Tag Archives: mental illness

How Crochet Saved My Life

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(This particular post may be triggering to some people with a history of depression, abuse, or self-harm — please proceed with caution.)

My grandmother has been trying to teach me how to crochet for most of my life.  I’d always thought it was just a lame thing that old ladies did to pass the time while watching their soap operas, and I’m terribly impatient, anyway, so I never had much success with it.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard her wail about not being around forever and that if I didn’t learn, no one would be left to pass it down to the children she assumes I’m going to produce someday like her mother did to her, and her mother’s mother and so on, so forth.  Then both crochet and knitting had an explosion of popularity among the crafting community, specifically with people my own age who figured out how to parlay ancient doily patterns into more modern (and often nerdy) areas, and several friends of mine, like the beautiful Tiny Leviathan and award-winning Crystal of /knit, really managed to pique my interest.  Without them, I doubt learning to crochet, knit, or otherwise transform yarn into something fancy using nothing but sticks would ever have made it onto my New Year’s Bucket List.

Technically, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now, either.

Fear and depression are, sadly, regular guests in my life.  The past few weeks have been slowly adding on layer after overwhelming layer of stress, culminating in a sudden need to face one of my past traumas — admittedly one of the “minor” ones, if there is such a thing as a minor trauma, but still enough to send me into an awful spiral to rock bottom.  I spent a whole day shuffling around the bedroom, barely able to drag myself to the computer to check emails.  Most of the time I was laying in bed sobbing and thinking of how I should just file for divorce and allow The Husband to go on with his life, maybe find a wife who wouldn’t be so sad all the time.

Then came the terrifying nothingness, the same state I was in all those years ago when I attempted suicide.  I’ve tried to think of good ways to describe exactly what that kind of mental state feels like, as it isn’t quite the near-hysterical sadness most people picture it to be, at least not for me.  It’s more like lucid dreaming, where nothing seems real and you’re completely convinced that anything you do will be free of any consequence.  Despair turns from a tumultuous ocean to still waters.  You’re still trapped on that vast, black sea with no end in sight, but you can’t find a reason to scream or flail anymore.  It almost feels as if your very existence is running out, like a reel of film nearing the end.  This is how it’s supposed to be.  This is where the end comes.

I don’t remember exactly what led me to pick up the crochet.  One minute I was slumped against The Husband, listening to him ask me if we needed to go to the hospital so I could be put on watch.  “I don’t know,” I said, and suddenly I was sitting at my desk with a skein of cheap white yarn and an aluminum crochet hook — I must have asked my mother for them at some point, since these aren’t things I keep in my craft bin.  The first of Naztazia’s tutorials for beginner-level crochet was up on the screen and somehow my hands were following along.  I counted each chain, each stitch.  I kept counting until 3 in the morning, when I had half of a dishcloth finished and a completed TV series on Netflix.  The next morning I got up and did it again.  I finished the dishcloth, a horribly uneven thing with at least a handful of dropped stitches and haphazard tension towards the beginning.  But the rows near the end… hey, they actually looked pretty good.

Everyone who saw it praised me.  Several people with crochet experience were surprised at how comparatively well my first project turned out.  The Husband held it in his hands for  a few seconds, then hugged me tightly and told me he was proud of me.  I was caught off-guard by this.  Why would he be so proud of something so riddled with mistakes, something I knew for certain I could have done better?

“Because you’re still here,” he explained.  “And because you accomplished something.”

I’ve quickly determined that crocheting is an almost instant cure for any awful  feelings I may be experiencing.  Stitch, stitch, stitch — my hands are too busy to harm myself.  My brain is keeping track of what row I’m on and how many I have left to go instead of how hopeless the future is.  It’s something I apparently do well, something I can be proud of, something that reminds me that yes, I am capable of things.  Being able to touch and squeeze the soft yarn in my hands has a soothing effect, one that brings me back into the here-and-now when I start to drift, something not altogether dissimilar to the grounding therapy I was taught as a way to counter flashbacks from my PTSD.  Leaving a project unfinished overnight ensures that I’ll have a purpose, a goal for the next day.  Even managing to add a single row is a step closer to accomplishing the whole, which is, in and of itself, an accomplishment.  In just a few days I’ve gained new friends from the crochet and knitting communities, all of whom are incredibly welcoming and eager to share tips and tricks, and to encourage me so thoroughly I’m finding it impossible to feel bad when I make a mistake.  It’s empowering to know that if I mess up, I can just pull gently and undo a little bit of work.  Sure, it means a little extra time spent to complete the project, but seeing a bad stitch corrected to a good one, and knowing that was the one to improve upon it fills me with indescribable pride.

And maybe part of my newfound love of crochet is due to my grandmother after all.  If you asked me to picture her in my head, it’d be with a crochet hook and yarn in her hands.  As a small child I was always surrounded blankets, sweaters, hats, even doll clothes that she had painstakingly crocheted for me.  Even as an adult, I’ve got at least one fuzzy scarf and a gorgeous Gothic Lolita-style capelet she made for me.  My grandmother’s house was always full of crocheted works in progress, and it was also a safe haven for me when things got bad at my house, especially after my parents divorced.  I remember running for my life through our backyards with my biological father chasing me down, ready to beat me to a pulp (or worse) for some perceived slight.  She heard the gate slam and knew what was happening.  The back door was already open when I got there.  I blew past her into the room I slept in when I stayed there.  I grabbed a baseball bat from the closet and locked the door, eyes clenched shut and tears running down my face, waiting for the door to be kicked down, mentally practicing my swing for the kneecaps.  Except the door never opened, not until I was the one to turn the knob.  While I was hiding, my biological father had discovered that an extremely overweight five-foot-nothing old Mediterranean woman with two bad knees was a more formidable sparring opponent than any cage fighter out there.  I moved in with my grandparents shortly afterwards, but the association between my grandmother’s house and safety had already been chained onto the association between crochet and my grandmother’s house.  With every stitch, I feel like I’m back in my room there with the ancient avocado-green shag carpeting, those same four walls that served as my bastion of safety on so many occasions.  Nothing and no one can get to me as long as I have the yarn in my hands.  I am like my grandmother.  I am unstoppable.

