I don’t generally have a lot of anxiety. My default setting is depression. Most things in the world make me sad. Most things do not scare me.
Then I was crossing the street and got hit by a car. After a traumatic event like this, it would make sense for someone to be scared to cross streets, or even to be on the road in general. And I am certainly scared of those things. But with enough deep breathing, I can cross streets though, even the street where I got hit. Unfortunately, the arrival of an 18,000 hospital bill made it now terrifying for me to open my mailbox. The terror has spread to every time I think about leaving my apartment. I feel very much like a scared possum who is playing dead with all her heart, trying to hold still enough that the world will pass over and go away. Even things that I like to do are terrifying because they involve moving and that might give away to the universe that I’m not altogether dead. yet.
I have a potluck to make food for. I have a vacation to make reservations for. I have a future to plan. But like all possums I have no sense of scale of these terrifying things. All hope seems fatal.
Oddly, most of my usual coping mechanisms for mental illness – see friends even when you don’t want to, go swimming a lot, make sure you’re eating enough veg, keep doing laundry and dishes, pet cats, read something interesting – are precluded by the terror. I spend a lot of time sleeping and staring blankly into space. The usual reassurances that this is temporary and if you just don’t die in the next few minutes it might get easier – do not apply. It doesn’t get easier, it actually gets harder. More things start to seem terrifying. Going to work even though my job is not at all hard takes an enormous amount of effort. The laundry room is down two flights of stairs and who knows what could happen on your way down there. Seeing my partner is hard because he wants me to be engaged in our relationship and I am scared he will see through my death ruse and leave me.
The fact that none of this is based in reality, that I’m not about to be murdered or (even worse) made to feel hopeful, has no baring on my emotional response. I didn’t think I would get hit by a car crossing the street. Now all I do feels like I’m about to be hit by a car, every second, indoors.
There are people who experience pain and think “I should go to the doctor and they will help me with this.” At least, I think there are those people out there. My experience with doctors and diagnosis has been that they can sometimes, occasionally, tell you what’s wrong with you after you tell them where it hurts. Usually they cannot make it better.
These days my physical pain is mostly in my feet. My doc says it’s “plantar fasciatis” which is basically an inflammation of the bottoms of your feet. The “treatment” is stretching and water bottles filled with ice and staying off your feet. I can’t stay off my feet and keep my job, so stretching and water bottles it is until further notice. I will see a podiatrist in March (which was the next available appointment) and at best they can give me steroid injections in the bottoms of my feet… at worst they will recommend the same stretches and water bottles.
And lots of tylenol/ibuprofen. Which I already take a few a day because of various other pains I’m usually in. Even with all the pain killers, every step is kind of agony. That niggling kind of agony that is constant and yet still sharp and varied enough to catch your breath when you start to go up stairs (or down).
Being in physical pain makes it very hard to manage the emotional swings of going on new psychiatric medications and going off of others. Speaking of doctors that can’t cure you and whose treatments are at best managing symptoms. They put me on lithium which is hopefully not poisoning my kidneys as we speak. I have stopped taking a couple other meds that I don’t think were working anyway. I’m back to crying every day. And also I get to randomly feel nauseas which is a side effect of the med switches.
Managing all of these symptoms is really close to a full time job. Of course there’s still my actual full time job. And thinking about changing jobs and going back to school. All of which involves executive functioning that I can’t access when I’m just trying to not scream in pain and curl up in the fetal position in the produce aisle.
Sometimes, the thought of “I have to die” is only thing that helps you get through a bad day. It promises relief. It promises that the torture of living will end. Obviously, having more options than suicide to make the pain stop would be a good thing, and that’s what I’m working on, but we don’t always live with good things. Sometimes we live between what seems like an unbearable, neverending amount of pain and sadness, and the thought that we could make it stop, take it away. And that latter thought is, oddly enough, a lifesaver.
My therapist quoted/read some of this to me in my last session and said that a lot of the people he treats for major depression with multiple recurrences have “disorganized attachment.”
In lay person’s terms, I gathered, this means that you have a feeling of being unsure where your place is and you don’t ever feel safe. Even when you are safe and secure, you feel like the very ground is about to swallow you up. This sense of distress often causes you (meaning me) to walk around feeling under siege until you (I) internalize the threat and decide to destroy myself because at least then I know when it’s coming.
I think this is a great metaphor or actually lived reality for children with chronic illnesses. We know that we are going to die. We are confronted with that often and early. The adults in our lives don’t have the tools to handle taking care of us because our bodies refuse care. We decide to take on that job ourselves but we do a really shitty job of self soothing or self care. Our instincts is to decide that we are better off dead.
