there are no words

When I’m not feeling well, my symptoms usually manifest in one of two ways – my stomach and my heart. My heart usually begins to overwork, as though it needs to pump harder to get blood to the rest of my body. In fact, it pumps so hard, I can feel my entire body pulsating along with it.

My stomach – or rather the processes associated with my stomach – go completely out of control. Everything I eat becomes a trigger for nausea that can only be relieved with vomiting. I usually force myself to throw up because if I don’t, I’ll be in bed, so dizzy and nauseous that I’m unable to move. Food feels like it’s stuck in my throat and no matter how much water I drink, the feeling doesn’t go away.

So when I don’t feel well, one of the first things that happen is I stop eating. Part of it is that I’m simply too nauseated to keep anything in and at that point, why even bother trying since I’m just going to throw it up after an hour of misery anyway. The other part is fear because I know how miserable I’m going to be.

Unfortunately.

This also means I stop taking any of my pills because 1) I only get enough for exactly one dose a day and 2) if I throw that up, either I’m going to be short or I’m going to pay more for lopsided pills/month.

Okay, I know how bad that is. Considering that the stuff I take is very relevant to my well-being, I realize the implications of being non-compliant. I’ve written three entire research papers (and read way too many related studies and articles), so I’m competently-versed in the forthcoming issues. I don’t need a lecture on that.

So where am I going with this?

A few weeks ago, after one particular night of no sleep (I just couldn’t sleep, I don’t know why), I went to school in a complete haze. I could feel my heart pounding so I knew my body was spiraling downward. And then, of course, the nausea hit. The thing with being nauseous and vomiting is your body needs food to get better. But when you’re throwing up everything you eat, you can’t get that nutrition, so you simply get worse. It’s a terrible cycle.

During that time, a span of 3 or 4 days, I stopped taking my medication. Now, some of my meds are not very important. My allergies have very specific triggers (peaches, anyone?) so as long as I avoid them, I’m pretty good. Others are preventative (ovarian cysts, anyone?) and really, it’s my choice to take them. But then there are the essentials. Unlike my allergy meds – which I really take very sporadically, maybe once a week – my depression meds are not supposed to be stopped cold turkey. Especially with the dose I’m taking. There’s all these warnings and teachings and blah blah blah that says to not stop abruptly because you’ll suffer from withdrawal. This stuff is no joke.

At the time, though, I was too miserable being sick, hungry, nauseous and dizzy to notice whether or not my body was suffering from withdrawal. I didn’t seem any more moody because, let’s face it, I was sick! Who doesn’t get a little miserable when she’s sick?

But even after I got better, I refrained from starting my meds again.

Why? Why, why, why would I not take them again since without them, I not only get very “low”, I also run the risk of spontaneous suicidal actions? (Erm, side note, I don’t have my gun anymore. I gave it to someone for safe-keeping because I wasn’t sure how safe I was around it.)

Well, that’s not true. Once I felt better enough to eat regularly (i.e. once and a half a day), I took half my regular dose. I didn’t want to take the full dose because I didn’t want to turn into the poor wild animals in Over the Hedge after they had their first taste of Doritos.

But, oh my God. One of the particularly difficult side effects of my anti-depressants is that they make me extremely sleepy. I am already very sleep-deprived. For as far back as I can remember, I can count the number of times I’ve gotten restful sleep on my fingers. My first all-nighter was in the first grade. That’s how bad my sleep is.

So with my first half-dose since getting better, I was so tired that even with a solid 8 hours of sleep, I could barely focus on the road as I drove to school. I felt like I was sitting in a room filled with steam. I felt like everything was cloudy. I felt like someone had hit me with horse tranquilizers. I’m lucky to be alive.

Add to that that I was entering the final three weeks of school. I had six major exams, four papers, three presentations and 10 kids that I saw regularly on a weekly basis. I couldn’t afford to sleep 12 hours a day and expect to pass my classes and keep my job. So I made a choice. I would power through without my meds and once all this was over, start up on it like a good kid.

It took me another week to get over the side effects of the half dose. All I did that weekend was sleep. I slept for hours because I couldn’t stay awake. Because it began to get dangerous for me to drive when I had narcoleptic tendencies.

