Mental illness and fear

I have mental illness. I’ve seen doctors; they’ve diagnosed me. I suppose I could go into all the gritty details of my diagnoses, which would make all the armchair psychologists come out of the woodwork to give me advise on how to overcome my mental illness and become a better person. I’m not going to do that.

2016 was a very bad year. I went into it very optimistically, thinking that maybe I could finally line up my ducks and move forward with my life and plans. That didn’t happen. One thing led to another, which led to disappointment following disappointment. I tried writing it all off, but there are some things that can’t be swept under the rug and ignored.

2017 hasn’t turned out so hot for me either, in many ways. There has been a lot of good. I won’t say that everything is bad, because it isn’t. It’s just that the bad outweighs the good, no matter how much of each there is. The bad always weighs more. It bogs one down until the load feels too overburdening to carry. And then I want to lay down and just stop breathing.

It’s been a very long time since I last updated this blog, so I should back up and fill everyone in on what’s going on in my brain. I returned to college after a 23 year absence and started working towards a degree in a field that interests me. It hasn’t been easy for me, because I’m much older than most of my classmates, and it’s a heavily male-dominated field. Every time I would get excited about achieving something, I would get knocked down by friends who mock me and accuse me of bragging. I guess I’m not supposed to be excited at finally being good at something. School has not always been easy for me – not now, and not back in my high school days. When I struggle with something, my brain tells me that I’m not good enough, and that I should just give up. My parents were always good about reinforcing the fact that I was never good enough, and that I’d never be as successful or intelligent as my sister. I don’t recall a single time when either of my parents have ever said they were proud of me, for anything. I’m not praiseworthy. I’m not anything. My brain tells me to give up. It’s not worth fighting for a sliver of recognition about anything. I’m not worth fighting for.

Logically, I know that my mental illness is giving me bad messages. Logically, I know that my thoughts are damaged. Logically, I know that depression lies. Mental illness isn’t logical. Mental illness is pulling my hair out by the roots or digging my nails into my own skin until I bleed, just to feel the pain. Mental illness is downing the last half of my prescription bottle of painkillers, just to see what would happen. Mental illness is jumping off the end of a pier, just to see if I would float. Thankfully (?) so far, mental illness hasn’t won. It probably will, someday.

According to my family, I could permanently cure my major depressive disorder by thinking happy thoughts instead of dwelling on negative ones. According to my family, the medications I take are unnecessary and probably filled with all kinds of things that are bad for me, and may cause cancer. (Then again, I’ve had cancer, so maybe they’re right.) According to my family, if I would just change my diet and exercise more, I wouldn’t feel sad anymore. It would seem that I’m the only person in the entire history of both sides of my family to have ever battled mental illness, so it must be in my head. Well yeah, that’s exactly where my mental illness is… in my head.

That’s the mental illness part (for now), here’s the fear part. I’m scared that I’ll never get better. I’m scared that something will happen that will hit me at just the wrong time, and I’ll actually push myself too far. I’m scared that no one will care. And after that, I’m scared that no one will take care of my cats. Let’s face it, they are the only reason I’m still alive some days. Some days, the pain (both real, physical pain and mental pain) is so bad that I don’t want to be here any longer. Right now, the stabbing headache from my screwed up spine hurts so badly I can barely breathe. I overcame my fear of chiropractors a couple weeks ago, when I met a very kind one through a friend. He’s been trying to help with my headaches because he says the pain I’m experiencing doesn’t match up with what the x-rays tell him. In 7 visits, we’ve gone from “no change at all” to “severely worse pain.” This is not an improvement. I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until the world goes away.


Cars, music, and broken abandoned things

I was in a discussion recently with a great friend (whom I’ve yet to meet in person) who lives in Detroit. She’s an amazing artist and photographer, and through her, I’ve come to appreciate the forgotten city. When people think of Detroit, it’s often in relation to the breakdown of the automotive industry and the horrible recession/depression that destroyed so many livelihoods so quickly. I jokingly commented that I relate to Detroit, because the three things the city is known best for is cars, music, and broken abandoned things. I have a deep and abiding love of cars, music runs through my soul, and anyone who has read any of my past posts knows that I am a broken abandoned thing.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” I’ve not had the easiest life, but I know others who have had it much worse than me. I grew up with the knowledge that I would only ever be second best, behind my sister. It didn’t matter how well I did, how smart I was, how much I tried. I would never be the golden child. That was the first crack. I started dating and discovered that I am drawn to abusive men, either physically or mentally. More cracks. I’ve never been good enough, and because of this, I get cast to the wayside. I am a broken abandoned thing. I’m still waiting to find out if I’m stronger at the broken parts.

