Mental Chains – The Gauge of Death

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No, it is not.

I had a mild panic attack and a whole lot of depression this week. In fact, I’ve been in bed for the past two days (yesterday I don’t think I even got up to sit at my computer until 5 PM). It’s incredible the amount of energy drain currently going on. And I don’t see my doctor until next Tuesday.

Ugh. Slow medicine is slow.

I’m not sure my upload schedule for the next couple of weeks as I will be adjusting my medication again. Things are not working as they should. But I am alive, and I will write when I can. I’ve been distracting my mind with Starcraft 2 co-op mode and Monster Hunter World, both of which I would love to review.

So yeah. I can barely keep my eyes open right now. And yet my mind is buzzing away, daring me to think about negative things. Sucks.

Backstage Tales – A Reason to Game

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Hey everybody, I’m back. Sorta. I’ve emerged from a depression coma into a three-day weekend, so that’s an improvement in anyone’s book. Nothing medicine-wise has changed yet, however, so I’m still stuck in the same darkish mood. Accordingly, I’ve had a really hard time deciding on what to write; I promised Graveyard Keeper, but something about the game is really bugging me, and I can’t explain it. Hopefully for the next blog I can iron it out.

Instead, I wanted to expand upon an answer I recently wrote for Quora, as I felt I wasn’t entirely truthful about my feelings. I’ll post my answer as I wrote it and add more to it, and hopefully it won’t feel like a rambling mess by the time I’m finished. The question I answered went like this:

——–

Does playing video games feel pointless and unproductive to you? Why or why not?

“Very much yes. And very much no. And also absolutely not.

“Very much yes, because (as my Dad would put it) the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Skyrim, Diablo, and Escape Velocity could have been spent honing more practical abilities, such as writing, playing an instrument, or picking up a more hands-on hobby like leatherworking, sculpting, or sewing. While these hobbies are expensive and often require a mentor, I don’t like to comprehend the amount of dollars I’ve put into my Steam library searching for what I hope will become my next favorite time-absorber.

“Very much no, because my electronic hobby has enabled my depressed mind to take a step back from itself and literally voyage into other worlds. For someone with depression and social anxiety, games like Final Fantasy XIV has allowed me to become part of a group of people that enjoy the same game and want to experience it with other fun-loving drama-free people. Minecraft has allowed me to become a kid again and share an infinite blocky world with friends and family in a way that would be prohibitively expensive if we did it with Legos, wood, resin, or metal.

“Absolutely not, because video games have helped me become a more confident and critical reader and writer. I love the medium of video game storytelling because I’ve experienced the shock of betrayals, story twists, and character revelations in an arguably stronger way than books can. Books allow you to follow a protagonist, movies allow you to see the protagonist, but only in video games are you allowed to be the protagonist and experience stories in a way no other medium has yet to share.

“The first time I experienced the climax of Bioshock was something I’ll never forget. Although a little formulaic, the first Knights of the Old Republic reveal really got me good. And the climax and ending to Spec Ops: The Line is something I thought could only dared be done on paper or on the big screen (there’s a reason the game developers promised to never create a sequel). Sure, you get floppy story structures like Fallout 4’s main story. But in the same game, you get the tragedy of Arlen Glass and the challenging of the concept of personhood and personal identity (what is a synth?). As the medium evolves, the stories will improve, and they’ll continually challenge us and our assumptions about what makes good fiction.

“Video games are just like any entertainment medium: it’s up to us to determine what we make of them. From Madden and Arkham Knight to Borderlands 2 and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, they all have a purpose. Find some that suit yours!”

———-

I’ve probably talked about this at length in previous posts, but I think it’s been long enough. There’s another aspect to my love for video games that is perhaps larger than all of the ones I stated in my answer that I couldn’t have covered properly in a Quora answer. And that involves my depression and how I deal with it.

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Madness? Insert ‘this is Sparta’ meme here.

I’ve always fancied myself a very independent person, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply like to be alone, as being in a large group of people is uncomfortable to me, even if the crowd is made up of friends and family. If I can be home free of distractions at my computer listening to my favorite music and playing my favorite games, that’s where I’m going to be. That’s my default. Is that healthy? No, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Would I prefer that I spend my time honing my writing skills, or drawing, or leatherworking, or learning to play the guitar? Some part of me thinks so, but whenever I sit down by myself and don’t distract my mind as soon as possible, I open myself up to negativity the moment I take a seat.

So I’m damned: do I force myself to enjoy the company of others, building up more and more mental tension inside myself until I go crazy from the social drain, or do I confine myself to a solitary existence, playing the victim to my own treasonous thoughts? My answer is neither. My answer is to distract my mind with as many digital micro-goals as I can focus on to avoid the spiral of depression. Beat this level, obtain this item, talk to this NPC… ever on to the next thing.

This answer has always been a crutch of mine, a backdoor in case someone demands why I waste so much time on my computer. An excuse. But it’s really the only one I’ve got. Let me give you an example of how awful this is.

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This exact one.

Right next to me sitting on my desk right now if a leather-bound journal that I’ve been keeping on and off since 2011. It’s currently a little more than halfway full. My journals have been the source of my worm drawings and are filled with little cartoons and doodles. But if you ignore all the cute pictures and actually read the words I’ve written over the years… It’s not really pretty. I only write in my physical journal when I’m really bored or really depressed, sometimes both. This does not make for a very fun and optimistic read. In fact, I’m hoping that no one reads what’s in my journal for many many years, long after the sting of my emotions has passed.

My previous journals are very similar, especially my mission journals. I was a much happier person on my mission mostly because I didn’t have the burden of my mind keeping me occupied all the time. I had a constant companion and friend that kept the thoughts in check. Of course, even then, I had my off days, not to mention how devastated I felt after I came home early because of kidney stones. My journal writing stopped for a good two years after I came home, starting up again when I got a handle on life.

A handle made of det-cord.

