy at the news of a person’s death as I was in May of 2011 when Twitter started blowing up that the president was going to make an announcement.  Twitter was full of speculation that Obama would announce Bin Laden’s death and the President’s announcement did not disappoint. Almost ten years later, the man who orchestrated the attacks was finally dead. 

In closing, time has passed and the bipolar disorder and medications for it have affected my memory in some pretty big ways, but I will never forget September 11, 2001 or the way I felt that day.  I will also never forget the somewhat magical sense of community that existed in the months following the attack. I have never seen our nation come together in that way before or since, but it’s comforting to know we are capable of doing so.