Here’s the irony: broken abandoned things can be beautiful. Looking at photographs of abandoned factories in Detroit, I see all the years of history and feel the pulsating energy that once filled those buildings. I don’t see rubble, I see memories. I try to look objectively at my life and see the beauty, and that’s a lot harder. Some breaks can’t be fixed. How do you get over hearing “you’re worthless” and “you’ll never be good enough” continuously without it slowly eating away at your soul?

My answer is a little 10 pound charcoal tabby and white cat affectionately known as Tiggy. He’s also a broken and abandoned thing. He was handed to me through a car window, and the woman (girl, really) who handed him to me promptly drove off, leaving a very scared cat in my arms. I took him home because I was still devastated by the loss of my previous cat Moo. Three days after bringing him home, he started peeing outside the litter box. That’s a common sign of a urinary tract infection, so I rushed him to the vet and it was confirmed. She also told me that during her scans, she discovered that he had a history of untreated urinary tract infections and that his bladder, kidneys, and urethra were terribly scarred and that he would be an expensive cat to keep because of these medical problems. She also told me that he had fractured ribs (and I recently discovered that he also had broken vertebrae in his back which have since fused and cause him to hunch over when he sits). At that point, he was literally a broken and abandoned thing.

I had a gaping wound in my heart from the loss of my Moo, so I told the vet that he was my cat, he needs me, and I would do whatever it takes to make things right for him. Thankfully, a proper diet has solved his UTI problems, his ribs healed on their own, and he loves me unconditionally. He’s no longer broken, and he’s definitely not abandoned, but that’s because the universe set out to put him in my path at the time I needed him most, and he needed me most.

I don’t think I’ll ever get past the feeling of being broken and abandoned. Too many harsh words, too many physical wounds, too many people walking out on me when I needed them most. Until then, I listen to a playlist of musicians who make me happy and I seek out cars that lift my soul. I try to remember that breaks can be repaired, but those repairs will always be imperfect. I try to accept that I am me, and to shut out those people who don’t like me or want to change me.

I look forward to finding happiness again someday. Lately, that’s been difficult. I disappeared from writing for a long while because my life had become so painful that metaphorically slashing my wrists to let the poison run out was too much to bear. The past month has been a roller coaster of emotions. The ascent so high I felt like I was flying, only to be followed by the let down that reminded me that I am a broken and abandoned thing who doesn’t deserve happiness. My depression is lying to me again. I do deserve happiness, I just need to remember that it comes from myself, not from anyone else. I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and dilemmas right now, and flowing words are how I function best. There will probably be many posts over the coming days, weeks, months, even possibly years. Many of those posts will conflict with each other as I argue with myself, and many will probably be repetitive. I apologize in advance if you’ve gotten this far.

Thing(s) that I am grateful for today: Driving around in a light drizzle with the top down and Matt Nathanson blasting on the radio. The soft, extra fluffy white belly that my cat loves to have rubbed. Dark chocolate M&Ms.

I’m feeling a little bit topsy turvy

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”


I think my feeling of being “off” started on July 24th when I walked out to find my roof slashed on my car. Nothing was stolen, but it still felt very much like a personal violation. My car is very special to me. He symbolizes the grown up me who is supposed to be fun and spontaneous instead of dull and boring. I feel good when I sit in my car. I enjoy the attention I get when people comment on what a nice looking car he is. (It never extends to what a nice looking driver he has, but I’m quite okay with that)

Things started to get better once I was finally able to get to the claims adjuster to inspect the tear and get a check to pay for the new roof. I felt like I was finally making some progress. Then, the following Saturday, I suddenly lost fifth gear. Thankfully, I have a dual clutch transmission, and was able to utilize fifth gear by switching into manual mode. Once again, I fell into stress mode, worrying about what this was going to cost me to repair it, even with my super awesome bumper to bumper warranty. At this point I was looking at a $250 deductible for the roof, plus a minimum of $250 deductible on the transmission repair. Since I’m still on disability, this meant that I was going to have to save up for a very long time before I could get either repair done.

I returned to work on a modified schedule, working four hours a day. After the first two days, my knees hurt so badly that I could barely walk. I made an emergency appointment to see my surgeon’s PA and he cut me back to 3 hours a day to see if that would help. I’ve discovered that if I keep my legs elevated at work, they don’t hurt nearly as bad, but I’m still having to ice them for several hours when I get home.