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Now, ten years after I returned home from Los Angeles, I have no companion to help me monitor my thoughts. And the thought of asking a girl on a date and going through the motions of all that again fills me with such dread that I am loathe to think what kind of man I would appear to be if I actually went through with it. Certainly not one I would consider for a healthy long-term relationship with. But there’s my anti-me bias again.

And there the book ever sits, always inviting me to write in it but ever filling with the most negative of my thoughts and anxieties. I’m writing a testament of my own darkness. I’m an observer of my own life, and nothing more, because the alternative to too difficult for me to comprehend.

A few blogs back, I said I would never throw a pity party for myself because of my depression. That I wasn’t a “snowflake Millennial” for all of my experiences. And yet so many of my male peers seem to be going through the same thing for similar reasons. How can I resent a descriptor that is so lock-step with my experience? Video games are wonderful things filled with incredible experiences and innovative systems, but when they come at the cost of my personal health, I begin to wonder if there’s anything I can actually do instead. I always have a choice to play or not. That’s not the question. It’s more of a question of what I would replace video games in my life. And nothing else compares. Not even writing, and I love writing… when I’m not depressed.

Let me tell you, the journal sitting next to me is not an appealing alternative.

Have I chosen my hobby or has my hobby chosen me? Do I play for fun or do I play to survive? I think the answer to that is fairly obvious. Is it bad that my gaming hobby (call it an addiction if you wish) is the only activity I consider strong enough to distract the negativity in my mind? Or is it just sad?

And in the end, is there anything that I will do to try and change?

No, not really. I suppose that’s why you could call it an addiction. I’m not even brazen enough to say, “I can quit whenever I want.” I fully admit to being dependent on my hobby to remain sane. But if my chosen hobby were leatherworking, music, or even writing, would it be any more preferable? Or safe?

Hey, at least I’m not doing hard drugs.

…or am I?

Mental Chains – A Bit More on Shame

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In response to my last blog, which was written mostly out of frustration at what I was feeling and what I was thinking, I wanted to clarify a bit more by what I mean by ‘shame’. When you hear the word ‘shame’, you often hear it in the context of someone pointing a finger at a politician and declaring “shame on you” after they’ve done something reprehensible. If caught red-handed, you’ll also hear that politician say, “I am ashamed of my actions” (whether they are or aren’t is entirely another issue, haha).

But that’s not really the kind of shame I’m describing. It goes farther than feeling ‘shame’ for what you’ve done, and goes into feeling shame for who you are. In fact, it feels like there should be an entirely separate word for this kind of fully internalized shame in the English language. But alas, English is again inefficient at describing something that’s such a big part of my life at the moment.

This article by Behavioral Health Evolution about shame-based thinking is exactly it: “The hallmark of shame is a constant awareness of our defects. Without realizing it, we become continual victims of shame-based thinking. Every day, we focus on our failures. Every day, we re-convince ourselves that we are defective. Our thoughts become riddled with judgment, regret, and images of impending failure. When we consciously articulate these shame-based thoughts, we might be shocked at their severity.”

(Speaking of continual victimhood, here’s my one potentially-political viewpoint for this blog, and I put it in parenthesis because it’s unrelated but relevant; I’m “covering my bases,” you could say, for the future. For those of you who stumble on this blog and think you spy yet another “precious snowflake Millennial” looking to play the depression victim card in order to gain some kind of advantage in life, that’s real cute. First of all, you read nerdy WordPress blogs to search out people to belittle? Second, “snowflake”, “Millennial”, and “victim card” are all modern buzzwords whose use identifies you more than they identify me. Third, am I not human? Are you not human too? Get over yourself and seek to connect with someone instead of putting them down. I promise to do the same for you. Fourth, I fully realize that I’ve chosen to be a victim many times in my life, and I have yet to find the ways it gains me any kind of leverage. In fact, the only advantage my depression gives me at all is an increased feeling of empathy for those that have depression. Everyone goes through some soul-searching every once in a while, and those that don’t are selling something.)

(More than a few times on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve seen people arguing against someone with a mental illness, insisting that they’re using their “victim complex” as an excuse to slack off or think differently. I’ve even seen this beloved clip from The Princess Bride used as a weapon to attack people with mental illness. It makes me sick every time I see it. If these “victim complexes” exist among my age group as deeply as you think they do, your first course of action is to indulge them and actually make them victims of your “righteous” indignation? Or, if you believe that mental illness is more than just a petty excuse, you’re choosing to attack and devour the weakest among us anyway? Do you not know the power that anonymous words on the internet have over the introverted? Isn’t there enough shame in the world for those that deserve it that you feel the need to pass some more around just for good measure?)

(Anyway. I’m not arguing against the existence of a “victim complex”, because, to be honest, that’s what the shame cycle is: a self-inflicted victimhood. Nine times out of ten, you don’t have to point this out to anyone with a mental illness. No, I’m arguing against anyone shaming those that dare wear their hearts on their sleeves and share their personal experiences with mental illness. One in five of us suffers from some form of mental ailment. If you’ve never suffered an inexplicable panic attack in a public place, endured depression or PTSD huddled alone in a dark closet, or finance and relationship-ruining mania in your long and storied life, consider yourself blessed.)

(For everyone else, thank you for reading my rant, and I will continue.)

The article shares the following examples of shame-based thinking:

  • I am defective (damaged, broken, a mistake, flawed).
  • I am dirty (soiled, ugly, unclean, impure, filthy, disgusting).
  • I am incompetent (not good enough, inept, ineffectual, useless).
  • I am unwanted (unloved, unappreciated, uncherished).
  • I am weak (small, impotent, puny, feeble).
  • I am bad (awful, dreadful, evil, despicable).
  • I am pitiful (contemptible, miserable, insignificant).
  • I am nothing (worthless, invisible, unnoticed, empty).
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“Why you desire to wipe out the past is of more significance than knowing how to wipe it out. The intention with which you approach the problem is more important than knowing what to do about it.”

“Shame develops as the slow, relentless accumulation of such thoughts,” the article continues, “one self-insult at a time, delivered to ourselves over weeks, months, and years. Notice that each of the previous statements starts with the words I am. This reinforces our definition of shame as a state of being that goes far beyond anything we do or fail to do.”

