I haven’t posted in a while. Because I’m scared whatever I post won’t be good enough. I’m scared it won’t live up to the stuff I’ve written previously. I’m scared I’ll somehow let down people’s expectations of me. More than anything these fears are just projections of my own anxiety. So let’s challenge that, shall we?
The way you deal with anxiety is to do the things that scare you. Basically. Challenge the anxiety and prove to yourself that you’ll be fine and whatever it is that you’re scared of, it’ll almost always be much worse in your head. So now I’m gonna write a post and not be too concerned about the length of it, or if the language sounds smart and colorful. The people I’m hoping to reel in on this blog aren’t scholars or whoever it is my mind tells me I need to impress. I just want to connect a bit with other people struggling with mental illness of some kind (or people who just find my life interesting I guess, hi mom!).
I’ve not been feeling very well lately. I’m working really hard with a new therapist I’ve been seeing, and I feel like I’m doing so well. But for some reason my mood isn’t getting better, my entire body hurts constantly, and I somehow feel like I’m having a light, constant panic attack. So… not feeling great. It does worry me how I feel myself slipping away from my arts, not feeling like singing, painting or writing. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this blog post right now? Trying to force my creative juices to get flowing a little, whether they want to or not.
I hardly have any appetite, everything just makes me slightly nauseous. I guess I’m just still a lot more depressed than I give myself credit for (or however you want to put it). I have no energy, feel like I could sleep 18 hours a day if I let myself, no appetite, no particular want to create stuff or do anything ‘fun’ really. Medicine is not working on me.
It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re trying your hardest and doing the best you can and… not really getting much in return. Maybe I need to feel worse for a while while I’m challenging my anxieties and slowly reprogramming the way my brain operates. Who knows. Let’s hope things start looking up for me soon.
What exactly was the point or the moral of this post? Who knows. Who cares. Well… I do, but I’m trying to care a little less.
Throughout my life, my views on medication have shifted around more times than I can count. Well, I can probably count them, as I’m about to write an entire post recounting these different views. But that’s beside the point. When I was younger, I don’t recall having much opinion regarding the ethical aspect of medications. I simply accepted that people who were sick took medication and there was nothing wrong with that, which (spoiler alert) is also what I believe now. But there has been a time when I was pretty anti-medication, which I will expand on later in this post.
When I was younger, medication, like pretty much everything else, seemed much simpler. The world seemed more straightforward, logical and fair back then. And so I thought that medication was a one-size-fits-all solution. I thought that there was one type of medication for headaches, one type of medication for cancer, one type of medication for depression. I’ll admit that depression probably wasn’t something I gave much thought to back then, but up until I tried treating my own with medicine, I definitely thought it would be a lot easier to treat it than what my experience has been.
For about a year, when I was 19 or so, I started venturing into alternative ways to treat anxiety and depression. There is a big community on the internet (and in real life as well) who really, really believe the phrase ‘you are what you eat’. I got really sucked into this mindset, and became more and more obsessed with what I was eating. During this year, I was not on medication. I became increasingly convinced that if you ate ‘right’, your body would not get sick. Now I really believe this is a horrible, harmful and just plain untrue belief. But I believed in it so much that my eating habits became more and more insane.
I truly thought I could cure myself by eating the right things. At this point I wouldn’t even take painkillers if my head hurt, or I had menstrual cramps, because I honestly thought it was my own doing because I had eaten something wrong. I will probably write a more detailed blog entry entirely about this period in my life, and the way it still affects me sometimes, because it is a subject much too vast to cram into this post. Suffice it to say that I finally realized I had a real problem, and I decided to get help for my eating disorder and give antidepressants another try. At this point I also thought, or maybe hoped, that it would be pretty easy to find the right medication.