I have another week of school left. Three more exams, one more paper. But already, I feel my mood hitting an all-time low. I’ve become a ticking time bomb, exploding at the tiniest things. I’ve become lethargic. Everything is boring or pointless. Things that I breezed over before now frustrate me greatly. I’ve become enthralled by the new cuts and bruises that have appeared on my body from not paying attention to where I’m walking or what I’m carrying.

And then there are the thoughts. Those thoughts. I hate those thoughts. But I like them, too. They’re an evil sort of comfort, evil because it’s obviously about dying, but comforting because it’s a familiar entity.

Yesterday, I thought to myself that I couldn’t wait for this week to be over so that I could start on my meds again and become happy. But I spent a lot of time thinking today and I wondered which me was the true me. Is it the smiley, happy, giggly, joking girl with the support of medication? Or is it the silent, stone-faced, frustrated, lonely girl who lives in the shadows?

I know that darker version of me is difficult to love and to be around. But what if that’s the real me? What if the happy version is just a facade? Am I asking people to love a version of me that isn’t real? If so, then what? Should I be looking for someone who loves me even as the dark, terrible monster that I am? Or do I continue to hide behind drugs and be the girl that people can love easily?

People stray away from me when I revert back to my darker version. Even the ones who know about my disease simply disappear when they start seeing the signs. Should I still consider them as friends and loved ones? Or should I say, “Fuck you, I’m going to find someone who loves me for me, even at my darkest moments”? Is that even plausible?

I want people to love me for me. I think I’ve always wanted that, but when the two versions of me are so drastically different, when one is so much easier to be around than the other, it’s similarly easy to see why people choose one over the other.

Somehow, though, I feel like I’m lying to myself when I think someone cares for me when I’m happy and lovable. Somehow, that seems like an ironic lie because that still means no one loves me for me.

Or do they?

Why is this even important? Who cares?

Because everyone just wants to be accepted. Everyone just wants to know that the important things aren’t lies. Because I’m human and that’s important to me, too. And, hey, aren’t we all told that we need to be loved for who we really are? Or is that not realistic for someone like me?

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apologies

I’ve said this before, but something that I feel a lot of people do not understand about depressed people is that there is an enormous amount of guilt.

The idea that seems most prevalent is that people with depression are selfish or self-serving. They only care about themselves. When they start drowning in addiction, drugs and alcohol, we only see people concerned with their own feelings. They don’t care about how much they’re hurting the people around them. They don’t care that their excesses and vices are destroying everyone around them.

Can I make a clarification?

We feel extremely guilty. We feel guilty because we know we’re hurting you. We feel guilty because we wish we could snap out of it. We’re ashamed because we can’t even control our own bodies. We wonder if we’re doing something wrong.

We feel guilty because we want to die. We want all the pain to stop, but we know we’d be hurting those close to us. We feel guilty for having to leave those loved ones behind, the grief that they’d feel and the pain that we’d cause. We feel guilty because we know we’re using these temporary substitutes to dull a pain that won’t go away and we know that’s hurting our loved ones. But we can’t stop turning to it because it just hurts too much. We feel guilty because we lose our tempers when people try to intervene… and because we know they’re right. We feel guilty because we’re too scared to admit that we’re only making it worse.

We feel guilty because we know we’re messing up our lives and yet we lack the motivation or drive to fix it. Not because we don’t want to. We just can’t. We feel guilty because if we had that drive to do anything, the first thing we’d probably do is kill ourselves, not get better. We feel guilty because at this age, with these many years to mess up, we’re honestly afraid to get better because then we have to deal with the however many years of a mess we’ve made. Really, how do you fix a 27-year-old mess? It’s scary. We know it can only get better, but it’s so scary to look at.

Sometimes, it’s that guilt that drives us to that desperate final act. The emotional pain from our heads and the emotional pain from our hearts just become too much to bear.

Are we selfish? Is it selfish for us to want to stop that pain? If you knew the desperation in my body, would you think I was selfish for keeping myself alive this long? Or would you tell me that it’s okay to let go, that you understand? Is it selfish of you to want me to stay alive, to keep me close and to try to convince me about the value of my life?