I didn’t reach the point I’m at now in a single day. This kind of self-punishing thinking is something I’ve developed for many years, possibly through my entire life. I remember my mom asking me once, “Where and when did you learn to think about yourself this way?” I didn’t have an answer for her, and I still don’t. It really did come gradually until one day I realized I hated myself and that my brain had tricked itself into believing a lie: that I had to be a perfect, mistake-free being in order to be whole.

And this shame cycle isn’t solely concentrated on the self alone: it colors how we view everyone around us as well. The article points to other authors and their views that shame spreads itself around; shame-based thinking can lead to:

  • Negative explanations of other people’s behavior
  • Dire predictions
  • Selective focus on negative aspects of events
  • Doubt in coping skills
  • Rigid rules about how people should behave

I may not be the brightest light in the sky, but I don’t believe I have these negative beliefs about the intentions of other people; in the very least I haven’t developed them in the last ten years since I’ve come to understand myself and my depression. In fact, I find the “rigid rules” part to be surprising, because if anything, my feelings about letting people live the life they want to live has actually loosened quite a bit since my mission – “live and let live,” I say. But maybe that’s not what it means, I’ll have to do more research. “Selective focus on negative aspects of events”, on the other hand, I do see quite a lot in myself. When something bad happens (or when an event has the potential for badness to occur), I don’t often think about what good could arise from it. I don’t see the silver lining in the clouds.

As for solving my shame-filled thoughts… maybe I’ll save that for another day. I’m already running late on this blog, and I won’t use the release of the one on Friday as an excuse to release this one tomorrow! I shan’t!

I apologize for my scatterbrain brain scatter (that word is legitimately a single word, according to Google, neat), and Thursday’s blog will be more joyous and game-filled!

Mental Chains – Guilt, But Mostly Shame

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Getting to the heart of depression and anxiety is always difficult.

Firstly, the mind is really good at tricking itself, hiding the real problem in plain sight and digging around it in search of a fast solution. Being honest with yourself can be very difficult since the reality of self is so easily obscured by depression. “I’m fat, I’m ugly, no one likes me,” I may say. Or, more deceptively, “I feel this way because of all the times I’ve screwed up.” Often, the number, severity, or amount of time since the perceived mistakes will be irrelevant. The mere memory of them will cause a downward spiral that can feel impossible to escape from. Without the ability to look on the bright side of just about anything, how could anyone be expected to rise above the strength of such thoughts?

Don’t get me wrong – my medications have been sent from heaven, and help me feel 1000% more in control of my mind than I would had my doctors and I never discovered the correct cocktail. But that doesn’t mean every day is filled with rainbows and unicorns. In fact, yesterday (Thursday), I could not pull myself out of a day-long pit caused by pain and discomfort, namely the inability to breathe and a bad headache right in between my eyes.

Anyone would get down from pain like that, I suppose. But my pain wasn’t the true source of my depression. It was the one-two punches of guilt and shame that came with my inability to function that knocked me out.

Simply put, guilt is the negative feeling associated with acting in a certain way contrary to your personal principles. On Thursday, I failed to make it to work. Accordingly, I felt guilt for not having been the faithful and dependable employee that my supervisor and co-workers (hopefully still) expect me to be. “Well,” you might say. “Why didn’t you just go to work? You would have avoided all that guilt if you’d just gone and done your work!”

True, sure. Guilt is a powerful motivator to do better, to improve, to actually act correctly. But you’re missing the second reason for my depression: shame.

Shame isn’t feeling sadness and fear due to your actions or choices. It’s feeling sadness and fear because of who you are, resultant of a poor evaluation of self. As this article by Jay Boll for Esperanza entitled “Shame: The Other Emotion in Depression and Anxiety
describes, “Shame is sometimes confused with guilt. But there’s an important difference.  Guilt arises from a negative evaluation of one’s behavior, while shame arises from a negative evaluation of one’s self. Guilt is the feeling of doing wrong, while shame is the feeling of being wrong.  As such, guilt can be a powerful motivator to change one’s behavior for the better. Shame can have the opposite effect, making a person feel that change is hopeless because the problem is one’s self.  This is what makes shame such a toxic emotion.”

Perhaps to my detriment, guilt is the lesser of the two evils, and the one feeling that gets ignored. I wouldn’t make the choices I do otherwise. I feel ashamed of the person I am, and so it is my innate reaction to any negative emotions to withdraw and become insular. From that shame comes the guilt of not having done what I promised to do, and it spirals in on itself until I’m pretty much not able to do anything at all.

“Victims of trauma and abuse are especially susceptible to toxic shame,” Boll continues. “But it does not take an abusive childhood or severe misfortune to experience dysfunctional levels of this emotion. More often, it results from shaming messages we receive from parents, teachers, other authorities, and peers that we internalize and tell ourselves over-and-over.”

Believe me, I have a lot of negative shaming messages in my brain that it just relishes to replay again and again, some from my mission, some from work, and some from school. I have many negative interactions with teachers, for example, that make me internally shy away from classroom settings, and make me hesitate to raise my hand or ask for assistance. It’s why I’ve done so poorly in classes and why the upcoming semester (that starts Monday) fills me with such dread, even though I’m only taking one class.

Know why I hate talking about politics so much? Shame. Know why I have such difficulties talking about religion with other people who aren’t my immediate family? Shame. Know why I’ve quit or lost work opportunities, preferring to be caught dead than be seen losing control of my emotions? Shame. Know why I haven’t been on a date in over ten years? Shame. Know why I continually fail to show up to church a decade after coming home early from serving my mission? It’s shame. Shame for failing to become the strong and independent individual I had half a mind to become after I graduated high school. I feel shame for not being stronger than my bipolar depression without chemical assistance, shame for not being more outgoing in my personal life, shame for liking video games and daring to believe myself a writer or game designer. I feel shame for being politically open-minded but innately conservative, I feel shame for being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, and I feel shame for all these powerful emotions of sadness, anger, and fear that I’ve been told I’m not supposed to feel as a man. I even feel shame for suffering from things I have no control over, like sinus infections, colds, and possibly even sleep apnea (this is being investigated at the moment).

