Some Days I Want to Give Up

That’s it. I’m just tired. Being a human is exhausting. Getting out of bed every day and doing my best sometimes feels like such a monumental ordeal that I tear up at the thought.

The alternative is just as bad. Laying down, accepting my fate, letting sickness overtake me until there is nothing left… it would destroy not just me but everyone who loves me.

I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place: worn down by the constant effort that living life takes yet terrified of stumbling and being steam-rolled by it all.

I’m lost in a desert, wandering and delirious, every step dragging more than the last but knowing that if I lay down I will most likely never get up.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say, I don’t know what my positive message of the day is. Don’t give up, maybe? That’s what I’ve been going with, and I’m still alive- for better or for worse.

I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying.

Courage, dear heart.

Why You Shouldn’t Say “But”

It’s a simple, three letter word that most of us use regularly in daily conversation. “I didn’t want to go at first, but I had a nice time.” “He seemed really nice, but I didn’t like the way he dressed.” “We were originally going to go to the movies, but then she changed our plans last minute.”

But is used to introduce a phrase or clause that is contradicting to the previous statement. It can be useful when used properly, and in and of itself it’s not an evil word. But, the way many of us use this seemingly innocuous little word can actually indicate a somewhat self-damaging frame of mind.

But is an excuse. It takes what was said before it and says, “disregarding that, this is what really happened”. Take for instance the first example above.

“I didn’t want to go at, but I had a nice time”. What you’re trying to say is that at first you had doubtful feelings, then you overcame them and enjoyed yourself. Why does but need to be in there? All it is doing is dismissing your earlier feelings of hesitancy, and striking them out of the conversation by replacing them with the contrasting conclusion of the situation. Just because you had a good time doesn’t mean that you need to brush your earlier feelings about the outing under the rug.

What if we were to replace but with and?

“I didn’t want to go at first, and I had a nice time.” It seems a little weird to say, but think about the difference in mindset that it conveys. It is acknowledging your initial feelings without saying that, just because you had a nice time in the end, they were unimportant. Saying that you didn’t want to do something and you did it anyway is owning that you were feeling negatively at first and taking pride in the fact that you overcame those feelings and turned your attitude around. And validates where but dismisses.

“He seemed really nice, and I didn’t like the way he dressed.” Again, it sounds a little off. Consider it though: why would we use but in that sentence? Is it meant to say that because of his outfit, we didn’t actually think he was that nice? It provides so much more of a complete assessment of the situation to address that both facts are true: he came off as a nice guy, and you weren’t impressed by his fashion sense. By saying and you are conveying that you can believe both of those things at once. Just because he was poorly dressed doesn’t mean he wasn’t nice.

“We were originally going to go to the movies, and then she changed our plans last minute.” In this case, removing the but is being more fair to yourself. You had plans, and she changed them on you. There’s no need to insinuate that your original plans were unimportant, or that the fact that you were expecting one thing to happen didn’t factor into your experience. Often, when someone pulls the rug out from under us a little bit, we’re a little more hurt or miffed than we like to let on. Saying but puts the emphasis on the fact that you didn’t go to the movies; saying and is addressing the fact that you had initially had plans to go that were changed by the other party at the eleventh hour.

In the book Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, author Kelly Williams Brown lays out this concept in Step 443. In the chapter discussing family relationships she writes:

The problem with saying something like, “I love you, but…” is that the but sort of invalidates the first part of the sentence, and sets up whatever you are about to say as being in direct opposition with your love for them. […] “I love you and I need you to respect that this is the decision I’ve made” sounds very different from “I love you but I need you to respect that this is the decision I’ve made.” Yet they’re saying the same thing.

It may seem inconsequential when you’re first introduced to the idea, however the more you think about it the more it makes sense. Reframing your thoughts into and statements rewrites them to be more accepting and considerate of both sides of a seemingly contradictory situation. Not coincidentally, this is one of the tenets of Dialectical Behavior Therapy: allowing two or more seemingly opposing or incompatible ideas to exist simultaneously.