I called her yesterday to tell her I’d finally learned to crochet.  The only other time I’ve heard her so happy was when I announced my engagement.

There’s still a lot for me to learn.  I’ve got a laundry list of projects I want to make, some of which will undoubtedly end up in my still-empty-and-badly-in-need-of-a-new-style Etsy store once I get a few more of the fancy stitches under my belt.  But now I know for certain that I’ll be around to practice them.

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Getting A Clue: How Not To Be A Jackass To Mentally Ill People

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The following article contains talk of abuse and suicide that may be triggering for some people.  Please proceed at your own risk.

It’s no secret that I’ve been battling PTSD and a complex mood disorder for most of my life.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  For a long time I did keep it hidden, because every time I would mention it to someone I’d either get a horrified look and rapid subject change or a response that they absolutely, positively believed was not blindingly offensive.  As the years went on, however, I realized that keeping my mental illness a secret was partly responsible for the abhorrent behavior of others.  It didn’t merely justify to them that yes, this was some horrible, terrible, no-good very bad thing to be ashamed of (spoilers: it isn’t); it ensured that they’d go through their lives operating off of false information that would otherwise never be corrected, unknowingly hurting who-knows-how-many other people in the process and making themselves look like awful people.

Although over a quarter of adults in the United States are diagnosed with some form of mental illness each year, there are still plenty of those out there who have never experienced it for themselves or been anywhere near another person who has.  Even if they had, there’s a decent chance they’d never know due to the stigmatization of mental illness as some kind of deep personal flaw rather than what it actually is — a sickness that the afflicted has no more choice or control over than if they had been diagnosed with cancer.  The answer’s right there in the second word, for God’s sake, illness.  It’s not just there to fill space.  Most of the mentally ill people I know are nowhere near as “out” as I am because they fear (sadly, rightfully so) retribution from family, friends, or even employers.  Studies show that they are up to 7 times more likely to be the victims of violence compared to the rest of the population, and those numbers are likely even higher in reality due to how horribly underreported these crimes are, mostly because of the shaming, patronization, and doubt that mentally ill victims know they will face at the police station or on the witness stand.

I have many horror stories that I could tell in order to paint the same, bleak picture.  Once upon a time, I was just a kid with a mood disorder, a chemical imbalance in my brain with a genetic component that really wasn’t anyone’s fault, just luck of the draw.  As time went on, people figured out ways to use it against me or as an alibi for themselves — “she’s delusional” or “you can’t trust her perception of things,” despite the fact that mood disorders don’t cause delusions or altered views of reality.  They got away with it because most people automatically assume that mentally ill = “crazy” = all “crazy” is like what you see in the movies with straitjackets, padded cells, and voices.

I was ostracized throughout most of my time in school because I cried too much some days and others I’d talk rapidly and start fights and be completely uncontrollable.  The other kids called me “freak” and beat me up or told me to kill myself.  In fourth grade, I’d had enough and held a pair of scissors to my throat, tearfully pleading with the teacher to make them stop.  The teacher laughed in my face and told me to go ahead, do it.  When I finally spoke up about the sexual abuse I’d endured as a teenager, people I thought I could trust were sympathetic to my face, but immediately turned around and notified everyone else I’d told not to listen to me, that sometimes I got “confused” and “made things up.”  I got into a relationship with a man who would beat me, force himself on me, and then belittle and berate me to the point of more suicide attempts.  Again, I tried to speak up, to call attention to my plight, and I got a little further this time; people actually began to question him about what was going on behind closed doors.  His response was a sweet smile and hushed tone while he told them I was mentally ill, and he was so sorry for any trouble, that he tried to keep tabs on me and my “behavior” but sometimes I would be so convincing in my supposed delusions that I’d trick other people too, and I didn’t mean anything by it, really, he’d see about calling my doctor and upping my dosage but in the meantime please don’t let me trouble them.  It was a Hell of an act that lasted all the way until he closed the front door and threw me into a wall for snitching.  The night he tried to kill me by strangling me with an electrical cord, I managed to get away from him and run through the hallways of our apartment with him in pursuit screaming for help, for someone to call 911, but the news had spread like wildfire.  I was just having one of my “delusions.”  There was no need for them to do anything but lock their front doors and sit in silence, pitying the pretty girl who was so obviously sick in the head as to try and cause trouble for such a nice young man, what a shame, she’s so young to be that far gone.

I had trouble finding relationships at all, since most guys either didn’t want to deal with “a crazy bitch” (their disgusting words, not mine) or thought that they only had to love me when I was up, not when I was curled up in a ball on the couch, unable to go to work, get myself food, or do anything besides cry.  Another guy I dated forced me off of my medication because it lowered my sex drive and made me sleep too much.  I got lucky with The Fiance, who seems to be one of the only people out there able to see past my illness and recognize that yes, even if I do require a bit of additional care, I am still a human being who deserves the same love and respect as everyone else.

You, too, can join those elite ranks by knowing what you should never, ever say or do to your mentally ill friends and family.  I assumed that most of these things were just common sense and basic human decency, but after seeing this kind of shit one too many times:

Stop.

Gimme a second.

I realized that it was time for me to make a few simple corrections.

Much better.

Much better.

“All You Need Is Positive Thinking!”

There’s a bunch of variations on this one.  Sometimes all I need is to watch a funny movie, or pamper myself at a spa for the day.  Sometimes all I need is to immediately stop talking to whoever is saying this before I forget that they actually think they’re being helpful and legitimately don’t know any better.

Depression isn’t a switch you can flip on and off.  If the difference between being too low to even get out of bed and prancing around slinging rainbows and sunshine out of my asshole was something as simple as watching Zoolander, I would have that shit playing on a permanent loop in my house.  Yes, the brain is a powerful tool, and if you put your mind to something you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish, but it doesn’t really work when your brain chemistry is what’s causing the problem in the first place.

This is probably the type of thing I hear most often, and when I’m in the throes of a depressive cycle, it’s one of the most damaging.  At that point I already feel like I’m burdening my friends and family just by being alive.  I’ll smile and pretend to be magically cured while it eats away at me inside that “oh God, if this is what works for them, why doesn’t it work for me?  Am I that broken?  What if I’m not trying hard enough?  I’m never enough.  They really want me to do this but I’m failing, I’m failing them.  I hate myself.”