But you know something? While there are many different people I can blame for the many unpleasant memories that flood my mind every time depression returns, I know my enemy isn’t external. It’s internal. It’s the shame that I don’t know how to process. It’s the ideal, impossible, perfected “me” that I’ve envisioned that keeps the real me from finding happiness in the moment. It’s taken me fifteen or so years to understand where my anger and sadness comes from, and it’s nearly impossible for me to communicate this clearly enough to be understood. I can’t even describe these things to my parents without receiving looks of confusion and concern.

I wish shame were some small thing to step over. But it’s not.

The story in the article about Mr. Boll being called “Twinkle Toes Boll” by his teacher in sixth grade despite the fact that he had been born with a clubfoot is intensely fitting with my experience. But in the deepest recesses of my reluctant heart, I know that the people who have shouted me down might have reconsidered their critical tone had they known me and my experiences. But, of course, this is impossible. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are the name of the game in this wonderful world of ours, and unless you knew me, you wouldn’t know I have moderately functional bipolar depression. No, I imagine you’d just see an undermotivated, unimpressive, and overweight male Mormon college student with a patchy beard.

That’s all I imagine my teachers and “friends” saw, too.

Speaking of his realization that he had overcome both his physical weakness and the bullying he experienced, Boll continues, “Both discoveries are instances of cognitive restructuring. In the first, I reframed my experience of shame into pride by having the compassion for myself that the ‘shamer’ never showed me.  In the second, I devalued the shamer by seeing him through other people’s eyes as the bully he really was. The sad truth is that many bullies are also driven by toxic shame, which they disavow by projecting onto others.”

This is difficult for me, since I have neither avenue of reframing available to me. I have neither friends suffering with me to let me know I’m functioning any better than anyone else with Bipolar Type-2, and I don’t have the fortune of knowing that my bullying experiences were like anyone else’s. I’ve never had a therapist ask me, “How are you able to get to work at all with what you’re experiencing?” Just once I’d like someone to acknowledge how hard I try to manage everything going on in my life, but of course no one really knows but me, so what’s the point?

How do I reframe my experiences to help me feel better about my place in life? And do I truly have to reframe every single memory that arises in my head to finally find peace?

Honestly, that sounds impossible. I suppose I’m going to have to go back to a therapist to work through this, because it’s affecting my everyday life. And that means time and money, two things I have just NO shortage of (#sarcasm).

Sorry for a hopeless extra blog today. Just a lot of sadness and frustration in my life at the moment that I don’t know how to process. Writing it out helps. Sort of.

Mental Chains – Way Too Much At Once

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Take typical me; with the right medications under my belt, I can totally handle life.

Now give me a headache, a really dull sinus headache between the eyes; okay, not liking this.

Now make me wear a shirt that’s a bit too snug and itchy around the collar, and pants that constrict places that shouldn’t be constricted; I’m grumbling now.

Give me my stupid-looking beard and mustache that I don’t know how to trim that tickles in all the wrong ways; irritating.

Now raise the temperature to 92 F or above; nope, no way.

Add in a canker sore or some other form of recurring pain just for fun; now you’re destroying me.

Now put me in a crowded environment where the slightest noise will generate unwanted attention; absolutely not, get me out of here immediately.

Am I completely mental? Have I gone insane for wanting to get away from these circumstances as fast as humanly possible?

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I would rather combat one huge problem than a thousand small problems. But what happens when the thousand small problems become huge?

Let me put it this way: I do not take being uncomfortable very well. So much so that I doubt I could have lived in any other period in history and been a successful and productive member of society. I come from pioneer ancestors, many of whom spent months travelling on foot in burning hot and freezing cold temperatures across the plains to live in Utah and Idaho. Could I have endured through all of that like they did? I’m fairly certain the answer is plain as the plains they journeyed over.

If there was one thing that I wish I could change more than anything, it would be my tolerance for uncomfortability. I wish I could pick myself up by my bootstraps (which is physically impossible; does that make the phrase inherently sarcastic?) and do everything that needed to be done despite all of my internal and external disturbances.

Am I the only one who can’t manage life when so many things go wrong at once? Am I really the only person in existence who has had a panic attack at work or in a public place because there was simply too much emotional and physical stimuli occurring at once? Am I unique in running away from and avoiding these types of situations?

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It’s a bit like that on the inside, yeah.

More importantly, am I a wuss for being this way? I call myself a wuss and my family has called me a wuss for years. By the way I react when these situations occur, I feel like this borders upon obsession-compulsion. Or, perhaps the opposite of it. For example, I don’t like exercise because when I sweat, I sweat directly from my face and forehead, which creates waves of unwanted stimulation and interference having to repeatedly wipe it away. All ability to focus vanishes, and I quickly work myself into tears or rage. In fact, if you enjoy my company at all, there better be climate control somewhere nearby, or you may learn to resent me.

Oh my gosh, I just found this. Whether it’s clinically accurate or not, this is exactly the way I’m feeling almost every day. It’s 100% this. It’s complete over-stimulation. The first article goes on to say that hyper-sensitivity can lead to positive emotions, and I do agree that can happen (such as when I got this blog going again with help from my friend Effexor). But more often than not, it’s over-stimulation that’s getting in my damn way.

I’ve often wondered if I’m really male because real men don’t have these kinds of intense emotions about anything. Right? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Is this that “toxic masculinity” business they’re always talking about? But then I know of so many women in my life that fight through much worse than I do. Despite petty (or not-so-petty) sicknesses and uncomfortable social situations, they thrive where I cannot.

