what a wonderfully crippling world.

And ya’ll actually thought I had given up on writing. It was pretty believable for a while there. My facebook page is gone, and I haven’t posted a single thing since July 3rd. But here I am, here to tell you the things in my life that I don’t always know if people will care about, but are still relevant to the mental health community.

So the move happened, and I’m finally settling back into this life of living at home and regrounding myself. The beginning was rough. As soon as I got off that airplane, and walked out into the 95% humidity, I immediately started crying and regretting the decision I made to leave Colorado. And for about 2 to 3 weeks following coming home, I was pretty depressed while still trying to figure out what I was really doing here.

Familiarity is always good. Feeling the warm hugs of people who genuinely love you make you remember that life isn’t always so lonely. Sitting down in front of the easel you abandoned so long ago and just painting every color that you feel in your blood and soul is an instant release of everything that feels bad. Seeing my old therapist in person was weird, but ultimately relieving. Even when you go back to the gym you used to go to and see the same people doing the same things feels both homey, yet slightly sad, but I mostly find it hilarious. Finally, after one good night, it’s like something in me finally opened up, and I finally felt like I could dig myself out of my depression once again.

One night towards the end of July, I peeled myself out of bed on a particularly dreary rainy night to go see Andrew McMahon in Baltimore (if you don’t know him, please do your mental health and your soul a favor and look him up). Standing in the crowd of all types of people I would normally hate, there was this weird community where we all felt that Andrew had changed our lives in some way, and was still continuing to do so as he sang his little heart out on the stage of Ram’s Head. After the show, it was pouring down rain. I mean POURING. I got a flash flood warning on my phone. But regardless, I had gotten this far, and I decided to be an idiot and stand out in the pouring rain for an hour because I was that determined to meet Andrew for some weird life-fulfilling reason.

After waiting in the rain for an hour, or so it felt, Andrew finally steps out of the venue with no shoes on, and a giant plastic cup filled with wine, looks at us all standing in the rain waiting for him, and with a huge smile on his face, says “What’s up, everybody?” He made his way down the line of people and when he finally got to me, I gave him a hug and started crying while I told him how his music saved me when I was the most alone I had ever been while in Colorado. I’ve never felt like anyone has actually listened and understood how I felt in that moment until then when he looked me directly in the eye, and gave me another hug like there was nothing more that needed to be said, and I could move on now.

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sometimes people make you feel the impossible

After that night, I started using my synesthesia for painting. I stopped caring about making my painting good, and making them look how I felt emotionally and physically. Synesthesia presents itself in different ways, so for me, I perceive emotional and physical sensations as colors. Instead of feeling the warm fur of my cat, I sense a warm campfire orange. If that makes sense. Feel free to ask me more.

I was painting everyday. I was painting so much that I was stepping over the paintings in my room to get almost anywhere. And it felt so good. I looked forward to just sitting down with a bottle of wine and my paintbrush and watching the colors form across the canvas. And as I kept doing this, I kept feeling more and more at home, and happier in some way, which is a weird thing I’ve never felt.

A couple more weeks passed and I had never felt so great. I was beginning to feel at home with my new job, some new friends and old friends I had reconnected with. I could socialize comfortably for the first time in years. I started doing great workouts at the gym and was starting to feel comfortable in my own skin after months of hating my body. I felt great, I looked great, and I knew it. Each day was better than the next. I would try new things, and do things I wouldn’t normally do, and that was totally ok because I was finally stepping out of my comfort zone and into this new, confident, happier me.

But finally it hit me. This “new” me, wasn’t me. This was hypomanic me. This was the uninhibited, no impulse control with nothing in my brain to tell me to “stop” me. I wasn’t sleeping much, would eat a lot or nothing at all, and got annoyed when people would try to stop me. I felt invincible. I was a goddess and nothing could bring me down.

And it’s amazing what small things will bring a person down from that kind of high. This post is brought to you by my post mania depression that resulted from a bad night of drinking, yelling at people in the street, and spraining my ankle, my wrist, banging up my knee and elbow and ultimately, an extremely bruised ego. I can’t walk, can’t exercise, can’t paint. I went to my first ceramics class of the semester yesterday and walked out feeling completely defeated because my ankle hurt too much to use the wheel and everyone was making beautiful pieces while mine kept falling apart.