Instead, try asking if there’s anything that you can do.  The answer will probably be “no,” because short of medication there’s really not much that any one person can do to magically fix the problem, but it at least shows that you understand what’s going on, and a little understanding during these times can go a long way.

“You Should Go On Medication.”

Unless you’re a licensed physician and the person you are speaking to is a patient under your care, do not tell a mentally ill person that they should be on medication.  It’s rude.  It’s the equivalent of walking up to your grandmother and saying “Whoa, Granny, you should get a face lift.”  That person may already be on meds — some of them take a while to show any effect at all, and the simple act of getting someone properly medicated can take years of dosage adjustments and prescription combinations — and may actually have improved quite a bit already as a result.  No medication is 100% effective.  There are still going to be glitches in the proverbial Matrix.  But when it’s a matter of wanting to die for 27 days out of each month while unmedicated versus having a bad day maybe once every other month on meds, it’s a freaking nuclear launch forward.

There’s also a myriad of reasons why someone may choose not to go on medication.  Maybe they’ve tried, but haven’t made any progress with them (frighteningly enough, this can happen).  Maybe their medication has given them horrific side effects more debilitating than the illness itself.  Without insurance, the price of a 30-day supply for many psychiatric medications is astronomical; CVS quoted me $600 for my Lamictal.  Though there are many free or reduced-cost mental health services in various cities across the U.S., not every town offers them, and criteria may be different.  If you’re just making enough so that you don’t qualify for assistance, but can’t afford an insurance premium — not all insurance programs will cover mental health services, by the way — or to pay out of pocket, you’ll find your options horribly limited.

And anyway, it’s none of your business.  (If, however, somebody is talking seriously about hurting themselves, there are ways that you can and should step in.)  Other deeply personal things you shouldn’t ask unless they’ve indicated it’s okay to do so: if they’ve ever been hospitalized, if you can see their scars, how they “did it” during suicide attempts, etc.

“If You Don’t Quit Being Negative, I’m Not Going To Talk To You”

I’ve always felt this to be an abhorrent concept.  It basically says “Hi, I want to be your friend, but only when and if it’s convenient for me.”  Instead of issuing ultimatums to a friend who’s having a hard time, why not take the time to see if they need someone to talk to?  I’ve had this type of line used on me before and it’s extremely hurtful.  Imagine if a good friend of yours walked up to you one day and informed you that if you didn’t stop being taller than them, they’d cut you out of their lives.  It’d feel like shit, wouldn’t it?  Don’t do it to other people.

It can be hard to see a loved one in pain, and even more frustrating to realize that you can’t make it all better for them.  That much is understandable.  It’s the same reason that some people find it difficult to visit a family member who’s in the hospital for a severe physical illness.  With “invisible” illnesses, however, it’s easy to forget that the person you’re talking to is legitimately sick.  Remember that they are not just acting out for attention or to get special treatment.  They can’t help it any more than someone can help being paralyzed.

“You Don’t Have It So Bad Compared To x!”

The logic behind telling someone they shouldn’t be depressed because there are Darfur war orphans in this world is the same logic that would technically allow them to tell you that you shouldn’t be happy because Jay-Z is married to Beyonce and has like a billion dollars.  Depression is not a pissing contest and you are not the gatekeeper who decide what emotions other people are allowed to feel.

I get that it’s an attempt to put things into perspective, really, I do.  But with depression, there is no perspective.  It isn’t logical and it won’t listen to reason, even if the person who’s suffering from it really, really wants to.  If you’ve never been clinically depressed yourself, then I don’t think it’s possible to convey in words that bleak, hopeless feeling, the “knowledge” that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and nothing is ever going to get better.  It permeates everything around you and sucks all of the joy out of life.  You could sit in the middle of a Sanrio store hugging a Hello Kitty plushie and still feel lower than you’ve ever been before.  And I sincerely hope that none of you ever have to experience it for yourselves, because I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

“That’s SO Cool!”

No.  No no no no no no no no no.

My head nearly exploded the first time I realized that there are people out there who think mental illness is some kind of status symbol to be desired, to the point of self-diagnosing and claiming that they, too, suffer from (insert whatever happens to be “trendy” at the moment).  There is absolutely nothing cool or fun about being mentally ill.  You live your life in fear of discovery or, if you’re open about it like I am, trouble from other people about it.  The side effects of the medications you’ve been all wistful about?  They suck.  You might get lucky and just gain a ton of weight, or your sex drive might vanish, you could have seizures, cottonmouth, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, muscle spasms, neurological issues, suicidal thoughts (a.k.a. the shit they’re supposed to be preventing), and hey, some of them have a tiny chance of just straight up killing you even when taken in normal doses.  There’s a big difference between Prozac and Xanax.  “Happy pills” don’t produce any extra sense of euphoria or make the oontz-oontz on your iPod sound like the color Wednesday.  Typically, they put you into this emotional flatline where you’re not particularly sad but not particularly happy, either.  You just are.  It’s existence, pure and simple.  Yes, if you have PTSD or an anxiety disorder, they will probably put you on anti-anxiety medication… but they aren’t going to give you the “good stuff” right out of the gate.  They’ll probably give you something like Vistaril, which is non-addictive and has no effect other than making you pass the Hell out so that you’re too unconscious to be worried.  Stroll into the doctor’s office and announce you want specifically Xanax or Ativan, and they’re going to give you a very dirty look before asking you to leave.

Additionally, stop saying things like “oh man, I was so depressed that they didn’t have those jeans in my size!”  You weren’t depressed, you were disappointed.  No wonder there’s so many people out there who think that depressed people just need a hug in order to “snap out of it.”

“You Can’t Do x, You’re Mentally Ill!”