It’s this, way more than my bipolar depression, that I feel shame for having. It’s this undiagnosable problem that I can’t overcome. It’s almost never anyone else’s fault that I fail something. I always choose not to show up. I’ve failed to show up to school because of the long, uncomfortable walk to the classroom, not to mention the crowds of unfamiliar faces and fear of raising my hand. I haven’t gone to church in a very long time for similar reasons. I don’t exercise because the constant pain and sweat drive me insane faster than Chinese water torture. And I miss work because sinus infections and driving in a car without AC do not make for a pleasant combination. All of these factors combined drive me up the wall. If you met me IRL and I’ve ever seemed awkward and uncomfortable, just know that there are probably a myriad of things going on that have overloaded my brain and short-circuited my social synapses.

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Every. Single. Day. Every. Little. Thing.

In the end, it’s just excuse after excuse from me. But I don’t mean to make excuses. I just don’t know how to handle what I’m experiencing, much less try to communicate what the problem is to someone else (I guess that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog). Could my medicine be making this worse? Possibly. Probably not, though, since this has been an issue for many years prior to me taking them.

*sigh*

I’m so tired. Tired of being like this. Call me a hypochondriac (“You’re a hypochondriac,” thank you) but I have felt for a long time that there is something intrinsically wrong with me. Several things, apparently, since this is entirely separate from the depression. I have always been terrible in social situations (or, in the least, I have been hypercritical of myself during social situations). When my mind detects a disturbance, be it an itch, an unpleasant smell, pain (either sharp or dull), temperature too high or too low, sweat, or even a particle of dust resting on the corner of my flippin’ glasses, I have to correct the problem immediately. Put multiple issues in front of me at the same time, and my processor is likely to fry, leaving few resources available for things like meaningful conversation or accurate work.

I once had a supervisor who never seemed to clean her glasses, and it drove me up the wall every time I talked with her — it was never her I talked to, it was always the particles of dust on her glasses that my eyes would focus on. I would think, “How could she possibly live with her glasses in that condition!” And she would have to repeat her directions multiple times because I wouldn’t be able to focus on what she was saying. In the end, I don’t think she liked me very much.

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A bit like that, yeah. In fact, a whole lot like that.

So what do I do about this?

I have no clue. It’s not like practicing “being uncomfortable” is going to get me anywhere. I’m stuck in a rut, summertime makes things worse, and I have a feeling that even writing this down is going to get me in trouble with someone someday. But I have to get it out there or else I’m never going to get help with this. Writing is the only way I know how to communicate anymore.

And I can’t just “handle it”. I can’t just “do it”. There has to be some mental exercise I can do, some way to change my thought process to help me accept stimuli in a more productive way. There has to be a better answer than just “get over it”, because I’ve been in this rut for many years now, and I think it’s a little bit bigger than a speed bump at this point.

How do I overcome hypersensitivity and overstimulation?

Mental Chains – Wherein I Apologize For Everything

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Man, this is the first time in a two and a half months that I’ve missed writing something for my blog. I always knew consistency would be my greatest foe in accomplishing anything, no matter how good the reasons for missing. The reasons are pretty good this time, granted: I had my first real panic attack since starting Effexor, and this time the panic attack was brought on by pain from a digestive condition my poor body has been developing over a few years. The pain has come and gone in the past, but this time it’s arrived in full force. It was bad enough on Tuesday that I came home early from work sobbing. If you’ve never seen a bearded man uncontrollably cry from pain and panic, wait around a while for me. I can’t imagine it’s very fun to watch, though.

I’ve probably written about this already, but have you ever heard of the phrase “getting pecked to death by ducks”? Sure, it looks kinda funny when it’s happening to someone else. But when it’s happening to you, you want nothing more than to boot-kick the damn ducks (metaphorically speaking, of course) and find some peace and quiet.

That’s what the last five years of my life have been. If it’s not numbing depression, it’s the thought of depression returning. If it’s not depression, it’s sinus issues and headaches. If it’s not headaches, it’s aches, pains, and sweating from a sedentary lifestyle (in the desert without AC in my car). If it’s not all that (which is rare), it’s this latest digestive problem (which is now becoming utterly unmanageable). The real problem isn’t that there are so many ducks, exactly. I’m a big guy; I can tackle an individual duck (metaphorically speaking, of course). Missing a day of work every now and again isn’t the problem. It’s that all of my ducks are becoming monsters that are learning new and exciting ways of ganging up on me all at once and I don’t know how to deal with them en masse.

So I have to apologize. To everyone I know. Over and over.

To my readers: I’m sorry I failed to write something entertaining today. The word “therapy” is in the title of the blog, though. The hard part is I’m not sure I can pledge to do better in the short-term. Next week I have a consultation with a general surgeon to see what my options are to take care of my latest issue, and it might take me some time (hopefully no more than a few days after the procedure) to recover if surgery is the best option.

Have you ever felt like you have to apologize to someone else for existing? This is what stigma sounds like. Whether it’s true or not, I feel like I’m so much a barrier to the success of my group that I prefer to erase myself from the equation before I can cause more problems. I’ve quit jobs out of the blue because it’s too embarrassing to admit my problems and work through them because I’d rather not trust my burden to anyone else’s care. It’s sad, I know. I don’t believe I’ve ever been the “victim” of anyone else’s stigma but my own, to be honest. It’s my own shame that separates me from personal happiness.

And that’s my great conundrum: I like to speak pretty clearly about the personal problems I face (within reason, naturally), but that’s just the first step. Am I willing to stop regarding myself as nothing more than an inconvenience to others? Am I willing to trust others to help me find solutions to them?

No worries, though; I’m not about to quit my job, curl up in a ball in my room, and want to die. No, I’ve done enough of that. I have more ducks incoming, and they’re shaped like college classes and (hopefully) graduation, full-time work, and medical bills.

Good ducky. Nice ducky. Want some bread? No? Than what do you wanOUCHMYEARS!

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THEYBITMYFINGERSOFFHOWDUCKS DON’TEVENHAVETEETH!?

So yeah, sorry for the lame post today. Monday’s will be a great one.