I guess the lesson in all this is that it’s not a bad thing to have unmedicated bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t trade my hypomania for anything because it’s the best thing I could possibly feel and it feels like a gift to feel so alive, and to feel something that no one else can. Sometimes it’s even worth the horrible, crippling depression that follows and the stupid mistakes you made (like wearing heels while drinking and dancing). But there’s a difference between managing your mental illness, and living with it. And obviously, I can’t just live with it and expect to be okay. It’s not okay to start acting psychotic and screaming at people in the street because voices are screaming in your head. It’s not okay to become a total klepto during a hypomanic episode. It’s not okay to let depression make  you sleep for 3 days straight despite having an ankle injury and avoid contact with everyone.

But I will be okay. I always am. And at least this time, I’m not alone because I’m finally home.

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right now, it’s like this

Moving can be a pretty sad process. Slowly, your entire life is packaged up into boxes and sent away, it’s just you, your clothes, a bed, the rats and a computer. And then you play the waiting game. Waiting for the actual move day. And what do you do in the meantime? Netflix. Lots of Netflix. I don’t even have any books to read because those have already been packed and shipped away too. And my art supplies. My last day of work was last week so I have absolutely nothing to do. My car is getting shipped so I don’t have that and I’m working on selling my bike. And what is even the point of reconnecting with people who you will most likely never see again? So you could say that my computer and I have had a lot of time together lately.

And my mind. We’ve had too much togetherness the past few days.

But in spite of all this, it’s giving me an opportunity to reflect on what has been, what is, and what will become out of this extremely rocky journey of the past 11 months in Colorado. I thought nothing good came out of this, but actually, I learned a lot, and I grew more in a year than I did during the 5 years of college. What did I learn? Here’s the ultimate list of….

Things I Done Learned Doing Time in Fort Collins

  1. Dwelling on the past will not help you move on
  2. Trying to reinvent yourself will only make you depressed because you will lose yourself and everything that is wonderful about you (i.e. don’t buy a skateboard, pierce your lip, and shave half your head)
  3. It is okay to spend money on things that will make you happy. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it will buy park passes and good beer.
  4. Speaking of beer, barrel-aged stouts contain upwards of 450-500 calories per 12 oz. And I was wondering how I gained 10 lbs this year…
  5. If something doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it, even if it’s necessary. Never sacrifice happiness (i.e. how I haven’t been able to keep a real job for the past 5 months).
  6. There is no better start to a day than a sunrise hike
  7. Chemical peels are a bad idea
  8. If for whatever reason you are let go from a job, seek unemployment if job prospects aren’t looking good
  9. Don’t drink and bike. Just don’t.
  10. Minimalism makes life less stressful (especially because now I have less things to move!)
  11. Friends can be found in unexpected places
  12. It’s never the “right” time
  13. If you have a gut feeling that something might be a bad idea… it probably is
  14. Making granola is easy and buying in bulk is the best concept ever invented (unless you’re buying bulk peanut butter filled pretzels. Hello muffin top)
  15. DO NOT GO OFF YOUR MEDICATIONS WHEN YOU ARE UNEMPLOYED AND DEPRESSED.
  16. It’s okay to be homesick, it’s okay to call Mom and Dad.
  17. Sometimes being as far away as possible from some people for a while is the best thing you can do for a relationship. I love you, Mom and Dad. I forgive you, Blob.
  18. No one really cares about your selfie on top of Horsetooth. Except for the people who don’t live in mountains/live in Maryland.
  19. If you hate college kids, don’t live in college housing with strangers
  20. Anxiety is energy and that energy can give you a really good cardio session at the gym
  21. Jello shots are never a good idea
  22. Not all independent business owners are good people
  23. Tornados are real
  24. Don’t have sex with your coworkers
  25. Acupuncture works
  26. Just because your circumstances suck, doesn’t mean that life does too
  27. Wherever you go, there you are, because right now, it’s like this.
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5:29AM Colorado Sunrise

so ya’ll mother f**kers will stop asking “why” because it’s really complicated

So yeah, the rumors are true: I’m leaving Colorado to go back to Maryland. It’s not that I WANT to move back, to be honest I didn’t ever want to move back. But, unfortunately, it is home and that’s where I need to be right now for a lot of reasons.

A lot of things have happened this past 10 months that completely broke me down and built me back up again, stronger than ever, so I can’t say I wasted a year. I went through some of the worst depression I’ve ever been through, and through this, I learned a lot about myself. Ultimately, this past year I haven’t been getting what I need. I need art. I need my piano. I need the conveniently close music venues. Without all this the past year, I found myself as a completely empty shell. It wasn’t until I started painting again that I realized what it was in my life that I was missing: I lost a giant piece of myself.