Yes, there are some things that I can’t do because I am mentally ill.  Part of my PTSD extends to my ability to drive — I can’t get behind the wheel of a car without having a severe panic attack — and only recently have I been able to feel “safe” enough to do simple things like take a bus by myself.  For years, I flew all over the country by myself without the slightest concern.  Then terrible shit happened and I found myself unable to even walk down a different aisle of the grocery store as my mother without my heart pounding.  Eventually it got to the point that I couldn’t even leave my house.  Literally.  Not in a cute and quirky “oh antisocial gamer girl teehee” kind of way, I mean that I was physically unable to step over the threshold without completely breaking down.

I’m happy to report that I’m doing much better these days, thanks to some coping exercises I learned in therapy.  I have to take things one day at a time, but even if it did take a little extra effort, I can now live a much more normal life.

I have, however, been “helpfully” informed that because I am mentally ill, there’s no way I could raise a child or even get married (and, on the flipside, The Fiance has had friends and family express the same concerns about me to him).  In their mind, they told me, it would be dangerous for the other people involved because I could flip out at any time and end up shooting my husband and drowning the kids in the bathtub, despite all of the studies stressing that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not and never will be violent, an all-too-common misconception that’s probably at least partly responsible for the violent crimes perpetrated against us.

At first I wasn’t even hurt, I was pissed.  Once I calmed down and realized that the person I was talking to was completely confused as to why I didn’t know this already and why I was taking it so personally, I took it upon myself to educate them a bit.

Mentally ill people are still people.  I have said this many times already but I will continue to say it until it finally sinks in.  It may require a few extra steps or a more roundabout way, but they can and will live productive and relatively “normal” lives.  This isn’t just a reminder for the general population, it’s also a very loving reminder for anyone fighting with mental illness.  I know what it’s like to feel that living like everyone else is impossible, that you’re always going to be “broken” and that life is going to be an uphill struggle for you no matter what.  But you can do it.  We can do it.  It may be hard at times, but we’ve made it this far already, and that’s worth something right there.  During your worst days, remembering this probably won’t make much of a difference, but tuck it away for the times that it can.  Let’s cheer each other on.

“Well, I’m Having A Hard Time Too, But I’m Not Sad About It!”

 

This is the one that really gets me.  Oh, thank you, wise one, why don’t you impart upon us your secrets of yoga or watching sunsets or “just smiling”?  Don’t forget to take your gold star-shaped cookie on the way out!  GOOD FOR YOU!

Everyone deals with things differently.  Everyone has different thresholds for stress.  Some people can take a lot, others not so much, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  What’s wrong is when these higher-threshold people decide to rub it in the faces of those who aren’t able to deal with things quite as easily, and that goes not only for those with a mental illness, but those who are just a little more sensitive as well.

A friend — though I’m rethinking the designation at this point — of mine posted this almost word for word as her Facebook status today, though she’s previously used just about every other “no-no” on this list.  She directed it to everyone who’s posted recently about having a rough time.  “Change your life if it’s so bad!” she insisted.  “I don’t want to hear about it!”  Instead of telling her to go fuck herself, I wrote this article, so at least some good came out of my aggravation.

“Outing” The Mentally Ill

Choosing to speak openly about your life with a mental illness is a deeply personal decision, and many choose not to do it because of the attached societal stigma.  Nobody has a right to do it for them.  It doesn’t matter if you’re telling another mentally ill friend that “oh, hey, Jessica has the same problem as you, you guys should talk!” or gossiping over coffee about how Billy Smith down the road had a creepy uncle that he still has nightmares about.  You wouldn’t call your friend’s entire family over for dinner and casually announce to them all that he’s gay.  (If you would, you’re a terrible person.)

Nor can you force a person to talk about their issues.  I dread telling people I have PTSD because their initial “Oh” of surprise is usually followed up by “…so what happened?”  I’m not comfortable talking about everything that’s happened to me.  Some things I may never be able to talk about.  Especially in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, dredging up the horrific events that caused it is not something you want to do.  Reliving those events can trigger emotionally devastating flashbacks resulting in months of nightmares and constant panic attacks.

I dream of a day when being mentally ill will be no more “shameful” to society than having astigmatism or a broken finger.  It won’t happen overnight, but we can get there, if only we’re all willing to open our minds and our hearts and stop being dicks to each other.

 

Help, I Am Drowning In The Iced Tea Of Sorrow

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In what is clearly by now nothing short of a stunning turn of events, I’m depressed.  Severely depressed.  The kind of depressed where I’m honestly not so much functioning as I am “using my autopilot abilities to perform some semblance of functioning.”

Allie of Hyperbole and a Half, who happens to be an idol of mine, recently updated her blog for the first time in months with a beautifully-illustrated tale of her own struggles with depression that have kept her away from the clicky-clacky thing that makes words show up on the computer.  I enjoyed it as much as you can possibly enjoy reading about another human being’s suffering, and it was interesting how it manifested itself for her in a way that’s simultaneously the same and different than the show it’s currently putting on in the West End of my brain.  (The costuming sucks, but Catherine Zeta-Jones is doing great with her portrayal of Primary Depression Blob #2.)

Unlike Allie, I am feeling things besides the obvious overwhelming sorrow.  They’re there under this terrible numb-feeling that I guess is kind of like what she went through, except even if I’m only mildly aware of them to begin with they still pop up from time to time, just in these horribly superficial versions that I know lack the depth of relative normalcy.  I can giggle at an episode of 30 Rock and really mean that giggle, but there’s something plastic about it, some vital component of it that would say “hey, this is a legit emotion” that’s just not there.  It is the Uncanny Valley of feeling.

I am getting out of bed in the morning.  I am trying to play the I Win game but every victory seems hollow, even the one where I put something in the microwave and run to the bathroom to pee and then make it back before my food’s done, which up until this point has been one of my proudest achievements.  There is this voice, you see, that isn’t actually there, but likes to wait until I’m really high up there in Not Feeling Like Complete Shitville before kicking me in the ribcage and fist-pumping while it watches me crash back down into Blerghsburg.

I mean, I’m in California.  I am back in my home, a place that I have missed for a very long time.  But whenever I try to reflect on this to bring myself up out of the gloom, that voice pops up again:

“Yay!  I’m in beautiful Southern California!  I live less than ten minutes from the Blizzard campus!  I can walk down the street without having to worry about getting mugged!  Life is pretty awesome!”

Is it?  I mean, you still don’t have a job or anything.