I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that one. I wish I did. It wouldn’t make things any easier, but at least I’d understand better.

But one thing is certain –

We do feel guilty. We feel so guilty for hurting you. We feel so guilty for having these thoughts, for being unable to control our emotions. We feel guilty that every cut, every desperate act hurts you, too. We feel so guilty whenever you stand there, wanting to help but being unable to help.

And we’re sorry. We’re sorry that we make you feel helpless. We don’t mean for our pain to become your burden. We’re sorry.

I’m sorry.

today

Today, I learned what it feels like to have a gun in my mouth.

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you could feel your heart aching?

That’s how I felt. There I was, on the floor, this piece of metal sticking to the roof of my mouth, and my heart was aching. Because death was so close. I knew that all I needed was just one twitch of a finger… and all this pain would go away.

But I didn’t. Because my sense of duty wouldn’t let me. My sense of duty that tells me I have taken too much from my parents and this was no way to repay them.

Just a few days ago, I felt like I still had things in life to look forward to. Now, I feel a disconnect. I feel disengaged. I’m going through life and yet, I’m not really living it.

Today, I wondered why I was still living.

Today, I wondered what the point was.

Today, I wanted the pain to stop.

Today, I made a plan.

Today, I put a loaded gun in my mouth.

And cried as my pain warred with my sense of duty.

Today, my sense of duty won.

And that’s the only reason I’m still alive right now.

All of this happened today.

part 1

I lost my virginity when I was 20.

There was nothing romantic or charming about it. It wasn’t done after a long, intimate talk or some “connection”. No. I lost my virginity at the age of 20 through a whirl of pain, fear, panic and a hazy thought of, “Oh my God, why is this happening to me?”

You see, at the age of 20, I was raped. This event was made all the more painful by the fact that I was a virgin. I had escaped social and peer pressure, had protected myself during a time when girls in my middle and high school were getting knocked up left and right. I was proud of myself for being a virgin, not because our society does or doesn’t value a girl’s virginity, but because it meant that I hadn’t allowed myself to be pressured into sex by a guy who would do and say anything to get me to sleep with him. I wasn’t necessarily proud of my virginity; I was proud of my willpower to resist.

It took me years to figure out what had happened, mostly because I refused to confront it myself. I was the type that followed the mantra “out of sight, out of mind”; if I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t bother me. I was back to a smiling, laughing, joking girl barely two days after the attack. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed. What would people say? I decided that if I pretended it didn’t happen, it would never bother me.

Unconsciously though, I did question it. I questioned why it had happened. I began to read up on stories about how many people in nursing homes were raped every year. I recoiled at at the number of little girls who were abused by their own fathers. When we imagine a typical bar scene, you don’t see guys looking at an obese girl and saying, “Damn, I’d tap that”. And yet physical appearance doesn’t seem to play much of a role in rape. Anyone can be raped. Why?

Rape involves sex. Yes, I won’t deny that. Rape, by definition, is when someone uses force or threats to have sex with someone else. But the mentality behind rape is not sex. It’s about power. Control. Being (pardon the pun) on top.

He was older than me. He wasn’t good-looking, perhaps more plain than average, but he was charming and sweet. Initially, he appeared wise and mature, a result of both age and experience. He was thoughtful. On particularly rough emotional nights, he’d drive over as fast as he could to be there and hold my hand.

And then he wanted to have sex. It started out rather jokingly. He’d try to put his hand down my shirt. He’d try to unbutton my jeans. I’d push his hand away, half-laughing, half not. He took it rather good-naturedly. Then it became more insistent. He would begin to complain whenever I stopped him. He would randomly buy condoms and leave them around for me to find. His idea of a good joke was to put a condom in my wallet and have it fall out onto the floor of a crowded restaurant. He would buy condoms and leave the empty boxes around for his roommates to find. He would buy flavored condoms and insist that I would like how they tasted. When I complained or protested that these things made me uncomfortable, he would tell me to lighten up.

After a while, I began to question myself. Was it my duty, as his girlfriend, to offer my body to him? Was I obligated to have sex with him simply because he was my significant other? Was that what was expected of all girlfriends? Was I really the one who was wrong?