I spent an entire year trying to find myself, when really it was there all along, I had just forgotten about it. I didn’t need to pierce my lip, shave my head and buy a skateboard to try and find who I am. I just needed to do what came naturally to me and ultimately just be myself.

So really what happened was that I came out here with no real plan except to hike mountains and drink good beer. But that wasn’t enough. It was fun for a couple months and then I got bored. I had the worst time trying to find a job and spent weeks fretting about being unemployed and alone. I would find a job, go for a day, hate it, and quit. This happened several times. I realize now I was wasting my time obsessing about finding a job and not spending the time I had to do the things that make me happy, like doing art. And that’s how I got depressed. Going nowhere. Not doing the things that make me happy. My body started shutting down. Weaning myself off my medication didn’t help either. I was drowning my body in alcohol every night and sleeping most of the day. Inevitably, I could feel my mind and body deteriorating and I slowly started to give up. I got to the point where leaving the house and even keeping a job was close to impossible.

One day a few weeks ago, I found myself at the bottom of a couple of bottles. I went a little psychotic. But then I started drawing. And then I picked up my paintbrush and I guess that was the moment when I came to (despite being out of my mind trashed) and realized what I was really missing in life.

Basically, I’m not happy in Colorado. I’m not getting what I need here. I need to go home for a while and reground myself and recover from the reality trip I took for 10 months. Hopefully, I’m going to go back to college to work on my second bachelor’s degree in art and then start applying to graduate schools for a master’s in art therapy (hence that I’m not moving back permanently). And of course, I’m going to just enjoy what I was missing from home: good friends, family, my piano, my cat and dog, being close to the water. The demons I left at home aren’t so scary anymore. Maybe time away is what healed me and made me strong enough to face them again.

I’m better now. I started treating myself better by eating a healthier diet, not drinking as much and making art every single day. I finally recovered from the klonopin withdrawal and now the fog has lifted from my head.

I will miss the mountains. I will miss the amazing beer I’ve tried here. I’ll miss some of the friends I acquired here. I will miss this beautiful summer weather. But it’s okay. I know I made the right decision.

You could say I’m a survivor of reality.

 

symptoms.

Everyday I ask myself, “what the FUCK is wrong with me?” Because this isn’t me. Or maybe it is. Things got a little bit crazy.

I haven’t been myself for 10 years, but I don’t remember being this out of control pre-medication.

The panic attacks, the lack of impulse control, letting myself give into things I know are wrong. I get too comfortable too easily, and then stepping out of that comfort zone is just too terrifying. I want to go to sleep every night knowing that things will not have changed when I wake up in the morning.

But they need to change, because this isn’t how to live. They’re all just symptoms of something bigger, something I need to face.

It’s 9am. I’ve been lying in bed since I woke up at 7:15 and couldn’t fall asleep, but couldn’t rationalize getting up. Nothing is going on today, why should I get out of bed?

Depression is a sneaky bastard. One day you’ll be totally fine. Things aren’t amazing, but nothing is really going wrong, so you’re okay. And then everyday starts being like that; not great, but not bad. This slowly evolves into having bad days and not-as-bad days, and eventually you find yourself just trying to survive each day because everyday is bad and it never gets any better.

But you still don’t even realize that you don’t have any good days anymore until suddenly 3 months have gone by and you’ve been miserable that entire time.  And that’s it: rock bottom. Everything is exhausting. Motivation is unheard of. The things you used to enjoy doing don’t sound appealing at all. Every morning is spent staring into space for several hours until the motivation to do anything, even clean up from breakfast, comes around.

The truth is, I had a really hard time accepting the fact that I had slumped back into my depression. I didn’t feel sad, or down or suicidal or anything I normally feel when I’m depressed. But that’s the thing about depression, sometimes it makes you feel nothing at all. I thought I was just having social anxiety as a result of medication withdrawal, but it turns out, I just don’t even want to be around people because I’d rather be in my bed with a bottle of wine watching Netflix. I thought my lack of energy was also from medication withdrawal. But that’s the other thing about depression, it’s not just an emotional state. Depression consumes every physical and mental part of your existence until you are an empty shell of yourself. 