The truth is, there is nothing easy about depression, anxiety, or treating either of them. The human psyche is a very difficult thing to maneuver. First you go trough the, usually, long and difficult process of deciding whether you actually need medication. Even if you don’t have intense anti-medication beliefs, like I did for some time, it is still difficult not to blame yourself for the way you are feeling. Am I even sick? What if I’m just lazy? Perhaps I should just ‘try’ more. Eat better. Sleep better. Get out more. Think more positively. That’s what people always say. It is what you make it. Right? It can take a very long time before you actually come to terms with the fact that you have an actual, genuine illness. It’s been about four years since I was officially diagnosed with depression, and I still have to be reminded that I am ill sometimes. That I am not just lazy, or a bad person.
Then, when I finally decided that I needed help and that medication seemed to be the first component of that (or second, after therapy, maybe), I was hit with the reality of how complicated medication really is. I tried one type of medication. It was hard for me to tell if it was working or not. If I had a good day, I was convinced that the medication was to thank. If I was having a bad day (which was often), I became confused. I wanted the medication to work, so badly, but it was so hard to tell if it did. So I tried another type of medication. Same story. So I tried another. And another. I don’t really know for sure how many types of medication I’ve tried… But sometimes it feels like I’ve tried them all, and nothing has seemed to make any difference.
When you’re on medication that is supposed to alter the way your mind works, you can also become hyper-aware of what you feel and think. A lot of side effects of antidepressants can be hard to differentiate from the actual depression itself. Suicidal thoughts, for instance, is a commonly registered side effect of some types of antidepressants. But I would argue that they are also pretty common among people who are depressed. So how do you know if your mental state is just really bad at the moment, or if the medicine you are on is just not right for you? I honestly can’t tell you. It is so hard, and so frustrating, and when you’ve switched medicine five times and you’re still suicidal, you can be tempted to conclude that medicine just does not work for you.
I have struggled a lot with constant fatigue. Feeling like the amount of sleep my body needs is closer to 12 hours than the usual 8. I think that’s a symptom of my depression. I don’t really think it has much to do with the medication I’m on. I tried lowering the dose, and I still felt tired, so I upped the dose, and what do you know, I felt tired. I am on the brink of starting a new type of medication, so I have all my fingers crossed that I’ve finally found something that works for me. I see a therapist regularly, and everything in my life seems to be going quite well, so I don’t understand why I am this depressed. Well. Let’s hope this newer type of medication has some positive impact on my psyche. Let’s hope.
What are your thoughts and experiences with medication?
I will be honest with you and say that I really don’t feel much like writing right now. The words don’t seem to flow as freely from my brain to my hands as I would like them to. My mind seems a bit cluttered, foggy somehow, even though I feel really well today. Motivation and inspiration are not what have pushed me to sit down and try to piece together a blog entry, rather a constantly evolving work ethic. I am trying my best to find the delicate balance between underestimating my own capabilities and thinking myself some sort of superhuman who is expected to do everything perfectly. I’m slowly learning how to gently nudge myself to do things that I actually have the strength and ability to do, if I simply give it a try. And if I am willing to accept that it may not be my best work, and that this is OK.
Like I mentioned in my previous post Trying new things when you’re scared of, well, everything, I often (if not always) make the mistake of trying to channel my creativity in a way that comes out as perfection, and blaming myself when it, inevitably, doesn’t. This only makes me more wary to pick up a guitar or a paint brush (or whatever the tool may be) again, because I instantly connect the creative process with feelings of shame and inadequacy. And if I don’t consciously keep an eye on what is happening, soon it’ll have been months where I have not used any of my creative skills, trying to justify this to myself as me simply lacking inspiration.
But what is inspiration, really? For me, I would describe inspiration as my mind just working really well, really smoothly. More or less the opposite of how it is working right now. Sometimes inspiration hits me in the middle of the night or suddenly, completely out of the blue, forcing me to drop everything to run to my computer and record some lyrics that came to me. But I don’t think this is the only type of inspiration there is. I actually do believe that you can ‘force’ inspiration. Well, maybe force is a bit aggressive, but to me it seems like it’s all just a matter of taking the pressure of perfection away, and just allowing, or even nudging yourself to create things, sometimes even on days where you don’t feel particularly inspired or creative.