Mental Chains – A Light Shining in Darkness

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It’s been a while since I’ve given a full update on my mental health. Considering how insidious mental health issues are in our culture, I think it’s important to be accountable to someone and share both our successes and failures. The morning of the day I’m editing this, Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide in France. His family is devastated, and even his own mother had no idea about his intentions. Here’s a man who literally has everything and has travelled the world doing things I’ll never hope to experience, a man who has been celebrated as a professional the world over, sharing a meal in Vietnam with the President of the United States and winning Emmys…

And it isn’t enough. But it never is.

I know very little about Mr. Bourdain. Yet his death makes me incredibly sad. Travel writing is a career path I’ve considered looking into. Mr. Bourdain was an inspiration, a light to many people, and no doubt he saw light in the people he met. Where does peace come from when your mind can see only darkness? As Uncle Iroh says in Avatar: The Last Airbender, “If you look for the light, you can often find it. But if you look for the dark that is all you will ever see.” Even with all the goodness around him, did he only see the dark?

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It seems like some people always walk in the light. Maybe some do. But I’m finding that this is rare if not impossible.

For the last decade of my life, I’ve known nothing but valleys of darkness landmarked by peaks of energy, positivity, and light. What I came to realize was hypomania came in irregular intervals every few months for a day at most while the remainder of the time I was lost, tired, and lonely. Hypomanic moments were magical. I felt like I’d come up for air after choking on sea water. I’m a writer, I’ve been writing fiction since I was seven, and hypomanic moments like those times enabled me to use my imagination again. (I realize the “depressed fiction writer” is a meme/trope at this point, but I’m also an English major and I write for a living, so it really is part of who I am.) After a night of no sleep desperately trying to hang on to the mania, I would inevitably come back down into the dark, and I wouldn’t be able to type a single word. My fiction sat stale in my head for years, and still does to an extent.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type II three years ago, and my exploration of medications began. I had no insurance, so I worked with my university’s health center. However, I never found the right medication, much less the proper dose. As much as I loved my psychiatrist for her efforts to help me, my university’s health center just isn’t a proper professional medical facility. I had tried everything: Lamictal, Latuda (worst medicine ever), Risperidone, Oxcarbazepine, Wellbutrin, Lithium, Depakote, Effexor… Without a job, I then went through a state mental health program that didn’t do much good for me at all; my doctor there put me on Wellbutrin to give me more energy, but it also made me anxious and panicky — I would break down into tears at the slightest provocation. It took finding a full-time writing job that took a chance on me and getting insurance to finally be able to see a psychiatrist at my local hospital.

Finding the right doctor with the right experience has made all the difference.

Turns out I just hadn’t taken enough Effexor. My doctor upped my dose of Effexor and risperidone, took me off the anxiety-inducing Wellbutrin, and the effect has been like walking out of a dark cave. I can write again. It feels like a never-ending hypomanic episode compared to where I was. I recently got a new job, and I can write without any mental restrictions. In fact, I’m writing so much that I’m starting to run myself ragged by staying up until two in the morning every night because I’m so afraid that this newfound mental strength (which only a few months ago I equated with a limited-time hypomanic state) is going to go away.

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St. Herman’s Cave in Belize. Kinda feels like that.

I have a fear I never thought possible: I’m afraid that my “happiness” is going to vanish. That I’ll soon lapse back into the dark and not be able to write again. But I also know that I’m not on a maximum dose of Effexor, and things can always be adjusted. I’m in good hands. While treating mental issues with modern medicine is still scattershot when we hope it would be hyper-accurate instead, it got me to this point. I can write again. Even if it doesn’t last, my terrible journey has at last brought me to a state of peace that I’ll never forget. It’s been worth the mental and financial cost.

The tough part? I had been on Effexor before. But the dose had been so low, it hadn’t done anything for me. Is it frustrating to me to think that I might have gotten to this point of stability sooner had I known this? Sure, a little bit. But I know a lot of people who have gone through my same process of trying medication after medication and finding absolutely no results. Finding the right mixture of medicines to give me a solid mental foundation wasn’t a simple process. I don’t know of anyone who diagnosed and “solved” their condition quickly.

Every person is so unique, and no two people will experience the same medicines in the same manner (except with Latuda, surprisingly enough). We think we live in the “Golden Age of Medicine”, and compared to even the 1950s, this is true… But treating mental illness is still almost recklessly imprecise. Even in the United States, complete and holistic treatment is accessible to few. Psychiatrists are sometimes poorly trained to recognize symptoms, and medications are doled out too readily to fix issues that may overlap with other conditions (major depression and bipolar type-II being good examples).

But despite all the obstacles I faced, I found a medicine that has helped me rise above the darkness. “Recovery”, for what that word is worth to a mental illness, is possible. Attaining at least a sense of normalcy and stability is possible. It took the right combination of luck in my job search, finding affordable insurance through the government marketplace, and having access with a professional psychiatrist who recognized what I needed. Not to mention a whole lot of medication experimentation. No matter where your journey takes you with your mental health, never lose hope.

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Someone on my LDS mission asked me why I have faith in anything. “Survival,” should have been my reply.

Always be looking for the light in the world. Play with a puppy. Listen to a baby laugh. Rock out to music you haven’t listened to in years. Listen to the birds. Meditate. Pray. Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal or on a private blog (or make it public like me). Get the right amount of sleep, eat right, drink lots of water, and keep fighting.

You’ll get the dark, but you’ll also get the light. Life is a package deal, but so worth experiencing until you can’t experience more. Whether you seriously wonder if you have a mental health issue or have been fighting a diagnosed illness for years and years, know I’m back here cheering for you. You’ll find clarity and contentment again. My journey isn’t done; as my other mother says, and God willing, I’ve still got a lot of years left in me. I might relapse, I might not. But I’ll have had this time of stability to enjoy. And that’s worth any price.

Dreams and a Bit of Background

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I just wanted to write down some background about all this depressing garbage I’m going through. It keeps me busy, and helps if I ever need to bring it to a therapist someday. So forgive me if a lot of this is rehashing old news.

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Scene: I’m sleeping in the back of a car at dusk on a busy urban highway. One of the most comfortable places for me to be. Then, suddenly, I open my eyes and look around. I didn’t fall asleep in a moving car. The thought of kidnapping never crosses my mind, though. I look over to the driver’s seat.

