“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward. — Charlotte Bronte
For the past month, I’ve been giving myself weekly mantras. This week, I’m reminding myself to live in the present moment more. If I dwelled in the past less, letting nostalgia lie to me, I’d truly be happier. If I stopped worrying so much about my future, I’d be less anxious. In this case, upward means expecting more out of life and out of myself and trying to see what God wants for me. This is what people call mindfulness. That’s my goal this week. Onward and upward.
Slip knot. First row. Bind off. Draw yarn through stitch.
I see seasons of mental health like an endless skein of yarn and a knitting pattern. This time it’s a scarf. It seems pretty basic from the outside- first row, bind off, cast off. But even those basic steps are second-guessed and shaky. Sometimes, I get so anxious that I knot everything up, and then I have to spend painstaking hours trying to undo it. Or depression kicks in and I put the whole mess down because I can’t handle it. I don’t have the energy to hold the needles anymore.
And I get so frustrated because I’ve been working on the same scarf for months. I knit away and think things are ok, but I look back and see how uneven it all is. Time to undo. Time to use an easier pattern, even though normally I’m capable of so much more. I can’t move on to more complex patterns or start a shawl because getting the hang of the basics right now is too tough. And in some seasons of life I have made shawls and colorful blankets and cozy hats. But this season, I’m focusing on the basic scarf.
Recovery from a mental illness isn’t easy. And I’m so envious of people who can start a medication and feel better right off the bat. But I’m not one of those people, and that’s hard. So here’s a life update.
Though I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist on the reg since January, we still haven’t found the medication that is the right fit for me, which is honestly discouraging and demotivating. Medicines that affect serotonin make me violently ill. So a few weeks ago, my psychiatrist decided to start me on Wellbutrin, which stimulates dopamine, the alleged “good feeling” hormone. However, it made me feel terrible. My depression returned with a vengeance. My terrible thoughts came back. When I wasn’t catatonic, I was weeping uncontrollably. When I wasn’t weeping, I was throwing up because I was so anxious. I went almost two days without eating at one point. I couldn’t sleep. Or read. Or journal. Or do yoga. And obviously, I didn’t have the energy to blog. After two weeks of misery, my doctor took my back off of the medicine, and we’re trying something different (again).
And I’m still crawling out of the pit. This week, I could finally listen to podcasts again! I went to a work event and had fun instead of hiding away with a churning stomach and sense of dread. I’m starting to enjoy my plants again.
In the middle of the fog, one thing became clear: my mental health is THE priority. It’s the foundation for everything. I haven’t written about my job much because in the words of Destiny’s Child, “You know I’m not gon’ diss you on the internet/ ‘Cause my mama taught me better than that.” But suffice to say, it’s not a good environment and it’s not a good fit for my personality. So last week, I quit my job. New things are on the horizon, and hopefully my mental health will keep improving.
Failure. My biggest fear and constant companion this year. Actually, right here on this blog, I’m going to go ahead and name 2016 “The Year Annette Failed Spectacularly and Lived to Tell the Tale.” I’m owning it. Admitting it out loud.
There are the little failures. Forgetting to take my medicine and getting sick. Messing up and embarrassing myself at work. Not being as good at yoga as I’d like to be. Having days when I can’t seem to meditate, no matter how hard I try. Not meeting the little goals I make for myself (like posting a new blog every Sunday- y’all, it’s Monday). Those hurt, but they’re pretty insignificant in the long run. But I’ve failed miserably at some big things this year. Here are my truths:
I applied to Clemson University for grad school and made it as far as to get academically accepted. However, the program required an assistantship. I went to a two-day conference and used up 2 precious vacation days and interviewed for 6 assistantships. I didn’t get a job, so I won’t be going to school this fall. Grad school? Not this year. Later, I applied to a job at a college near my hometown so I could get some experience in student affairs. I left just knowing I had it in the bag, but they never called me again. New job in a field I’m interested in? Nope. I moved back in with my parents rather than finding a new apartment with my roommate in Greenville. Western society tells me this is a big failure. I lived completely independently for a year, but I want to save money. Independent? Not right now.
I’m face down on the ground at rock bottom right now, mumbling all of this through a big old mouthful of dirt! But I’m saying it! The worst things about the expectations we set for ourselves are that we hide them, making them our secret shames. But I’m out here saying that I’m struggling! And if that makes even one person feel less ashamed of their failures, then I’m stoked outta my mind. I’m failing, but I’m not alone in it. And the goodness that comes from all of it is that I’m so much more willing to stick my neck out because I’ve failed and seen that failure wasn’t fatal. If I fail again, I’ll be okay.
Like my shero JK Rowling said: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was…. I was set free because my biggest fear had been realized, and I was still alive. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at once. Be patient. You are healing.
This month was about cleansing, sloughing off the dead stuff. Moving and leaving things in the past. Tying up loose ends. Being patient as the poison of heartbreak and uncertainty and constant stress slowly leave me.
As I posted a few weeks ago, I’ve been going to hot yoga, which has been such a cleansing and tough and rewarding experience. About halfway through each session, I feel terrible, physically and emotionally. I wonder what I’ve done, why I’m on the mat. If it’s worth it. However, apparently that’s normal- all of the sweating and moving loosens up hormones and toxins in your body in a similar way that massage can loosen things up. And after water and a healthy meal, I feel a lot better, a lot lighter. And a few hours later, I want to be back in the stuffy, 99 degree studio again.