“Well… yeah,  but I’m still applying to Blizz and to jobs in the meantime!  Look at all the shiny opportunities here!”

How many callbacks have you gotten?

“…None yet, but that’s okay, it’s going to take them time to sort through all the app–”

Open up your email inbox.  How many rejection letters are there?

“…Okay, like 12 or 13, but that’s just inspiration to do better next time!”

Ever thought that maybe they just don’t want you because you’re still the same weird kid you were all through school and nothing you do is worth anything?  I mean, if you had any talent at all, you’d have a job by now.

“I have talent!  I mean, I didn’t go to college, but…”

Yeah, think about how much easier it’d be for you to get in if you could go back to school to learn coding instead of trying to teach it to yourself.  Oh wait, you can’t because you can’t afford it and considering that you can’t even pay your cell phone bill anymore, you don’t have the time.  You had your chance and you fucked it up.  You can’t do shit.  You can’t even get Target to call you back.

“At least I’m not homeless, right?  My mom’s letting me stay with her till I get on my feet.”

Great job, you’re a grown-ass woman who’s burdening your family yet again because you can’t get your shit together.  You should have stayed in Florida.  At least you had friends there… well, people who pretended to like you, anyway.  Look, kid, the only reason anybody gives you the time of day is because they feel sorry for you.  They secretly think you made a stupid move coming back out here.  They know you can’t do it.  You know you can’t do it.  Fuckup.”

It’s usually at this point that I end up staring at myself in the mirror and coming to the realization that everyone would be better off without me.  It’s this burning desire not to take my own life, but to just throw some clean underwear in a bag and run away in the middle of the night without telling anyone where I’m going.  I feel like I’m never going to amount to anything.  I feel like I’m just one of those people who doesn’t belong anywhere, that there’s no place for me in this world or the next.  I feel like just giving up and fully embracing twenty-six years of utter failure at life by devoting myself to laying on the couch and watching Netflix until I eventually choke on my 10-cent ramen noodles and die alone, let The Fiance find some way better-looking chick with fewer problems than me, let my mother and stepfather have their house back, and watch anything that might prove that I ever existed in the first place fade into oblivion.  I was never here.  It’s better that way, isn’t it?  I keep trying to argue with myself that it’s just the voice of depression trying to drag me down again but I’m starting to wonder.

I’m at a crossroads.  I could go back onto the same medication that crippled me and just deal with the fact that the physical pain I’m still struggling with is going to get worse again.  Or I could keep pushing on through, numbly, hoping that something will eventually give and that after all of the suffering I’ve had to deal with in my life — there’s a reason I’ve got PTSD, you know, and it’s shit that even the writers for Law & Order: SVU wouldn’t touch on the grounds of it being “too messed up” — there’s going to be sunshine.  Not even pure sunshine because expecting everything to be perfect all the time is stupid, but at least mostly sunshine with scattered showers, where the good outweighs the crap for once.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I made this all into a blog entry.  I meant to just put up a standard disclaimer that I wasn’t feeling well and a review of patch 5.3 would be forthcoming, but it just turned into… I don’t even know what.  I guess I feel worse than I thought I did.  I can’t explain any of this stuff to the few people I do have in my life without them either getting frustrated/angry at me because they don’t understand what I’m dealing with or telling me that it’s all in my head (no shit, that’s kind of the primary location of mental illness) and that all I have to do is think positive or whatever and everything will magically be fine.  Even when I do have the opportunity to talk to other people I push everything to the backburner because holy shit, I’m the Bunny Overlord, I have a solemn duty to be random and quirky and funny and upbeat all the time, otherwise what good am I to anyone, right?

I think I’m going to have ice cream for dinner tonight.  I deserve it.

I Don’t Like The Drugs, But The Drugs Don’t Like Me Either

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It’s been a bit since I’ve written a “real” post, and I feel slightly guilty about that.  There’s so much going on in World of Warcraft right now since patch 5.2 dropped — new raids, new rep, the whole shebang — and I’ve been absolutely dying to write a treatise on backstory and how much I love it, Hell, even back that up with my own little bit of creative writing to explain the death-by-deletion of my first paladin.  I’m also attempting to get a Bunny-4-Warchief campaign going.  I even made a hashtag and a poster for it.

Oh yes.  There will be cupcakes.

A vote for me is a vote for cupcakes… and I guess then by the transitive properties a vote for diabeetus.

Have I actually done anything of real substance over the past few weeks?  Beyond my awesome guest spot on the even awesomer Let’s WoW! podcast, not really.  I’ve been too busy weaning off of my once-miraculous psych meds.

Any of you who’ve ever taken similar medication and had to wean off of it for whatever reason are probably cringing right now, and for you, my brothers and sisters in inconvenient brain chemistry, I do not need to provide an explanation.  Those who’ve never had to work anything out of their system save for maybe an ill-timed doobie three days before a drug test may be confused, so I’ll put it in the simplest terms I can manage: it’s like The Exorcist, but with significantly fewer crotch-stabbings, and I’m pretty sure Satan himself would put up less of a fight on his way out.

I’ve been pretty candid about my struggles with the Sha of Complex Mood Disorders and PTSD already, but for those just joining us, hi, welcome to the show.  After being misdiagnosed for twelve years and being forced onto regimen after regimen of medications that were the complete opposite of what I needed for my condition, I finally found what I thought was the droid I had been looking for.  Not only did it work its scientific miracles without the awful side effects usually associated with such medications, its label-use was for epilepsy, meaning that I could go to the pharmacy to refill it without having to worry about weird looks from anyone or openly discuss my experiences with that particular med and people would think “hey, she’s not crazy, she’s just no fun at raves.”  It was a pretty fortunate boon that blinky lights are my natural enemy, anyway; not to grand-mal levels of seizures, but enough to make my brain completely lock up and then do what I like to refer to as a hard reset.  It helped my mood and made it so that I didn’t have to avert my eyes every time an emergency vehicle passed with its lights on.

Yep, things were pretty great… for about a month.