But then I had another thought. What was stopping me from sleeping with this guy anyway? I already knew the answer though. I just didn’t want to admit it. But I didn’t trust the guy. I didn’t like his pressure, his authoritative-ness, his threats, his condescending manner. He didn’t care that some of the things he did got me in trouble, as long as I did what he wanted me to do. Class at 8AM? Who cares, I was going to stay on the phone with him until he fell asleep, even if it took 4 hours. Went over on my minutes? Then stop calling other people.

All those screamed a neon-red “WATCH OUT”. So why was I still with him then? Part of it was an issue that I’ve discovered many girls have: I didn’t want to face being single and alone. It’s a stupid reason, but those first few weeks are hard because a sense of comfortable security is gone. The other reason, in part, was fear. I wasn’t afraid he would hurt me. I actually didn’t think he was capable of doing any physical harm to me. I was more afraid of the fact that he would insist on coming by and that we would argue. He would make threats. I would cry. He would be immediately contrite and try to soothe me. And then insist that we shouldn’t break up because “obviously you still have feelings for me.” I didn’t want him to crumble my resolve to end the relationship. I was afraid to admit that I was weak and afraid.

I may have been 20, but God, was I naive about love and relationships. I didn’t trust my own strength and willpower.

Eventually, he moved out-of-state for work. Our already failing relationship was rapidly declined. And I finally got the nerve to say it. I wanted to break up.

He didn’t take it well, and I didn’t expect him to. I felt slightly guilty for dropping that on him when he had just moved out-of-state, but I knew that if he were anywhere nearby, I wouldn’t be able to gather to courage to say it. After hours of arguing, he finally pleaded with me to at least break up with him in person. He would drive down the next day and we would end it properly, like civilized adults. No phones, no Internet. Just face-to-face, like two mature people. He asked that we talk in private, because he didn’t like arguing in front of other people. This was something I knew to be true of him, so I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I didn’t like arguing in front of other people either. So I agreed.

I never regretted a decision more.

I don’t recall much of what happened that day. There are still big blank spots in my head that I don’t want to recall. Oh, I remember that the conversation started out civilly enough. I remember how nervous I felt as I stared at my hands and told him in a trembling voice that I wanted to break up. I wasn’t sure why I felt nervous. I attributed it to the fact that I am horrible at confrontation and this one was one of the least pleasant ones I had to do.

His immediate response was, “Why?”. I didn’t want to drag the conversation on. I had already laid out my reasons the night before, I didn’t see why he needed to hear them again. But I told him again anyway. With each reason, I saw his face become darker. And then… And then I brought up the sex. How I didn’t like that he was pressuring me. How I wish he could have respected my boundaries more, but he only laughed at them. How I didn’t appreciate the little condom jokes he played. I didn’t want to have sex with him because I wasn’t comfortable with him and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t respect that.

Maybe I could have said that a little more tactfully. Maybe if I hadn’t let the words rush out of my mouth in such a raw and bitter way, things wouldn’t have gone the way they did. But the words were out and I remember my heart pounding because I had never spoken to anyone like that before.

The next thing I knew, I was on the floor. I remember the sharp pain on my face as he slapped me. I remember the tears, the feel of his hand over my mouth. I remember the panic because he was strong, so much stronger than me. I remember wondering why I couldn’t pull away, why no amount of fighting or kicking or screaming made any difference. I remember the words: liar, bitch, slut, whore – each one piercing through my heart like a knife.

I don’t remember the rest of it. I don’t want to remember what actually happened. I don’t need to know because I already know what happened. I don’t want to recall the more painful details.

As he was about to leave, I remember huddled on the floor, covered in tears, blood and God knows what else. I couldn’t cry anymore. My throat was raw from trying to scream so much. My body ached from bruises that wouldn’t show up until later. And yet I needed to know.

Why? Why did he do this?

I’ll never forget what he said. To this day, it still haunts me.

“I thought that’s what you wanted.”

And then he left.

Why?

i’m (NOT) okay

“How are you doing?”

“I’m okay.”