Moving home has also been a detoxifying and difficult adventure. I can finally go to work every day smelling like my clothes have been freshly laundered instead of smelling like stale cigarettes. The act of culling some belongings from my parents’ house and from my apartment was nice, too. I got rid of things that had bad memories attached to them and things that were useless clutter. I’m learning to be selective about what (and who) I let into my space. I’m not going to lie and say moving home has been easy and great. My family has been supportive, and I’ve had a great time hanging out with them. However, moving home is bringing up old demons I didn’t know I’d been carrying around, old guilt and shame I thought I’d dealt with but I’d just swept under the rug. I’m using this time at home to truly deal with these things in therapy so I can wash my hands of them for good when I move to the next stage of my life.
July was so much better than June, and I’m hoping that August will see improvement in the same ways. I’m still going to therapy every week and doing my best to be patient with myself in this healing process. I’m reaching out to people and being vulnerable about my struggles and telling my truths. Things are still hard sometimes. But the poison is leaving bit by bit.
I had my first anxiety attack when I was in fourth grade. I was sitting at my computer during keyboarding class, and I started uncontrollably crying because I was such a slow typer. My parents had to be called because I was whipped into such a fit that I couldn’t calm down- I was in such a huge panic over nothing. I had deeply ingrained an expectation on myself to be perfect. For years after that, I would have “fluttering heart,” something my doctors couldn’t find a cause for, though now I know it was anxiety. I started antidepressants when I was 15 years old without any kind of official diagnosis from a psychiatrist, which I wouldn’t recommend. In college, I went to the school counselor a few times to get through a death in the family and some transitional anxieties I had, but I never committed to a routine of therapy. And the anxiety didn’t get any easier as life got harder. Transitioning from college to some semblance of adulthood knocked me on my butt.
This January, I decided that my mental health had to be a priority so I could have a good foundation for the rest of my life. I started going to therapy weekly (which I continue to do) and finally went to a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. I’ve changed my medicines a few times since January, and I’m in the middle of trying another new one. I’m in the midst of my biggest and hardest depression flare-up of my life. I have good days and I have very, very bad days, crawl-in-a hole days. Hopeless days. My new medicine made me so sick for the first few weeks. I would lie in bed hurting so much it felt like my skin would fall off; my doctor had to prescribe me the same anti-nausea medicine given to chemotherapy patients because my stomach reacted so badly. But the sickness has calmed down a lot now, and I’m trying to see if this is the medicine that is best for me. So here I am now, 23 years old. A little neurotic. A little high-strung. But I’m out here trying my best.
For me, depression and anxiety are best regulated by a mixture of therapy, regular psychiatrist check-ins, medication, and self care. But sometimes, those coping mechanisms aren’t enough to keep overwhelming anxiety from creeping up and paralyzing me.
This is my Official Depression and Anxiety Survival Guide, a list of things that help me cope:
- Journaling journaling journaling. It helps me keep routines and process my thoughts and be creative.
- Meditation is always something I was interested in but afraid to try. I’m working on developing my practice.
- 10% Happier with Dan Harris is a podcast I listen to about meditation
- I practice Yoga Nidra at night, which is a fancy word for “meditating so hard you go to sleep kind of and relax a lot”
- Candles, nice soaps, face masks- anything that makes me soft and nice-smelling. I love Lush so much.
- This advice column from Cheryl Strayed
- Actually anything from Cheryl Strayed. She has a podcast too!
- Plants! Taking care of plants makes me feel preternaturally calm. Watering them, observing their growth, learning patience.I read somewhere the other day that dirt has natural components that help anxiety; I don’t know if it’s scientifically true, but I definitely love plants and dirt and nature.
At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.
I’ve been meaning to sign up for yoga classes for a while. I’ve been following plus-size yogis on instagram (@diannebondyyoga, @mynameisjessmyn), and I’ve decided that my body doesn’t have to look or bend a certain way in order to do yoga in front of others. I’ve taken normal classes before and loved them, so I decided to push myself and try hot yoga for here weeks because the local hot yoga place has a special. Here’s a step-by-step of my experience.
- I’m in a very warm room. Someone just told me to pour water all over my yoga mat. I am kind of sleepy but feelin’ stretchier than normal. A middle-aged woman named Angie chats with me about coming there once a day.
- A very small yogi named Christine walks into the room. She talks to us about our sankalpas. Dang, it’s hot. But I think of my sankalpa (see end of blog post).
- We start moving. Alright alright alright, feelin’ stretchy, feelin’ good.
- WOW IT’S HOT, how long have we been doing this?? 20 minutes? Crap, there are 40 minutes left.
- Yoga. We’re doing it. There is sweat dripping into my eyes. My hair, which is normally stubbornly straight, starts to CURL.
- 30 minutes in. Can’t breathe. Feel heartbeat in eyeballs. This seems bad.
- Lie on mat.
- Try to breathe. Breathe along with my fellow classmates, who are somehow breathing AND doing speedy quick yoga.
- Heartbeat returns to normal. Still very sweaty, but I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
- Get up. Try to do chair pose. Nope. Try to do crow pose. Nope. But I’m trying.
- Thank goodness, it’s time to lie on the mat and do some stretching. I can lie down, I’m great at that. But it’s harder than it looks because my body is the sweatiest it has been in my 23 years of life. I’m slippin’ and slidin’ all over the place.
- Tiny yoga instructor Christine hands us all freezing cold, wet washcloths. I’ve never been happier to hold a washcloth in my hand. I slap it on my face immediately.
- Yoga instructor tells me she’s proud of me for staying in the room for the whole hour because not many people can do it the first time. I look around and everyone seems to be suffering at the same level I am. Sweet.
- Christine says it stayed at a steady NINETY-NINE DEGREES in the studio the whole time. I’m a superhero, basically.
- I leave the studio feeling tired and very, very badass.
I just finished my second class, and I spent more time lying on my mat trying not to suffocate than I would have liked. But I stayed in there, and I’m so proud of myself. It was as sweaty and tough as the first time, but I’m so glad I did it. I am becoming deeply myself.