I remember getting out of bed one morning and almost screaming in pain.  It felt like somebody was driving a railroad spike through my foot.  I originally chalked it up to a bad flare-up of plantar fasciiosis, something I’m no stranger to due to dancing and figure-skating for a good chunk of my life.  I’d had issues with it before, and while annoying, it usually went away after a short time.

Six months later, even walking with a cane wasn’t helping, and the pain had spread into both feet and lower legs.  There were several times when I’d try to “walk it off,” so to speak, and find myself collapsed in a heap because the pain was so severe my body was basically telling me “NO, SIT DOWN” whether I chose to listen or not.  I couldn’t go shopping with my friends or do anything that required walking more than a few steps.  Getting from my bedroom to the kitchen in order to take the kettle off of the stove for tea was an ordeal.  I was going through a pretty serious case of denial, accepting an invitation from one friend to go ice skating (and having to cancel the next morning before I even got anywhere near the ice since I couldn’t even stand).   Soon after, I found myself going through my old dance costumes in preparation for sale.  I had given up on ever being able to dance again.  By this point my ankle joints were completely frozen, and my knees following suit.  Each step I took was from the hip, giving me an almost comical  gait and yet another reason to be self-conscious in public.  The jokes I made about turning into a mermaid for real were disguising the depression and fear that I’d eventually lose the ability to walk at all.

To top it all off, I was losing my ability to speak coherently.  I was easily confused, forgetting things within just a minute or two of being told — my memory has always been pretty bad thanks to a couple of concussions, but not forget-what-I-was-saying-in-the-middle-of-a-sentence bad — and occasionally found my speech slurred.  I’d try to say one word and end up saying another that was similar, but not quite, i.e. “bound” instead of “band.”  I developed a severe stutter that would crop up whenever I had to speak more than a few sentences at a time.  On the worst occasions I’d find myself unable to speak at all, the words clearly visible in my brain but not making the trip down to my mouth.  I remember trying to talk to The Fiance one morning and only being able to blurt out simple, extremely slurred words, one at a time, like a two-year-old.  Thankfully, my writing was unaffected by any of this, but I was still terrified.  I had already been evaluated once for autoimmune diseases like myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis, though the test results had come back inconclusive.  Now it was beginning to look like the time for a retest.

As luck would have it, I ran out of my medication a couple of days before the next available appointment to get my prescription refilled.  The doctor told me that as long as I didn’t go beyond three days med-free, I could just resume taking them normally once I picked them up from the pharmacy.  A funny thing happened, though.

For those two days, my pain level was halved.

The night before my appointment I sat on my bed, staring gleefully as I drew circles in the air with my feet, something I’d been unable to do for many months.  I spent that entire night doing research, finding horror stories almost identical to mine from people (mostly women, interestingly enough) who had been on the same medication.  It was far too familiar — started out great, amazing success with stabilizing moods, quickly devolved into mysterious and severe symptoms that went away after weaning off of it.

I would likely have made this discovery even without the scheduling snafu, since the state of Florida helps to cover the cost of this medication (which averages about $350 for a one-month supply without insurance, and since it was for an “off-label” use there was a chance that many insurance companies wouldn’t cover it, anyway) and I’ve got just a couple of weeks left until my move to California.  I had to wean off of it, anyway, because of the high risk of running out of the medication and having to go cold turkey before finding a new solution out west.  The doctor, of course, fought me tooth and nail.  “You’re doing so well on it,” he protested.

Sure, doc.  My moods are less spike-y and I’m not afraid to leave my house anymore, I just can’t walk or speak.  Totally doing great over here!

I did manage to finally get instructions on how to safely wean myself off of the meds, though, by mentioning that at the end of this year The Fiance and I are going to be trying for a baby.  It was at this point that I was cautioned to take a special regimen of folic acid and other supplements because the medication has apparently left me with a higher chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect like spina bifida or anencephaly.  Whether it’s permanent or only temporarily elevated, I’m not sure, but once I get back to my California home and have wider access to alternative therapies and medicines, I think I’m going to be seeking other avenues of treatment.

Here I sit in the meantime, though, now on day 2 of not-taking-any-pills-at-all.  Remember when I mentioned The Exorcist?  The pea-soup vomiting part was pretty accurate.  My stomach has been a wreck to the point that I’m eating only out of necessity, and having to give myself a pep talk before each bite because I know that in an hour or so it’s going to take its horrible revenge.  I have been extremely tired and spent a full week feeling like an 18-wheeler had parked itself on my body.  I’m on a hair  trigger, easily annoyed by other people (though thankfully my loved ones are understanding and I’ve been fighting hard to keep my short temper in check through this detoxing process).  But I can walk, and run, and speak with only occasional glitches that I expect will go away by the time these pills are completely out of my system.  I’ve just been too exhausted to do anything that I’m supposed to be doing, including, but not limited to:

  • packing for the move
  • putting away laundry
  • writing anything of note
  • hanging out with friends
  • crafty stuff
  • anything that does not involve playing videogames and/or laying in bed watching Supernatural

But every day gets a little bit better.  My thoughts become clearer, my mood improves, and today I was even able to eat lunch without barfing everywhere, extremely fortunate since I was using salmon-flavored cream cheese on my bagel and fish generally does not repeat itself well.  WordPress is telling me that I’ve written over 1,600 words already.  Yee-frigging-haw.

I’m also telling my jerk brain to shut its jerk mouth when it says jerk things to me, like “you’ll never be able to make it without meds” and “you’ll just end up afraid to leave the house again.”  Obviously I’m never going to be cured, but everyone I talk to agrees with me that going home to California, a place where I had the best years of my life and have an even tighter-knit support system of family and friends than I do here is going to do wonders for my ability to keep fighting.  I’m going to get out there, start a life with the man I love, and get my dream job, which I am going to be damn good at, and then I might also get a corgi that I can take to work with me every day because corgis, man, they look like somebody forgot to make the rest of the dog, like someone on the dog assembly line was all “Oh shit, Frank, we gotta finish this dog” and Frank was just like “Nah man, we clock out at 5, and it’s 5, so let’s go get drunk, we’ll finish it tomorrow” and then there was a communication problem with the shipping department and the dog just went out all unfinished like that but it was a huge hit with the people so Frank and his buddy got huge bonuses and a Nobel peace prize and retired in relative comfort until that sex scandal hit.