There’s no one there.

For some reason, this doesn’t occur to me as an immediate problem. Maybe I’m just not awake enough. Maybe my car has turned into one of those new-fangled self-driving cars. I fumble for my cell phone to try to see if I can call my parents, because I must be hundreds of miles away from home by now.

And then I start seeing holes in the road. Not potholes. Real dang holes the size of my car, and that’s when I realize I’m riding in a self-driving car over a really tall overpass about to hit some major construction. Not that there are warning signs or roadblocks or anything, or any other cars out on the road, for that matter.

From here, the story can take any number of turns. I can fall through one and end up trapped at the bottom of a swamp-like ravine that takes traversing through sewers to escape. Or my car can magically avoid all of these holes, and end up trapped going on the wrong off-ramp, never escaping the freeway of death I’ve found myself in.

Or I can simply wake up and wonder the heck that was all about.

Yes, this is a dream I’ve had about three or four times now. How appropriate is this dream for anxiety and depression? I’m coasting through life miles away from where I want to be in a mindset (i.e. the car) that I’m not fully in control of, with conflicting emotions that don’t line up with the situation. Any even my subconscious giving me this dream is like, “Hey man, I’ve got two solutions for you: get stuck in this urban freeway of madness for all eternity or just fall into one of these holes. I’m sure it will work out fine.”

To say that these two things color my every thought and emotion is like describing how a broken leg feels to a all-star track athlete. But unlike a broken leg that the body can heal over time, it feels like my mind has continued to deteriorate despite the medications my doctors have placed me on. An athlete can be up and running again, good as new in a few months; I sometimes feel like I’ll never have the confidence and strength of will I had when I was a senior in high school.

The first time I felt the oppressive feelings of depression was when I went to my first year of college at BYU-Idaho. It’s normal for students to feel a regular amount of anxiety when it comes to dating and quizzes and finals. But this felt different. Living with my grandparents at the time, right in the middle of the semester, I was hit with a wave of lethargy that didn’t go away after a day or so. Nothing emotionally phased me. I would do nothing but stare at the TV or even my bedroom ceiling for hours at a time and just sit in a form of sadness I’d never known before.

By the end of the semester, it had mostly passed, besides a few days here or there, and I was able to pass my classes well enough. But my depression and anxiety really didn’t start until a year later, when I turned 19.

As a member of the LDS church, I’m sure you’ve seen missionaries out on the street, or talked to them at some point. When a young Latter-Day Saint boy turned 19 (18 now, I believe, since they changed the age requirement), they are strongly encouraged to serve a mission for two years in a location not of their choosing. Some can go international and learn to speak a fancy new language, and some can go domestic where they may or may not learn a language. It was generally expected of young men to go. Refusing to go would partially label you as a pariah, if not fully. But I didn’t know that I had a choice. I was moderately excited to go; my dad had served in Chile when he was on his mission, and learned to speak Spanish. My grandparents had also served in Argentina and Ecuador, and also spoke Spanish. I felt like it was my destiny to hablar the espanol! It sounded exciting! I could go almost anywhere! I applied for my mission, tore open the mission call when it arrived in the mail with my family all around me, and…

Los Angeles, California, Spanish-speaking.

Didn’t end up speaking all that much Spanish. Didn’t retain it, for sure.

I never realized just how much putting the mission badge and white shirt and tie made you a target of ridicule and derision. And I’d never seen the South Park that apparently everyone’s seen but me, so that didn’t help. Los Angeles is incredibly over saturated with religion in general. I understood that no one likes door-to-door salesmen, but I didn’t realize just how much people hate the idea of talking to missionaries. Items of differing weights have been thrown at me from moving vehicles, I was attacked in the street once as I rode my bike (luckily I was wearing a helmet or I might have been injured), and all the shouting and laughing and Bible-bashing… Got called a ‘blue-eyed devil’ once, didn’t know what to say to that; my eyes aren’t even blue. I was just a quiet kid from Utah getting yelled at for being a symbol. It got so bad that at one point I curled up in a ball under a blanket in one corner of my apartment and refused to go out on the street, much to the disappointment and puzzlement of my fellow missionaries who were ready to preach the good word of God. I insisted I was sick. They thought I was being lazy. No, in fact, I was panicking. Desperately, desperately panicking. (Sorry guys.)

On my mission, I went to a doctor for depression, and he gave me a simple medication to treat it like one treats the flu. These pills did NOTHING. Worse than nothing, in fact, as I had bouts of sleep paralysis and increased anxiety about speaking to people. I felt like I was being ignored by my companions (not all of them!), by the leadership, and by the doctor himself (who obviously didn’t have the time to fully diagnose me). But it wasn’t my depression that sent me home a year early. No, kidney stones did that. But that hardly mattered. I felt like I had failed my mission on every level imaginable.

I came home from my mission a very different person. Much quieter and reserved, certainly. When I was younger, you couldn’t get me to shut up; now you’ll find it very difficult to make me say anything very loudly. Now, this may come as a surprise to family and friends that know me (or it may not), but had I known what I would personally go through on my mission and how it would shape the next decade of my life (and probably the future decade after that), I would have chosen not to go. This is not to say that I look down on the whole missionary program as the root cause of my mental health issues. I am saying that my mission magnified them and did nothing to help me heal after it was through. I came home, went to church, and…nothing. No real acceptance that I had done anything exceptional. After all, Utah is filled with ex-missionaries that actually completed their missions, and didn’t have lasting emotional weights and scars. There were no support groups for early-returned missionaries with depression, or if there were, I didn’t know they were there. Neither did my parents. Neither did my priesthood leaders. As I went back to school, I continued taking simple depression medications from my family doctor not realizing that I really needed to see a specialist instead.