My check arrived from State Farm and I called the auto upholsterer that was recommended by State Farm (and more importantly, but a very close friend of mine whose wife used the same company on her beloved Miata) and found out that the cost of the roof and labor was the exact amount of the check I was given. State Farm forgot to back out the $250 deductible that I was supposed to pay. Oops. I called them and asked, and they informed me that the check was correct, so I was went with it. I ordered my new roof . In the meantime, Morgan (my 350Z) decided that he was going to use fifth gear again, and hasn’t had any shifting problems since. I still want to get it checked out, but it’s not on the urgent list anymore.

Then I went to see my surgeon. He told me that he’s done all he can do with arthroscopic surgery, and the next thing to try is a procedure called “autologous cartilage replacement.” Basically, they do a quick arthroscopic procedure where they harvest some healthy cartilage and send it off to a lab to grow into a patch large enough to cover the two condyles on my tibia that are crumbling. Then, he’ll go in and do an open surgery to essentially sew the new cartilage onto the bone, where it should theoretically grow into healthy cartilage and be just like new. Finding out I need two more surgeries put me over the edge again and I spend a good portion of Monday crying and trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this means I’m stuck here in San Diego for at least the next two years, and possibly as many as four. I’m trying to stay optimistic and think of how wonderful it will be to not have pain and grinding/crunching in my knee every time it bends, but it’s hard to stay positive right now.

I did get my new roof on my car installed on Friday, and it looks very nice. It’s driving me a little nuts that I can’t lower the roof until tomorrow afternoon, because it needs to stretch properly so that I don’t have issues down the road, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I can live with. Also on Friday, I got a surprise visit with my son, as his father had some business to attend to here in town.

At this point, I’m so mentally turned around and upside down, I don’t even know what I’m feeling anymore. I’ve been having panic attacks again since finding out about the new surgeries and I have a pervasive feeling of anxiety that I just can’t get rid of. I try so hard to stay positive and always look on the bright side, but sometimes it’s just too hard. I feel like I’m bogged down; stuck in a city I hate, for the foreseeable future, and every time I try to make any plans to leave, something else comes up to hold me here longer. I should have never moved back. I haven’t been completely happy since returning, and I’m brokenheartedly homesick for the Carolinas. It’s getting to be time for the leaves to change color, and the air to turn brisk.

I feel like I’ve lost control of my life, and that I’m surviving on the whims of others. The depression is creeping back in, and so is the anxiety. No, they’re not the same thing. I’m trying to do the one coping mechanism that generally works for me, and that is taking control of one aspect of my life and setting it right. If I can control just one thing, then I know I’m not helpless. Inside, I’m still screaming though.

Today is the final day of “Mental Health Awareness Month”

I’d written previously about how May was designated as the official “Mental Health Awareness Month” and how I felt that it should not be limited to just 31 days out of the year. I, of course, still feel that way. For those who have not been following my blog regularly, or have just started reading it recently, I’ll give a brief overview. I have two forms of depression: Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I also suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. If you’d like to read more about any of these subjects, the NIMH website is a great place to start. It gives a detailed overview of the various types of depression, as well as a comprehensive explanation of what it all means.

Unfortunately, every person is different, and everyone’s presentation of mental illness and ability to cope will be different. I hide behind the walls I learned to put up after 6 years of drama school, and most people don’t realize I have any mental issues unless I intentionally share them. I’m trying to share them more now, to try to lessen the stigma of what it’s like to have mental illness. Most people think that the mentally ill are those homeless people who stagger around mumbling to themselves and panhandling. A great many of them are, but only because they haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had to seek help. I have had two excellent doctors who have helped me tremendously with finding the right course of medication that helps control my depression and allows me to live like a “normal” person most days.

I go through cycles where everything will be going great, and then some little thing will go wrong and I spiral down into depression. Lately, it’s been my knee issue. I feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back on a regular basis, except for those times when I’m only taking one step forward and two steps back. I deal with a lot of pain in my day to day life because of the bone spur in my C5 vertebra that is pressing against the nerves and causing a “migraine” that has been with me every single day since about April of 2006. Thankfully, I have an extremely high tolerance for pain, as I’m opiate resistant, so narcotics don’t help me at all.

At one point, I thought that I might be bi-polar, because I’d go through such intense mood swings, but I never truly hit mania and I never fit the other symptoms, according to my doctor. It’s just the regular cycle of depression. You start out okay, and then something triggers it and down the drain you go. Eventually, you fight your way back out of it and live normally for a while, and then you start the process all over again.