All of this being said, I’d like to do the responsible thing and point out that I AM NOT ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO STOP TAKING THEIR MEDS.  My case was pretty severe, and I honestly believe that the cons far outweighed the pros with regards to my continuing the regimen.  As I mentioned earlier, I will be continuing to seek treatment in whatever form that may take once I get settled in my new-old home.  If you’re having doubts as to whether your particular meds are helping or hindering, talk to your doctor before you do anything, and if that doctor doesn’t give you a satisfactory answer to your questions, find one who will. 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sha

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Before I get started, I’d like to rather triumphantly announce the following:

I win!

I win!

That’s right!  My novel, Observe, was finished on November 28th, two days ahead of time, despite a 10-day delay in getting started due to that pesky hard drive failure.  To be honest, it’s pretty terrible, but I’ve got it in for editing anyway because it’s better than 50 Shades of Grey if for no other reason than the fact that I do not, at any point, use the phrase “puckered love cave.”  And also that the decapitations outnumber the sex scenes in a 15-to-1 ratio.

But now, I’d like to talk about something a little more serious, and a little more personal, and way more World of Warcraft-related.

It may come as a shock to those who don’t know me exceptionally well, but despite all of the humor and attempted badassery (which spell-check does not recognize as a word, thus causing me to point at my screen and scream “J’ACCUSE!” just now), I have spent the majority of my life battling against a winning combination of a mood disorder and PTSD, with just a touch of severe anxiety tossed in for good measure and also because some deity up there hates me.  Yes, I have truly won the mental illness lottery.

To make matters worse, for twelve years of my life I was horribly misdiagnosed with simple depression and just being a bitchy teenager.  The medication I was put on either made me prone to severe outbursts of anger, turned me into a sociopath with no concept of right and wrong, or turned me into a zombie who slept 16 hours a day, depending on which one we’re talking about (looking at you here, Paxil).  Apparently when you medicate someone for a disease or disorder that they don’t actually have, it completely screws everything up.  Imagine that!  But before I found this delicious little tidbit of information and was then put on, you know, the right medication, I was at my breaking point.  “Screw the doctors,” I said.  “I don’t need their crappy meds.”  So I quit taking them, cold turkey.

I don’t have a medical degree or anything, but I’d like to go on the record as saying DO NOT EVER DO THIS EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER OH GOD NO.  NO, NO NO NO, NO NO NO NO.

Once the withdrawals — which I can only compare to the depictions of heroin withdrawals I’ve seen on Law & Order — subsided, the first couple of weeks weren’t too bad.  I figured I was cured, that I could take on the world, and I didn’t need no stinkin’ pills.

Let’s fast forward to a few months later when my anxiety had reached the point that I was unable to answer my phone or even leave the house.  I was a complete recluse at that point.  I would be fine one minute, then huddling in a corner rocking back and forth sobbing hysterically the next, or flipping out on people over the smallest of offenses and throwing shit across the room.  I’d stay up for three days straight because I just had all this energy, man, doing things like repeatedly ripping everything out of my closet and then reorganizing it, or spending hundreds of dollars on shoes.

…Okay, so I’d do the shoe thing even on meds.  Guiiiiiilty.

Then all of that awesome energy would vanish into thin air, and I’d spend a week too depressed to get out of bed, back to sleeping more hours per day than my cat, and spending the six hours or so that I was actually conscious in tears.

I’m not sure what the breaking point was for me.  I think it might have been that by this point, The Fiance (then The Boyfriend) had sat quietly by my side through the ups and downs, never blaming me, never complaining, for a few months, and even if I didn’t love myself back then, I loved him.  I felt I owed it to him to get help, adhering to the Overlord Bunny Philosophy of “don’t just complain about it, figure out how to make it better.”  Even calling the various treatment centers around my location was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever had to do.  I was convinced that the people on the other end of the line were going to yell at me or belittle me thanks to the paranoia that comes part and parcel with PTSD, and while now if somebody’s a total dick to me I’m strong enough to be an even bigger dick right back to them, in those days it would have been enough to send me over the edge and into a very, very dark place that quite honestly, I will not go into more specifics about in public.  Come up with your own ideas about what was in that awful mess of shadows and you’re probably right, anyway.

Of course, the people were extremely nice and got me set up with a great program in a great facility because not everyone is out to get me, only about 75%.  They were the ones who explained to me that I had been misdiagnosed, probably because my particular combination of mood disorder + PTSD often looks like one illness instead of two if too shallow of a psychiatric evaluation is done in the first place.  Despite all of this, I was reticent to try any more medication.  I had already been on several, and it ended badly.  Then I saw them write “agoraphobia” in my chart and that was when it really sunk in that no, I wasn’t just sad or difficult, I was sick.  If I had been diagnosed with cancer, I would have accepted chemotherapy.  This might have been an invisible kind of illness, but it was an illness all the same, and to put it into the fantasy RPG terms I love so dearly, I had to vanquish the shit out of this dragon.

It’s been a while since those dark days, and I’m happy to report that said dragon may not be totally vanquished, but he sure as Hell isn’t going to be burninating any peasants for a while.  I still struggle with anxiety once in a while, but I can leave my house without having a panic attack the moment I step over the threshold.  My head is clear, meaning I can write and do art things even better (and more often) than before.  NaNoWriMo was a test for myself to see how far I had really come, if I could accept the challenges of a creative gig, such as deadlines, progress reports, working through the nights when I absolutely felt as if I had no words to put onto paper… and I succeeded.  Friends and family congratulated me, sure, but none of them realized just how huge of a victory this was for a woman who, previously, was only able to celebrate the smallest of things, like putting my feet on the floor in the morning.  It proved to me that I could do the type of things that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, the things that I wanted to make a career out of.

So I gathered up my portfolio, typed up a bitchin’ resume, and did what I had been too nervous to actually do up to this point — I submitted my application to Blizzard.  If I don’t get the position I applied for this time, then there will eventually be others.  I will keep putting myself out there over and over again, no tears, no giving up.  Because I, Overlord Bunny, have already won in the eyes of the person who matters most.

Me.