My therapist calls this type of depression “anhedonia.” Basically, it’s the inability to feel pleasure. It’s just a fancy word for complete apathy towards life. There are things I should be happy about right now (which is why I hate the word “should”), like D is graduating on Friday and I should be happy for him, but I can’t. Seeing all the college kids this week killing themselves with schoolwork to get through finals makes me really sad. By the end of the week, all of them will have a sense of accomplishment and relief and gratitude that summer is finally here. As for me, by the end of the week, nothing will change. I’ll still be here. I want to be happy for them, I really do, but I can’t. It only reminds me of how little I’m currently doing with my life, and queue my spiraling downward into further depression.

It’s not easy to be in, and it’s even harder to get out of because there’s no magical cure or treatment. It makes me constantly ask myself, “what do I need that I’m not getting?” I try to think about the person I was when I wasn’t depressed: creative, active, and I had a sense of purpose. Now? I try to draw just to get out of my head, but it takes so much energy. Trying to do anything except binge on Netflix and lie in bed takes an enormous amount of effort, but that’s the price of trying to heal myself.

I’ve spent 3 days trying to finish this post. I give up.

 

What you need to know about people with social anxiety

I haven’t been able to answer the question of “How are you?” with a truthful “I’m good!” in about 2 months. I’m never really okay. Sure, some days are better than others, and sometimes it might look like I’m doing just fine because I’m smiling and I still go to work. So clearly, I’m totally okay.

I’m not.

Over the past few months while tapering off my klonopin, I reached a new level of anxiety: completely debilitating social anxiety. No, socially anxious people aren’t just “socially awkward.” It’s a complete fear of other people. Fear of being judged or ignored or disliked.

Just because I don’t answer your text right away doesn’t mean I’m mad at you. I’m just afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Just because I can barely go to the grocery store without having a small panic attack doesn’t mean I’m weird.

Not being able to be around a bunch of people I don’t know doesn’t make me antisocial. It’s just not comfortable.

Dominant personalities terrify me. I go by a script to talk to customers at work and it’s really hard to deviate from that without panicking.

Just because I’m “here” doesn’t mean I’m “here.”

It’s really hard to hold a job. I stopped going to one of my jobs because it made me so anxious and I was too scared to call my boss and call out or quit. I left her a voicemail.

I’m easily irritated. It’s hardly ever personal.

I’m really bad at starting conversations with new people. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You’re probably pretty cool and I just can’t think of anything to say.

I’m easily startled.

I really don’t want pity. Don’t tell me I’m falling apart, I know I am.

What am I trying to say here? Society needs to be more aware of how they treat other people. If someone looks like they’re not okay, they’re probably not, so please treat them that way. Quiet people don’t need your dominant personality thrown in their face. I’m not asking for special treatment, I’m just asking for people as a whole to be more considerate of others because you don’t know what someone is going through.

Some days are better than others. Sometimes I can go out and run errands and be okay, and other days I don’t leave my apartment unless I absolutely have to. When I completely stopped taking my klonopin, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at night. Truth is, I sleep like a baby now because I put so much energy into trying to act normal when I go out, that when I get home, I’m mentally and physically exhausted.

I know that it’s just withdrawal anxiety, and eventually it won’t be as bad. But in the mean time, I’m okay with not holding a full-time job and spending my Saturday nights alone.

Let me paint you a picture

What does anxiety look like? Well, it looks a lot like this

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Yep, that’s me yesterday hiking in Horsetooth park. Now that the weather has started to perk up for the summer time, I decided it’s time to get back outside to remind myself why I came out to Colorado in the first place. So, I did the same loop I did about 4 months ago on Christmas Eve, which takes me through the falls, and then up to the top of Horsetooth Rock. Well, actually I didn’t. This photo was taken about halfway through the planned route before I started having a panic attack and made it to about 15 minutes away from the top and decided that I couldn’t do it.

Moral of that story? Don’t believe that everyone who posts these nice selfies on Instagram and Facebook are “happy.”

So here’s what anxiety really looks like. It started with yesterday, going for a nice hike and overall okay despite the fact that it was my first day without a single dose of my anxiety medications. I was about 15 minutes away from getting to the top of the rock when I decided that I wanted to go climb up another rock to sit and eat my snack and drink my “summit beer” (usually these things happen at the actual top, or the “summit,” and it’s always definitely a good idea to bring something that’s low ABV, which in this case was 4.5%). That’s when the anxiety set in. Suddenly, everything felt different. A sense of dread and everything seemed foreign, despite the fact that I’ve done this hike probably half a dozen times in the past year. I felt shaky and out of my body. Despite all this, I wanted to make it to the top of the mountain since it was easy. I climbed down from my rock and proceeded to hike, and then decided, nope, I wanted to go home. I wanted to crawl into bed in my sweatpants and watch Netflix by myself. And that’s what I did. A really exciting end to that part of the story.