No one wants to hear about your shitty day. If someone asks you how your day is, you’re not supposed to tell them about how you were late to work for the third time this week because all three of your children are desperately sick and you’re basically a single mom with a workaholic husband who prefers to be at work than at home. Come on, no one fucking CARES.

We don’t look at a person with bleary, puffy, blood-shot eyes and ask if she’s okay. We look away and and pretend not to notice.

As more of the people around me find out about my mental issues, more people ask me how I’m doing. I rarely say that I’m struggling or that I’ve been having bad thoughts again. I rarely say I wish I could crawl under a rock and never come out. I don’t talk about how crazy school is and the endless drama between the staff and students. I don’t tell people about how heartbreaking some of the things I see at the hospital are. Mostly because people don’t ask. Mostly because the people who do ask don’t want to know.

Asking “How are you” has become the equivalent of “Hi, can we chat/something crazy happened and I want to tell you about it.” Sometimes, I’ve tried being honest, saying things are tough and I’m having a hard time. Usually the response I get is, “Oh that really sucks :(” and then after a prolonged silence: “Well I hope you’re okay.”

Uh, excuse me? No, I’m not fucking okay, did I not just make that clear? Didn’t I just say I wasn’t okay, which is one time out of the 500 times you ask me how I’m doing? If you’re going to throw blanket statements at me, why do you even bother asking me how I’m doing?  I’m NOT okay, isn’t that obvious? I’m NOT okay, NOT okay, AT ALL. Does that not matter to anyone?

But as usual, I can’t really blame everyone else for it either. Most people don’t know how to respond to, “No, I’m not okay.” What do you say when your friend tells you about how much she’s struggling to survive? Or that a particular case brought up a slew of unwanted and uncherished memories?

I, too, want to be able to express my emotions just as they are. I want to be able to say, “I’m not feeling okay. But I don’t know why.” I want to be able to honestly say, “I’m feeling miserable and sad and for the love of God, don’t judge me for the reasons.”

I want people to stop asking how someone is doing just to be polite. I want people to ask because they mean it and they really want to know. I want people to want to know and really care because it hurts to know that people don’t.

I’m not okay, guys. I’m really not okay.

And I’m sorry this turned out to be a rant. I was a little tipsy when I wrote this.

support system

This hasn’t been an easy road. I’ve wondered if this roller coaster is worth it because, wow, it really is a roller coaster. When you go up a hill, you feel that little twinge of excitement, fear and apprehension. You’re not really sure what to expect. It could be thrilling or it could be absolutely terrible. And that drop where everything on the inside stops…. imagine just being on a roller coaster all day. Sure, a 2 minute ride is fun and thrilling. But imagine now that you’re stuck on it. You can’t get off. You need to wait at least 3 months before you can get off and back on somewhat solid ground.

How fun is THAT, right?

The problem with mental illness is that people don’t see it quite like a regular disease. As much as I have believed that things have gotten better, there’s still a lot of stigma and fear. Sure, we’re a lot more open-minded than my parents’ generation used to be, but of course I still hear people ask, “Why can’t you take care of it on your own? It’s all just in your head, right?”

Yes. Yes, I am fortunate that I am not schizophrenic. I am fortunate that I am severely bipolar. It’s depression. It’s sadness. It’s just a low unhappiness that everyone will go through at least once in his or her lifetime. And maybe that’s why people have a hard time seeing “depression” as an actual disease. Why get worried over something that seems to be a normal emotional range?

But it should be alarming. We shouldn’t dismiss it. It’s not okay to just say, “Oh get over it. Deal with it. You’ll be fine. This won’t last long.” Or my personal favorite that I get as a girl: “It’s just that time of the month. ALL girls get like that.”

It’s tough. What is this lack of support? Why do people so easily dismiss this? That’s a somewhat rhetorical question because I kind of know the answer. Part of it, as I see it, is because it’s hard to figure out when people complain for attention or when they’re actually depressed. I’ve dealt with both and given my time and energy to both and both were equally exhausting. After years and years, I finally cut off the attention-seeker because things became so toxic and draining. I was upset, hurt and annoyed that I had tried to be supportive to someone who actually didn’t need my support. She just wanted to brag.