And honestly, I have Blizzard, specifically World of Warcraft, to thank for part of my continued recovery.

The Mists of Pandaria expansion introduced new mobs to fight known as the Shas.  While the main Shas (Fear, Doubt, Anger, Despair, Hatred, and Violence) are typically raid and dungeon bosses, some smaller Sha-like baddies exist in the world as regular “kill x amount of these” mobs.  They appear in every zone, some of them at random, such as the Haunt of Fear that sometimes spawns when disturbing Dreadspore Bulbs in the Dread Wastes, or the Ancient Horrors lurking in dig sites that reward additional archaeology fragments upon their unceremonious smiting.  Players will find entire villages under attack, in one quest having to exorcise them from the bodies of innocent guards.

The first time I fought the Sha of Doubt, I remember thinking how being forced to fight shadowy versions of myself was rather poignant, especially with my history.  I actually came away from that particular boss fight feeling somehow lighter and stronger.

When I began doing daily quests for the August Celestials, one quest in particular that pitted me against mini-Shas called Lingering Doubts made me have to quit the game for an hour or two.  It wasn’t a negative response; it wasn’t based in frustration with difficulty or boredom with the actual quest itself.  It was because when attacked, the Doubts would whisper things to me that echoed perfectly the anxieties I still fight with on a daily basis.  I regret not being able to directly quote them myself, and there does not seem to be any record of these quotes in the various World of Warcraft databases I visit, but they spoke of feelings of not being good enough, or successful enough, or the fear that no one really likes me.  It caught me by surprise, like a slap in the face.  The wordings, everything… I am, quite honestly, convinced that at least one person on whatever specific team it was that developed the concept of these Shas has battled anxiety and/or depression themselves at some point in their lives.  They’re simply too accurate to be completely fabrication.  I won’t lie, when I gathered myself enough to log back in and finish the quest, I teared up a couple of times, muttering “fuck you” under my breath while I Halo’d a huge pack of them to death.  My life bar would quickly start to shrink as they all rushed to me and began attacking and whispering at once, but even when I didn’t manage to get to Power Word: Shield in time, Angelic Bulwark would pop up and give me a few more critical seconds to heal up.  No matter how many Lingering Doubts were on me, I knew exactly what buttons to hit to prevent them from taking me down.

And when I stood there, Objective Complete, surrounded by dead doubts, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.

Now, I’m willing to admit that this probably makes me the biggest nerd in the world for finding more success in treating my mental illness with a video game than even going to therapy sessions, but specific types of video games are already being used to treat military PTSD sufferers with success.  It stands to reason that for those of us who never served, but still suffer from this awful affliction, different types of games could be used for the same effect.  Of course, I’m not telling people to stop taking their meds and start playing World of Warcraft instead, but I will say that when I’m having a hard time, I log on and kill a few Sha, and it legitimately improves my mood.  By killing the anxieties or the shadowy self on a screen, I’m kicking its ass in my brain, too.  Was this the intent with the particular design of the Shas?  It’s hard to say, but even if it’s completely by accident, I cannot deny that it does have a positive effect.  My bad days are fewer and further between.  When problems arise in my life, they’re no longer crippling or destructive.  I can handle them completely on my own, even without having to rely on the Sha.

In addition, there is a gimmick/fan account on Twitter that has popped up recently, the Sha of Happiness (who also has a really touching and sweet blog).  As far as I know, the writer’s identity has not been established, and a debate rages on as to whether it’s a Blizzard employee or just a kindhearted fan.  Regardless of who is behind the cute and smiley mask, the Sha of Happiness takes it upon themselves to intervene whenever someone is having a rough time.  They’ve spread the word about individuals battling chronic illness, or just needing a little extra love and support. From time to time they post reminders that every single one of us, no matter how damaged or awful we think we might be, matters, and that none of us are truly alone.  I’ve seen plenty of people tweeting @ShaofHappiness whenever they just need a little pick-me-up, and said Sha in shining armor is never far behind to oblige.  Hell, I’ve summoned them at least once since discovering the account, and the response truly did brighten my day.  Whoever the creator might be, they are truly doing a wonderful service for the World of Warcraft community, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for what they do every day.  I daresay they might just be the greatest hero in Azeroth.

Some people may be horrified at the fact that I’m speaking so candidly about such a taboo subject as mental illness.  “Aren’t you afraid it’ll hurt your chances of employment?” I’ve been asked before.  The answer?  Of course.  I’d be an idiot not to be concerned that the mere existence of this blog post will land me on some blacklist as a liability if hired.  But more important than that is removing the stigma surrounding it.  Too many people die every year because they’re afraid to ask for help when they really need it, out of fear that they’ll lose their jobs, or friends, or family.  Quite frankly, the attitude towards mental illnesses and disorders in this day and age is bullshit.  It’s depressingly Draconian.  You’re on Prozac?  Clearly you’re an unfit parent or spouse and should be locked away, if the majority of society is to be believed.  And sadly, it is, all too often.

The truth is, no one chooses to be mentally ill.  If I could trade my brain for a “normal” one (whatever that means), I’d do it without a second thought.  Nobody chooses to have cancer or diabetes or heart defects, either, and sufferers of these illnesses are not met with any kind of dirty looks.  If somebody wearing a head scarf because they’ve lost their hair from chemo walks past you on the street, you’re not going to pull your kids closer to yourself, or start walking on a different part of the sidewalk.  In most cases, you’ll never even know that the person standing next to you suffers from crippling depression, or schizophrenia, or any other kind of mental illness.  Chances are that someone you know very well is fighting a secret battle with something and is too afraid to speak up because of the social consequences that can arise from doing so.

I, on the other hand, am a loudmouth.  I’m not scared to say that anyone bashing the mentally ill is an ignorant dumbass.  We are capable of the same things that anyone else is, we just may need to take a little longer for it, or do it in a different way.  If you are suffering from any form of mental illness and are ashamed or scared to admit that something is wrong, stop.  The truly fucked up people are the ones who are making you feel bad over it.  If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 in the US or, if you live in a different country, here is an international list of hotlines that you can call.  If phones aren’t your thing, there are chat-only versions available.

And remember that you can fight your own Shas, and win.