Even as I sit right now, typing this out, I am beginning to feel some sort of inspiration. My mind isn’t running smoothly, and I have a hard time comprehending what I am even writing (depression and anxiety can really affect your cognitive functions), but it isn’t particularly hard for me to get these sentences out of my mind and onto the screen. Ideas are coming to me rapidly, and all I have to do is try my best to shape them into sentences that make sense. What was hard for me was actually deciding to give this a shot, deciding to fight against my mind telling me that it won’t be any good unless I am intensely motivated and inspired to write.
I know the points I am making here probably won’t apply to everyone, as people naturally are different. I’ve always, always, always been a person driven by creativity. Music, art, writing, acting, all that jazz. That’s always come to me pretty naturally. But the thing is that when you take your art as seriously as I do, when you’re really passionate about it… sometimes it does feel like work. Sometimes it is work, as a matter of fact. So I feel that this whole post is more about how to keep working, when you feel like motivation and inspiration are visiting less often than they used to.
To sum up, I guess the main points I am trying to make are these: even if you don’t feel like you have anything interesting to write, or paint, or whatever you are pursuing… maybe give it a shot anyway? I will admit, some days nothing works, and everything I write is downright bad and my head hurts and there is no point in trying to keep going, because the finished product is just not worth it. But some days, like today, I feel like I would rather do anything else than try to write something, and yet I encourage myself to try anyway, and it actually goes OK. As long as you’re not expecting perfection (which you really shouldn’t be), you will probably do well.
Honestly, writing this post has been a fun experience. As I’m sitting here trying to write an ending, I am honestly kind of terrified to read the entire thing from start to finish, because my mind is somewhere else completely, and I am afraid it shows. But I really want to prove to myself and everyone else that I can keep up this blog, and that my work ethic is strong, even if my cognitive functions aren’t. I just read everything I’ve written, and I absolutely cannot make any sense of it. I hope you can.
A couple of days ago, on pure impulse mostly, I bought this domain and spent a few hours crafting my first blog post. I felt pretty good about it. Then I published it and shared it on Facebook. Instantly I felt like I had just made a huge mistake. Like it was foolish to even try this new thing when I can’t know for sure if I’ll be any good at it. Because that would mean that there is a possibility that I won’t be any good at it. And that is really all it takes to send my anxiety into overdrive. Even though I received nothing but positive feedback from both friends and strangers, I still had to fight the urge to try and erase all the evidence that this blog ever existed.
I touched a bit upon the fact that I struggle with extreme and unhealthy perfectionism in my last post, New year, new anxieties. And as much as I like to think that I’ve come a long way in terms of dealing with that, I still have a very long way to go. Because anxiety-induced perfectionism really stops you from doing a lot of things that could actually make you really happy – in particular new things that you may not yet have a lot of skill or experience with. For me, it’s always been either I do this perfectly, or I don’t do it at all.
But recently I’ve come to realize that the reality is this: perfection does not exist. Unless we’re talking math or something, where I suppose some form of perfection might exist. I can’t really say, I’m not a mathematician (and praise the Lord for that). But if we’re talking creative practices like writing, making music, painting etc., then perfection is really hard to define or achieve. Realistically, I would say the closest you get to perfect is at some point simply saying “That’s it. It’s good enough now. I’m happy with that”. You can always add another paint stroke. You can keep editing your work until you can’t even see the bigger picture anymore, only the details that you aren’t happy with.
With anxiety, everything seems like the end of the world. I know it’s not. Logically. But when I on rare occasions try my hand at something I don’t do that often, like baking, it’ll usually go south pretty quickly. I’ll start out full of entusiasm and energy, just rolling with the flow of things. But then I become unsure of my project. I don’t know much about baking other than religiously following The Great British Bake-Off. Soon I end up crouching in front of the oven, biting my nails, my gaze not leaving the slowly rising cupcakes for a second. Because what if I mess it up? What if I take them out and they’re underbaked? What if I try to prevent this by leaving them in the oven for two minutes longer, and then they come out burnt? What if they taste terrible? Should I try taking them out and adjust the flavor? What if I ruin them by doing just that? Will anyone still like me after having tasted these cupcakes?