I sat in bed trying to drown out my sense of dread and anxiety with Netflix and another beer, really not looking forward to waking up early for work the next day, which I really didn’t want to go to. I just started this job and was super excited about it because it meant that I was able to leave the job I hated and be involved in something I liked: locally sourced food. As a vegan and an advocate for natural, locally sourced food, I took a job in a new market opening up in town that sounded like it could be my new home, where I could thrive a bit being around something that I’m legitimately passionate about. But it’s ended up being a sense of dread because I hate being bored and being around new people and in particular, new bosses whom I’m convinced dislike me. There’s no real reason for that, just a feeling. The anxiety talking to me. Either way, I tried to drown out my anxiety with a Netflix binge, some yoga, seeing D, and trying to get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep.

I kept trying to think of a million reasons to not go to work. Tired. Sick. Klonopin withdrawal. I could find another job. I could pick up more shifts at my other job to get by.  Eventually, the tiny dose I take of klonopin at night kicked in and fell asleep to wake up to the day I dreaded. I tried not to think about it as I got ready for the day, but I still found myself sitting in silence for minutes at a time (good thing I get up early) just thinking and thinking and thinking and wondering how I could possibly get out of going to work, how I could get on with my life, what I should even do with my life in general. Why am I here? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I out here doing jobs I don’t like to go on adventures that I don’t want to go on anymore and in the end, being semi-broke, hating myself and my life.

Biking to work helps. Except for when I get super anxious when I’m in the middle of traffic and I’m scared that everyone on the road hates “that stupid biker that I almost hit.” I try to drown it out and know that everyone who drives in Fort Collins knows that there are cyclists everywhere. Most of the main roads are bike friendly, but I road through the backroads and neighborhoods to avoid traffic. I got to work and had to take a moment to collect myself while locking up my bike, telling myself that I was gonna make it to 2pm. Only 6 hours, that’s not a long work day. I’ve done worse.

But I got to work and immediately zoned out and couldn’t focus on anything. One of my bosses finally came up and asked me to go to the walk-in fridge/freezer to seal up popsicle wrappers. This basically involved me standing in the walk-in fridge for about 30 minutes using a heat press to seal the ends of popsicle wrappers (my bosses also run a pop shop a couple streets over). About 10 minutes into this, I got really cold. Like REALLY cold. And then I realized I was stuck in there for I don’t even know how long because I’m a wimp and hate cold, and I started to panic. I could feel myself getting sick but didn’t want to say anything to my boss because I didn’t want him to think that I actually was a wimp and couldn’t stand being in a 40ish degree fridge for short periods of time. But I stuck with it, despite telling one of my co-workers that I felt sick and I have a hypersensitivity to cold. She responded with “Do you have bad circulation or something?” To which, because it totally made the best sense and would give me a reason to not be in the fridge, I responded “yeah, I have low blood pressure,” which is actually true.

After finishing up in the fridge, I sat out behind the counter with some hot coffee for a while, feeling light headed, weak, and a bit panicky. I kept wondering how the hell I was going to make it to 2 o’clock when it was barely 10am and I already needed to leave. After a while, I finally mentioned to another coworker that I felt a bit sick from being in the fridge and told her I was probably going to ask to go home. She told me to just go home. So I did. I felt bad. I felt everything and nothing. I hated my job, but I hated myself more. Still feeling legitimately a bit sick, I started to bike home, which really sucks when you feel lightheaded. I was panicky the whole way home. Shaky and barely able to stay in the bike lane. When I got home I crawled into bed and hid. Hid from everything. Myself, my job, my roommates, my entire world. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I stared at Craigslist Jobs and Indeed for about an hour before I stressed myself out even more by wondering what the fuck I was doing with my entire life.

And so ends my 24 hour long panic attack. I’m still trying to figure out how I can get out of work tomorrow, and if I do go, can I make it? I can’t leave work early 2 days in a row. I don’t want people to think I’m weak, because in the hindsight of it all, I’m not. I just feel things more strongly than others. I feel life and its stresses clearer, not always in the best way, but sometimes logical when need be. I know the things I can do, the things I can’t, and the things that I’m still not sure of.

But I know I can take a selfie and look like I’m doing more than alright.