It was recently the anniversary of September 11th and the feeling I remember strongly having that day was not the sense of security being taken away and needing to be shorn up, but merely another confirmation that the world was always already falling apart. That we are never safe. And I wished, in my 20yo everything is about me way, that I had been in the towers when they fell, because that would at least explain coherently why I experience life as a free fall.
Looking around my apartment this morning, I have a sore throat and the political climate is awful but I’m not being flooded, nobody is coming after me, and I have people who love me. And yet my experience of life is still that I’m in so much pain and mortal danger. This is not true. I am okay. I just don’t feel okay.
I had a no good very bad day yesterday. Not because I was depressed but because of normal life and logistical stuff. Accidentally not hitting “set” on my alarm, forgetting long acting insulin and glasses at home, etc.
After feeling like a total failure at life and berating myself, I was trying to stop being mean to myself, using that old “what would you say to a friend who overslept and forgot their glasses…” trick.
It is sometimes hard for people, like me, who are very intellectual and thoughtful, to buy into something that seems simplistic and self-help-ish, like “feel your feelings and let them go.” or “you can stop this.” or “through is the only way out.” You (meaning me) want to counter with some good situations where someone might have to run from their feelings, you want to say “it’s more complicated.” But sometimes it isn’t, it’s annoyingly simple. So I went into the back storage area, cried about feeling like a failure but also kept telling myself that it was okay to feel this way. That it was temporary and it wouldn’t take over and make me kill myself. And it worked. For the most part. I cried I felt bad and then I went back to work.
And I woke up in time today to write about it and get to work without rushing.
when I was busily avoiding high school with suicide threats, attempts, and general emotional chaos/destruction, the only thing that would help me exist was my books. I read everything and anything – sweet valley high for the melodrama, simone de beauvoir for the trenchant existential analysis, books about kids stuck in hospitals with cancer, books about young women growing up in apartheid South Africa, books about King Arthur that I had to read in the middle English because… I don’t know. I wanted the real story. I must have been the only 14yo in my freshman class to read all of Mein Kampf and beg my parents to send me to language school in Germany so I could study to read it in the original language. Of course, I could spend time doing this because I spent zero time in school or on my actual school work. I desperately wanted to know things and understand and also desperately wanted to be anywhere but where I was.
I think I went to my doctoral program for similar reasons.
Right now I’m in the middle of three books. One is a rereading of a young adult favorite about magic, one is Arundati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” and one is George Saunders “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Between all that reading, I’ve been rewatching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I’m dissociating pretty hard. I learned this as a coping mechanism at a young age. It has benefits and drawbacks, like all coping mechanisms.
I feel connected to the stories that I read, I feel less lonely, and yet i have the overwhelming sense of dread that comes from putting off something important. That Sunday-night-is-coming feeling that all the ways I feel are just waiting for me beyond the pages, that going to grad school and reading a ton of books and opening myself up to all these other stories actually did nothing to help me deal with my feelings. Even though they helped me get through 35 years of life.
My current romantic partner isn’t a reader. This is yet one more thing that we don’t share. And I think it is all connected. He doesn’t have emotions that feel overwhelming. I think books are where I meet my best friends.
There are a few things that the state is good at. Mental health care is not so much. Don’t get me wrong – I am quite happy that there are community mental health agencies that handle the mental health needs of those of us without private insurance or deep pockets. But there is still a huge donut hole of coverage where the normal “I need therapy once a week and a psychiatrist visit every 6 weeks” leaves off, and the more acute “I am seriously struggling to get by and keep myself safe” begins. There is little they can do that is right away that isn’t a crisis prevention service.
I am fairly sure that I can keep myself safe. I don’t need to crisis plan in that way. But I do need to stop feeling this bad. I need to be able to get through a work day without crying and feeling awful. I need to not hurt enough to make it worthwhile to stay safe.
Right now I’m getting safety check in type calls. They are aimed at helping me figure out if I need to go back to the hospital. The thing is, I am not going back to the hospital. Honestly, I’m just not going back there. So this removes most of the utility of these calls.
I keep feeling like my signals are crossed or something. I am not communicating what I need correctly, or I am communicating to the wrong people.
Updated to add — there is something truly sadistic about making people who have demonstrated they don’t have the mental capacity to navigate bureaucracies have to navigate those bureaucracies in order to get care.