But for the friend that truly needed me, I didn’t mind. For the attention-seeker, I spent 10 years. For the one who needed me, less than a year. Yeah. I can see why people want to dismiss it.

Support isn’t everything. But it’s just so important. Support can’t save everyone. Sometimes, mental illness is so severe that just as with any physical illness, that person cannot be saved. But sometimes, more than hospitalization, more than medication, support can be all someone needs to survive.

I can attest to that. Since I was 9, I took it upon my awkward, preteen (not even preteen!), hormone-confused self to shoulder my depression on my own. I thought it was something I can handle and work through. It was in my head. It was puberty. Puberty was distracting me from school and I was getting bad grades and THAT was why I felt so depressed. It had nothing to do with my mental well-being. And it was brutal hell. More times than I can count, I hit rock-bottom. Hurting myself was pretty common. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. What pain? The pain of having no idea of what was going on with me. Remind me to get more into that one day.

But I managed to survive. How? I want to say I was smart. I didn’t go too far with the hurting. That’s why most suicides are labeled “accidental”; they didn’t mean for it to go too far. And I was able to barely survive through school.

Then I started graduate school. And this program, good grief, it brought out the worst in me. Every day, I questioned myself about my self-worth. Everything. EVERYTHING. Blew up. I was this close. THISCLOSE to losing it all.

Then… through some great miraculous intervention, I found a tiny group of support. It trickled in one person at a time, but within three months, I had a small, compact, solid group of support that helped me get back to a reasonable level. Things began to stabilize.

I don’t know if i would have survived the last three months without my support. I can see a very bleak end in the parallel universe, one that I’m very glad that I avoided. Things aren’t perfect. I still have my moods. I still feel the emotional pain. But at least now, I have people who will be there and hear me out. I know they won’t judge me. I know they’ll listen. I know they’ll offer their ear, even if they can’t offer any advice. I’m still here now because I had people who would just listen to me.

I can’t encourage it enough with all of you guys out there, too. I didn’t want it. I spent 17 years avoiding support. But I now know it’s not really weakness. It’s vulnerability. They aren’t the same.

You don’t have to know how to deal with a person who is depressed. You don’t have to share your life story with friends. We just need someone who will listen and be there. Just like with the medications, if you can find that one right group that will understand, things can stay afloat.

Support systems. Who knew how much of an impact the right people could make.

let’s build a snowman

Back when I was still an undergrad, I used to do pretty risky stuff. I pulled multiple all-nighters. In a row. I ate dorm food. For every meal. I started research papers three hours before they were due (and miraculously finished them). I ingested more coffee in a day than most people do in a week.

I was obviously living life on the edge. Oh yeah, I was a rebel like that.

But one of the riskiest things I used to do was take walks.

I know, right? YOLO, people.

No but really, one of the riskiest things I used to do was take walks. Why was this risky? Because I usually took them by myself at approximately 2 or 3 in the morning and I didn’t have a set place to walk. I walked all over the La Jolla/San Diego area. Or rather, as much of it as I could before the sun came up. There are more times than I can count that an officer pulled up next to me and asked if I was alright because I was walking around alone in the wee hours of the morning like a crazy person.

Sometimes, if my roommate was awake, she’d go with me. But usually, I went alone because she would sleep way before I did. And I didn’t know who else to ask. Who would want to take a walk with me at midnight, much less at two in the morning? Who would want to wander aimlessly around the city, in the temperamental San Diego weather, talking about nothing and doing nothing?

My penchant for walks in the early morning hours has not changed. Sometimes I want to sneak out of my house and just take a walk all around my city. But even though my city is much safer than San Diego is, the trails that I want to walk are a lot riskier because of the lack of people and no lights. So the obvious solution is going with a friend. But what kind of friend wants to take a walk with a mentally unstable girl at 1 in the morning through gravelly horse trails?  I tried to ask one of my friends to take a walk with me, but I couldn’t even get the words out. Can you imagine how that would sound?

“Hey, you wanna take a walk right now? Yeah I know it’s 1 AM. Yes I know you have work and I have school. Please?”

So I sat in my car and listened to the rain instead. I guess these walks are not one to be shared just yet.