I don’t claim to be an expert on depression of any kind. I only know my own. I worry that my son will follow in my footsteps, so to speak, so I’m happy that he lives with his dad, who is a more stable individual. A person whom I consider to be a very good friend of mine wrote online today that she can’t take it anymore and felt completely unloved. I know it is the depression talking, and I sincerely hope that those who are (physically and mentally) closer to her can help her get through this. I know she is deserving of love, and I love her dearly, as do many of our friends. It’s so hard though, when the depression is lying to you and telling you you’re not good enough, or not pretty enough, or thin enough, or not deserving of love, because you are. Depression lies. It lies to you constantly and makes you doubt your own feelings until you don’t know if what you feel is true or if it’s just your illness making you feel that way.

Earlier this week I had a severe mental breakdown because I felt that my knee wasn’t getting any better and that I was going to have to live with yet another permanent pain in my life. I allowed myself to cry for a day and feel sorry for myself, and then I talked myself into believing that everything happens within its own time, and that I just have to be patient and let myself heal at whatever speed that is. I know I push myself too hard, and that’s one of my weaknesses. Unfortunately, pushing myself too hard on a newly operated knee can result in causing more damage than good, so I’ve had to go back to being a lazy lump with an ice pack  and elevation to try to get the swelling down, and to not walk any more than possible. I hate it though, because I’m not the type of person who can just sit around and do nothing all day. There’s only so much reading or crocheting I can do before I go batty.


Breaking down walls

I’ve spent a good part of my life building walls around myself, to keep people out. I think everyone does that to some extent, but some people build better walls than others. One of my biggest problems is that I feel too much. I don’t know if it correlates to my issues with depression and panic disorder or if it’s a separate issue. All I know is that everything from a misspoken word to an unintentional act can cut me like a knife and make me bleed internally. So,  I build walls. I hide behind them and try to pretend that I have a good life, doing things that make me happy. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it isn’t.

The first wall I consciously know that I built was to protect myself from my father. He was not physically or verbally abusive towards me, I just didn’t matter to him. I was always the quiet one because my sister was always so boisterous and always had a group of friends around. Anything she asked for, he gave her. If she wanted to go out with friends on Friday nights, she was allowed to. I was given books and told to stay in my room and not bother him. I tried to be a good daughter and offered to help him with projects like working on cars and repairing things around the house, and he’d let me, but I never got a thank you for my help and I never felt like I was appreciated for my contribution. After my parents’ divorce, he started dating and I started baking as a way to pass the time because I hated being alone in the house by myself every Friday night while my sister was out with friends and my father was out doing whatever he was doing to find a new wife. I told myself that it was okay that I was alone, because it gave me the freedom to experiment with baking recipes, but honestly, I’d rather have spent the time doing something with my father. Every time one of my friends mentions that their daughter was going to a father/daughter dance, it made me wonder if I just wasn’t good enough for my father to go to a dance with me. So, up went a wall; one that I could hide behind and convince myself that I didn’t need my father in my life.

I built a wall to shut out my mom as well. Soon after the divorce, my mom went back to school and got a job to help support us. I don’t begrudge her that. Then, she decided to go to law school. All of a sudden, every spare moment of the day was spent with her nose in a law-book, studying whatever courses she was taking that semester. I never had that caring mom who helped me with my homework or talked to me about boys or taught me how to create a budget and balance a checkbook. I figured if she didn’t have time for me, then I didn’t want to make time for her. Instead, I started making sure that dinner would be ready when my mom and sister got home, and struggled through my homework as best I could without help. Of course my sister wouldn’t help me because she was older and had more important things to than to help her stupid little sister.

As I got older, I built more and more walls to hide behind. I created a persona in high school that allowed me to get by relatively unscathed and mostly (I thought) unnoticed by the majority of classmates. I was never the top of the class, but I was never at the bottom. I was never in the popular clique, but I wasn’t outcast. I just existed. At the time, I harbored the dream of going away to a college out-of-state, earning a degree, and beginning a new life away from everyone who knew me. That dream came crashing down three weeks before college was scheduled to begin when my father told me that he decided that he couldn’t afford to pay for my college, and it wouldn’t be fair to my sister, since she was only attending community college. So, instead, I also enrolled in community college and passed three unmemorable years there without making a single friend or feeling like I had actually learned anything.