With this kind of thinking, it doesn’t take long for the brain to short-circuit, and soon I’m having a full-blown meltdown over a dozen cupcakes that, in the end, turn out completely fine. Because that’s the thing about anxiety. It is not logical. It is not rational. It is neither functional nor helpful. Fear, on the other hand,can be very helpful. If a car is racing toward you, fear is necessary to get you away from the car as soon as possible. Fear can help you stay alive. Anxiety, unfortunately, feels exactly the same as fear. It puts you on edge, gets the adrenaline pumping, and all that good stuff that you need to bolt from a car within seconds. Anxiety has no actual object, though, like fear does. But it will sure make you feel like it does; anxiety will latch onto anything and everything that it can. Cupcakes, blogging, performing a small music show. Anxiety is really good at making even the smallest of decisions seem like you’re deciding the fate of the whole world.
When I was younger, I was afraid of NOTHING. I would climb into the highest trees, simply because I wanted to, and because I could. I would paint the ugliest things and be so proud of them. I would speak my mind and not care about what people thought. Well, I guess that changes for most people when you grow up and are exposed to the cruelty that kids and adults alike are capable of emitting. But I do miss her, nevertheless, that fearless little kid. I am not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that I have become afraid of dying when I jump on a trampoline. I don’t completely understand it, but maybe the thrill of adrenaline from jumping high is so easily mistaken for anxiety or even fear that I cannot tell them apart. I am so incredibly scared of getting hurt, either physically or emotionally, that I often feel like I am missing out on stuff that I used to really enjoy before my anxiety really took off.
Life is not as fun or as easy, when you expect everything that can go wrong to do so. Life is full of opportunities and great experiences just waiting for you to find them. It is so hard to do that though, when anxiety has such a firm grip on both your mind and your body, screaming to get out and get away to somewhere safe and unthreatening. Understandably, I really don’t want to put myself in a situation that I think will make me feel bad. Panic attacks can be borderline traumatic when they’re bad. I’ve had times when I would be screaming and rolling around on the floor because I felt like I was so unsafe, like I was in fact in front of the aforementioned moving car, and I was unable to get away. I hope anyone can understand what a horrible feeling that is.
But I have to keep reminding myself that I am, in fact, safe. Nothing horrible will happen if I try new things. Anxiety can be very unpleasant, yes, but it is not actually dangerous in itself. So long as you keep your cool and remember that what you are feeling is not logical fear that you need to react to as quickly as you can if you want to survive – it’s just anxiety. As unhelpful as the expression “it’s all in your head” can be, in this case it is actually true and something that might be good to keep in mind.
You will be OK. I will be OK. That is honestly, truly the only way to go from here. As anxious as this new and scary adventure into the world of blogging makes me, I’m just going to have to keep doing it anyway. It will all turn out fine. No one will die. No one will hate me if they don’t enjoy my blog (I hope!). Everything will be fine, and I might actually gain something from trying something completely new. Anxiety, I am not scared of you. Not anymore. I have to admit, that doesn’t ring completely true as I spell it out. But I am determined to keep saying it until it becomes true. Because one day it will be.
As the year 2017 draws to a close, there is no shortage of positivity everywhere we look around us. The holidays are a time of celebration, a time for reminiscing and a time for new beginnings. But these days have a darker, often less acknowledged side to them as well; the holidays can be an exceptionally challenging time for a lot of people, specifically people who, like I, struggle with various mental illnesses.
New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a marker of a new era, so to speak. A nudge to finally start changing up your ways and doing all those things you just never got around to doing. I can’t really say whether New Year’s Resolutions really work for anyone, but they usually seem quite harmless – certainly well-meaning! They are supposed to challenge you to live up to your full potential and help you become the person you actually want to be. But… if I’m being honest, I am currently trying my hardest to refrain from drafting up any Resolutions for 2018. As backwards as that may seem, New Year’s Resolutions and anything resembling them rarely turn out well for me personally.
I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) as well as panic attacks and depression. I try my hardest all year round to make ends meet in every which way. I try my hardest to get out of bed each day, preferably before noon, but I often fail in doing even that. Oh well. When you’re sick, life just looks… slightly different. OK, that’s a blatant lie. When you are really sick, whether physically or mentally, life can be so draining and challenging that often, it seems hardly worth it at all.