I returned from my mission and went to Utah Valley University, much closer to where I originally lived. As of today, I have been going to that school for eight years. For a four year degree. To say that this process has been rocky is an understatement. Apart from changing my major so many times it would make your head spin, I would have to take a leave of absence once every two semesters just to find my mental footing again. I would hear other students talk about how they were taking eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-four credits at a time, and wondered how they stayed sane. I was taking six, mayybe nine, and was barely making it to class.

So those medications that weren’t working for me? They don’t work for people with bipolar disorder. It turns out I’m on the bipolar spectrum, with highs that feel like regular life and lows that feel like the Pits of Tartarus. And the lows last a long time. Months at a time. Every so often my mind comes up for air for about six or seven hours and I turn into a productive person; this time is pure heaven. My doctors misdiagnosed me as “just depressed” because they didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t give the right answers. No one took the time to really examine me until I had finally had no other option but to seek specialized help. I didn’t even know specialized help was a thing until, come to find out, there are tons of students at UVU right now with the same problems that I have. As of now, I’ve taken a longer leave of absence just to find help and therapy for a problem that I know I have.

Since my mission, I’ve been employed and unemployed about two dozen times now, on and off. I’ve never been able to find steady work, and the steadiest work I ever found (and made good friends with while working there) I had to throw away because my depression and panic attacks worsened to the point of suicidal thoughts and plans. They say that getting on a steady schedule is key to finding peace, but my mind won’t let me find that steady schedule. At least it didn’t until I started with a place called Wasatch Mental Health. I was finally able to get some of the medications I need to start healing and feeling normal again (Wellbutrin, Depakote, and Risperidone), and I’ve started going to group therapies that I’m not sure are helping yet. In fact, I just threw away a part-time seasonal job because I can’t deal with customer support anymore. I wear my heart on my sleeve at all times and find it difficult to differentiate myself personally from the company I work for. It’s the same problem I had on my mission; people wouldn’t normally dump soda on me if I didn’t wear the shirt and tie, but because I did, they did.

I think the worst part of all of this is seeing everyone I know on Facebook. I can’t bring myself to message people I met in Los Angeles. Everyone has moved on with their lives, grown families, finished degrees, started lucrative careers, and I’m stuck in the past writing this garbage in the hopes that I’ll finally move on too. “But you shouldn’t compare yourself with other people online,” yadda yadda yadda, I get it. But when your only window to the outside world is Perfectionville, life tends to get a little bit darker with each passing swipe of the screen. When you can’t hold down a job for three freaking weeks, you can’t help but look around and wonder what the hell is wrong with you.

If there’s one piece of advise I can give anyone who even thinks they are suffering from depression and anxiety, it’s to look out for warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask for real help. If you’re young and your parents don’t believe in depression or anxiety disorders (as I’ve seen horror stories online), talk to a teacher or a friend about how you’re feeling. If you’re finding life becoming more difficult than it has been, and you find yourself stuck in bed, don’t be afraid to look for people suffering the same thing. We’re out here. I’ve found the anxiety and depression Reddit pages refreshing because it’s filled with people that are experiencing the very same things I am.

There’s some part of me that wants someone to just understand what I go through on a regular day-to-day basis. For someone to come up to me and ask sincerely, “Are you doing okay?” There’s never anyone else with me in my self-driving car, and I’ve been driving for so long that the giant gaping holes in the road ahead of me aren’t even frightening in my dream. And in real life, that’s frightening.

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Some fun links for fun times: chuckdrawsthings is awesome, and I love her pigeons. Owlturd is awesome too, even though the internets are drama-ing all over him. They Might Be Giants have a new CD coming out in January!

 

Dropping My Future For a New One

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I feel like such a failure today. I’m dropping my classes for this semester and next semester in order to lessen the stress on my mind while I go through therapy with Wasatch Mental Health. There’s nothing like walking into a professor’s office and trying to explain you only attended a third of the semester’s classes because you couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed, or couldn’t stop crying. I even had the audacity to ask them if there was any way I could pass the classes having missed so many days. I hope I didn’t offend them by asking. I know I would be.

If you’re a teacher of any age group, I beg you; be sensitive to the needs of your students, even if they won’t be students for very much longer, and no matter how much you think they’re trying to bullshit you. I don’t mean give them a pass if they missed so many days or failed so many homework assignments. I mean understand that they are human beings with hidden problems and desires you might not see. Good chances are they’re not dropping your class because you personally failed them. They may just want to move on to better avenues of learning. Or a different path of healing.

I won’t name the teacher, but one semester a couple of years ago, he made my asking to drop the class because of medical reasons a personal attack. It was during midterms, so he must have thought I was doing so to avoid getting a bad grade. And I won’t lie, that was a reason. But the main reason was I was moving on to a new major. He didn’t give me a chance to explain myself except for a few stammered words about ‘my stomach hurt’ (from anxiety at the time, come to find out). He demanded to know why I was ‘playing’ him, like I was playing a game to boost my grades by threatening to drop the class or something. He wouldn’t even look at my withdraw papers without a doctor’s note, and practically kicked me out of his office.

Do you know what it’s like to pay thousands of dollars for an education you’re not even sure you want, and then to sit outside a classroom for almost an hour waiting for a second meeting with a potentially volatile teacher expecting to be demeaned further because your medical reason for withdrawing from the class is ‘depression’? Depression stigma varies so much from person to person, and I did not expect this teacher to care in the least bit. Fortunately, he didn’t even look at my doctor’s note. He just rolled his eyes, signed the papers, and that was that. But I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified of a single person in my life.

I had learned many things from that teacher. I’d taken classes from him multiple times. But I can only remember him now with pure fear. He personally made it difficult for me to trust teachers at my school, especially when it came to asking for help with depression. He’d never remember me. But I’ll remember his words to me until the day I die.

Teachers, I know how much pressure you have on your shoulders in teaching kids and young adults the things they need to succeed in the world. There is no higher calling in my eyes. But please don’t lose your humanity and decency when you hear a call for help, no matter how irritating or overwhelming that call may be. That call for help may annoy you to the high heavens, but your actions in that moment will make or break that student.

That teacher broke me, and even today the memory of his actions are making my life hell.

On a related note:

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