Monday, May 2, 2011

Hacking Away at Life's Path

I've been home from my AmeriCorps service for four weeks now due to anxiety and depression. You'd think staying home from work that long would be awesome, but almost all of these days have been "real" sick days. But I've gone to my serving job on the weekends and I've seen my family and Catfish, so I'm still anchored to the world to some degree and I'm not broke yet.

Look, what I've realized is that 99% of the people I know (that statistic might actually be accurate) don't know what it's like to live my life. 100% don't have the same pairing of mental and physical problems that I have, and almost all don't live with the kind of anxiety and mood problems I have. So unless they have great empathy, other people don't understand why being home sick makes me feel guilty and erodes my self-image.

Guilt isn't a choice. It's part of the depression brain-state, and I'm sure there's some physiological element to it, and I've researched whether there are nutrient deficiencies associated with it, but I didn't find anything compelling yet.

Depression makes depression worse. Depression insists on itself.

I choose these situations like AmeriCorps because I think that I have to do or be something, and then these situations make me sicker. Every line I've toed out of a sense of "fulfill your potential" or "be something to the world" -- college, deskspace, grad school, and now this -- has gotten me nowhere. I still care about the people I was serving in AmeriCorps, and I learned a lot, but my ship is sinking.

I just don't fit into these situations, but I keep choosing them because I don't have examples in my life of people doing otherwise. This is how the world works for us humans. We do what we have a model for. We also do what the world around us values. I've known for a long time that if I want to be truly happy, I'm going to have to opt out of the standard, but I haven't done it yet because I don't have the social and cultural reinforcement to follow through.

I am starting to get really mad. Naturally, I feel guilty about being home and, from this point, would likely go back to my AmeriCorps service with my tail between my legs and fight through another 5 months until my term is up. Because going back is what the world around me values and what I have a model for. It would be easier for me to go back than to quit---

It's easy to break convention when you have a choice. When you don't have a choice---

Someone will probably get enraged at this analogy, but I will share it anyway: in elementary school, the other schoolkids and I didn't understand why Rosa Parks didn't want to sit at the back of the bus. That's where all the COOL (older) KIDS sat. Being forced out of life by illness is similar -- if you don't have the illness, you don't understand why not being able to uphold convention is so devastating.

So here's the fifth Monday I've been home, and I feel it's time to poop or get off the pot. I've made some progress in these weeks, but I know in my heart that if I go back, I will fall back apart. I could wait to adjust to new brain meds, or I could go back and try to rearrange everything to suit me, or etc., etc., but honestly, the only reason I'd go back is for other people. To avoid screwing them over, and to preserve my reputation. To toe the line and soothe the guilt.

Because no one is living my life, but everyone has an opinion on fulfilling a commitment. It takes a good amount of empathy to understand what someone else's life must be like, but everyone knows how important it is to follow through on what you set out to do.

There are two things I've learned over the past four weeks. The first is as I said -- that no one else is living my life, and that no one really knows what I go through. The second is that my life is actually really hard, and the only reason I don't think so is that thinking so makes me feel guilty. (Separate blog post on pain pending.)

Late last week I decided to quit AmeriCorps...and then seriously decided...and then really really seriously's hard for me to do. I hate to let people down, and I hate to acquire a certain image for (really, of) myself. But I remind myself that I can get all the benefit of my AmeriCorps experience by going back to volunteer with the organization I was at -- because obviously no one thinks badly of me there for being sick even though it makes me hate myself -- and that my first duty in the world is to take care of myself.

It's a big letdown for me. I've spent a decade wondering if I'll find a place in the world. I know it'll require thinking outside the box, so I'm reading a lot of outside-the-box things.

I have this book -- really, never returned it to the library -- called Manic Depression and Creativity. It chronicles the lives of Newton, Beethoven, Dickens, and Van Gogh through the lens of bipolar disorder. I try to draw on those stories, but they seem too extraordinary. Most of them worked with a fervor I can't sustain. I don't recall much depression outside of Van Gogh. Maybe they weren't bipolar but simply melodramatic. Is that true depression, or are you just a prima donna?

I stick to what is more accessible. My psychiatrist laughed when I told him I read Sylvia Plath -- why not (the optimist) Mary Oliver? Because for one, Mary Oliver's words are lame. Two, I don't understand Mary Oliver, geese and stars and sunrises -- but I understand Sylvia Plath. When she wrote
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

I know she was talking about what it was like to be a depressed mother. And that comforts me. To know that someone has felt the terrible colors I've felt. No matter that they destroyed her. They don't have to destroy me, especially if I figure out how to work them.


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  2. I am awful with comps LOL, so I reposted this.

    I'm sorry your feeling so down, prayers for you to feel better!

    Being bipolar just flat out sucks. You add vulvodynia on top of it and it's a layer of "wtf".

    At least in my latest stage of mania I found I love the music of Mindless Self Indulgence and googling shirtless or naked Dolph Lundgren pics LOL. :D

    It's been 10 years in 2012 since I graduated high school and I still haven't found my place. I'm a homemaker but isn't there more out there?

    I love Christina Rossetti's poetry, she writes so beautiful but there is a dark tone to much of her poetry.

    Pain sucks, but when you have chronic conditions it's such a part in our lives. My husband's family is so perky and happy all the time, they always wonder why I'm "off".

    Because my crotch hurts alot and I am having mood swings like 1,000x a day. I'd like to see them be normal LOL!

    Just wanted to say glad to see you posting!

  3. Sorry you're having such a rough time lately. February, November and July are my mood months. Only those who weather these various states can empathize with you and so keep writing because that in itself can be therapeutic.

    I would also highly recommend An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. She has various other works as well, however this one really made me stop and realize that there were others like me.

    It's difficult enough to have a mood disorder, while a chronic pain disorder only adds salt to the wound.

    Take good care of yourself and hang in. This is a difficult time of year for us moodies.


  4. Thank you for sharing this. I think you are incredibly strong and brave. There are so many of us out there who understand.

  5. Its hard to stay brave against chronic illness and near constant pain, but keep trying. I know what you mean about not being able to enjoy "time off" because its not "time off" its time sick. Others see it as freedom, but you are imprisoned by pain and illness. Stay strong and know that there other are others who are rooting for you. I am here in your corner sending you light. Thank you for sharing.