I personally am so afraid of disappointing people – or myself, or the universe or whoever, I don’t even fully understand it myself – that I will overcompensate by working myself to the bone so that I make sure no one can accuse me of not trying hard enough. This compulsive behavior nearly made me drop out of high school, because I was trading my mental health in for good grades without really understanding why. I thought it was healthy to strive for these things. And I guess it can be, but in this instance, it was definitely not.
I’m not in high school anymore. I’m not even in school. So now I don’t have to worry about getting good grades anymore. But guess what? With anxiety, you just find new things to worry about! Ain’t that grand? Now I worry about wasting my life – no matter what I do really, there’s always that worry – and not fulfilling my potential. Not being good enough. In a way, it’s not even a worry, it feels more like something I’ve already accepted. I am not good enough. I will never be good enough. My potential evaporated the second I was diagnosed with depression. Or maybe even sooner, who knows?
It’s a daily struggle to try and convince myself that these are not facts. They are just thoughts. Anxious, depressed thoughts at that. That’s enough of a struggle on its own. Imagine adding to that a bunch of ‘well-meaning’ New Year’s Resolutions, that with this perspective turn into just more ways I am not good enough. START WORKING OUT MORE! You can’t honestly believe it’s OK to be this lazy and, well, horrible? You also look like manure, but you already know that. EAT HEALTHIER! Yes, I know you had that eating disorder, but all those fears you had/still have about food are probably true! Sugar is probably the devil itself, processed foods are poison and the only thing that is really safe to eat are probably vegetables. But only certain ones. And we don’t even know for sure that something isn’t wrong with them. EARN MORE MONEY! Yes, I know your illness takes a huge toll on your body and your energy and motivation, but you really aren’t worth anything if you aren’t ‘doing anything with your life’, now are you? And so on and so on.
These are thoughts that I am already having. Thoughts I am constantly trying to convince myself are NOT TRUE. No need to write them down. I suppose I could try some more personalized New Year’s Resolutions for myself, instead of the more popular ‘lose weight, get money’ Resolutions. I could tell myself that THIS YEAR I am going to finally start loving myself, I am going to stop worrying about what other people think about me, and I am going to live MY best life. Those seem like healthy, wholesome, well-meaning New Year’s Resolutions. But the thing is… I am ALREADY trying my hardest every single day to make these things come true. I swear. I am doing my best. And to me it seems like trying to force these things to life within the next year would only cause me to:
1. feel guilty for not having mastered the art of self-love in 2017 – or 2016, or 2015, or WHY was I not born with these skills?Why am I such a slow learner? Do I want to stay suffering? Am I just a bad person, a lazy failure of a human being who enjoys being horribly depressed? At that rate I will have spiraled completely into a pit of self-hatred and demotivation by January 2nd.
and 2. feel like a failure when I (most likely) one year from now, on the verge of 2019 still haven’t recovered with flying colors yet.
Because these things take time. And constant, hard work. They don’t happen overnight. There are good days and bad days, and as long as you are trying your best, that’s enough. After all, New Year’s Eve is just a date that someone a long time ago decided marked a new year. It’s not really different from any other night, other than the fact that you might go to a great party. Or you might go to a bad party. Or you might eat Doritos in your sweats, and that’s OK too. Don’t feel bad if New Year’s Eve isn’t some monumental, pivotal night in your life, the best party you’ve ever been too, or you don’t feel like a completely changed person when the clock strikes twelve. It’s really just a night like any other. Just try your best to have a good time and do what you want to do.
You can always start over if you want to. Doesn’t have to be on New Year’s. But you can also choose not to start over and accept that you are probably doing the very best you can with what you’ve got. Life is difficult, especially when you are ill. Don’t beat yourself up about all the things you didn’t get to do in 2017. Think about all the great things you might get to experience in 2018. And all the other years to come. Despite what anyone says, life is pretty long, and I’m sure you’ll get around to it all.