It was around this time that my depression started. At first, it was just dysthemya. Chronic, long-term, mild depression. I had several bad experiences in high school that may have triggered it, or it may have just developed on its own. I don’t know, and I don’t have the self-will to examine it any closer. I learned to live with it, because I had no one to talk to or share my problems with. Eventually, it morphed into the panic disorder, which I still have, and eventually into full-blown Major Depressive Disorder. Any time I tried to talk about it, I was told that it was all in my head and that I just needed to snap out of it and be happy. The depression would go away if I let it. I was accused of being an attention seeker, trying to get people to feel sorry for myself with my mood swings and crying jags. In reality, I needed someone to explain to me that depression is a disease, just like cancer or Parkinson’s. Some people eventually get past it with the right combination of therapy and medication, and others don’t. So far, I seem to fall into the “don’t” column.

I was terribly ashamed to ever admit that I had depression or panic disorder, so I always blew it off as just having a bad day. I didn’t want to be seen as weak or helpless. I just wanted to be a normal person with the occasional bad day. There was a new wall around me, to keep my true feelings to myself so that no one could make fun of my weakness. That was a good wall. The people who knew me best never realized I had any problems, and I never shared my scarred life history with them. I was just another slightly strange person who never quite became friends with anyone.

Then one day I decided I was tired of hiding behind my walls. I decided that I wasn’t going to be stigmatized for my mental illness. It’s not contagious, so explaining it to others wasn’t going to cause an epidemic of new sufferers. I slowly started talking about my issues to people who seemed to care, and I found out that the people who are my true friends don’t care that I am not perfect. They see my flaws as making me unique, not broken. That’s  not to say that there aren’t still times when I hurriedly put the walls back up and hide behind them when everything is going wrong, but I’m getting better. I still won’t talk about certain events in my life that have shaped part of who I am, but maybe someday I’ll be able to do that. In the meantime, I’ll work on tearing down my walls and sharing my hurts and pains, explaining what depression and panic disorder is actually like to people who ask, and trying to be accepted for being me.

It’s taken 39 years, but I’ve discovered that I like me, cracks and all. I’ll never be a completely whole person, and I’ll never be able to guarantee that I won’t slip back into the major depression that causes me to curl up in bed for days at a time, crying for no reason. I’ll still have panic attacks for no known reason, but it’s okay. It’s just part of who I am.

Panic attacks are not fun

I have Panic Disorder (in addition to Major Depressive Disorder), and most of the time, I’m able to control it through medication. Unfortunately, a few days ago, I hit the perfect storm of running out of Xanax just before my delivery was scheduled to be delivered by my mail pharmacy, only to go check the mail and realize that someone had pried open the box and stolen all the mail, including my medication. I went into a full-blown panic attack on Sunday, knowing that I had to suck it up and try to just get through it using willpower alone. Fortunately, my best friend understands my condition and asked me to call him, and stayed on the phone with me until I could breathe again.

I don’t know what other people’s panic attacks feel like, but when I’m having one I get super-overheated and start sweating profusely, my heart rate goes way up (from my normal resting pulse of 55 bpm to as high as 150 bpm) and I feel like I’m going to die of a heart attack. My senses shut down until my eyesight gets so blurry I can’t see, my hearing turns into a whooshing sound like I’m trying to hear underwater, and my head feels like I’m spinning in circles too fast and can’t get my bearings. On top of this, I start to hyperventilate and can’t speak in complete sentences without concentrating really hard.

It’s a horrible feeling. One moment you’re fine, and the next you feel like you’re going to die at any moment. My doctor and I have tried to figure out what my “triggers” are for many years, and I don’t seem to have any. I just get random attacks. Thankfully, I was able to explain the situation to my mail order pharmacy and they are going to expedite a replacement shipment to me, and my doctor ordered enough at my local pharmacy to get me through until the mail order comes in.

The biggest problem with mental illness is that those who don’t have it don’t understand that it’s not a choice. I can’t just decide to be happy or decide to not have a panic attack. That would be the same as trying to not be female or not have brown eyes. Yeah, I can mask the brown eyes with colored contacts, but beneath the contacts, my eyes will always be brown. Same with mental illness, I can mask the symptoms but the underlying disease is always there. Having depression and panic disorder is not anything I would wish upon anyone, much less myself. It’s extremely stigmatized still, and it’s hard to control.

If you know someone who has depression or some other mental illness, please don’t tell them to just be happy and it will all get better. Ask what you can do to help them out. Sometimes we just need a person to cry on until the worst of it passes. I’m okay today, for the most part. I can’t tell you how I’ll feel tomorrow. Each day is a surprise as to whether it’s going to be an easy day or a difficult one. Thankfully, I have some great friends who understand me and don’t make me feel like I’m some sort of freak.  Next, I need to get my family to understand it.