It can definitely feel a little unnatural to cut down on your usage of but at first. It’s such a common part of our language, and you might even feel like you’re coming off as a little too bold by not being politely dismissive when it is expected of you. We’ve been conditioned to brush certain things off or to downplay their importance, but the goal here is to stop doing that and start owning the things you feel that society might say you’re supposed to glaze over.

One simple shift that I’ve found helpful when the word and just seems a bit too ostentatious is to use the words however or despite. While the difference may not be obvious at first, both of these options give just slightly more respect to the clause they’re refuting. “I don’t particularly feel like doing that right now, however, I will do it for you” still places some emphasis on the fact that you are going against your will for the other person. “I didn’t enjoy that very much, despite being excited for it earlier” more explicitly acknowledges the contradiction without undermining one part of the sentence and playing up the other.

Even if you don’t start out by switching all your buts with ands, it can still benefit you to do it privately, in your own head. The important thing is to understand the difference and learn to recognize when but just isn’t doing justice to how you feel or what you’re trying to communicate. When it comes down to a situation like the one Williams Brown described, it makes all the difference in the world. It’s important to convey to others exactly what you mean without invalidating any part of it in the process. Just remember to respect your right to place exactly as much importance as you want to on every facet of your thoughts and feelings, not just the parts that you feel like others will find most important.

Healthy Boundaries

Everyone and everything has their limits. It is a completely natural part of life to experience a threshold after which we are uncomfortable moving forward. It seems strange to think that many of us struggle with properly defining those thresholds and communicating them to other people, but it is an extremely common problem.

Yesterday during my therapy session we discussed boundaries: the different types, when they are appropriate, and how to lay them down and stick to them.

The first kind of boundary we identified is the rigid boundary. These are limits that you hold tight and fast to, and don’t budge or compromise on. While they can be harsh, they are perfectly appropriate in certain settings; a professional environment, for example, is a good place to set rigid boundaries. If rigid boundaries are all you keep, however, it is common to become distant, detached, and have few close relationships. If no one is allowed to break down your very sturdy walls, then you will find yourself very much alone.

We also discussed porous boundaries, which are essentially the opposite of rigid. These are boundaries that aren’t defined clearly enough, or are inappropriately open. People with too porous boundaries are often oversharers, unusually dependent, and afraid of rejection or saying “no”.

For most of my life I have held very porous boundaries. I became too attached too quickly to new people in my life, and often trusted untrustworthy people with my personal information. I had many codependent relationships, and I struggled so badly with telling people that I was uncomfortable with something that I often let people walk all over and abuse me.

It’s okay for our boundaries to become somewhat porous in certain situations. Just as it is often smart to maintain rigid boundaries at work, it can make sense to loosen up and become more flexible when you are with someone who has rightfully earned your trust and will not take advantage of you, such as a spouse or close family.

The happy medium and the magic spot we all should aim for is in healthy boundaries. This is when you interact on an appropriate level of intimacy for the situation and relationship while holding firm to your values and self-respect. Just as importantly, healthy boundaries mean you respect other people’s boundaries as well. The key is to remember that a healthy relationship is a two-way street; just as you should hold true to the lines you’ve drawn, so should you observe and respect the rules other’s have laid down for themselves. Just as no means no when you say it, it’s crucial to respect another person’s no as well.

Defining your boundaries takes time and effort. It takes a lot of experience and self-reflection; often, we don’t know what our boundaries are until we become aware that they have been crossed. It’s important to observe the discomfort that someone crossing your boundaries brings you and to remember it for future occasions. Keeping tabs on what you do and don’t find acceptable makes it possible for you to communicate that information to other people, thereby giving them a chance to respect those rules.

Likewise, if you find that maybe your boundaries are a little too strict, it may take some experimentation in relaxing them to find a level of comfort that doesn’t keep people at an unhealthy distance. It’s a very scary thing to let down your walls, but in order to have meaningful relationships it’s important to let the right people in at the right times.

Sharing and enforcing boundaries can be perhaps the most difficult part of the process. If you find that your boundaries are too rigid, it can be hard to open them up and let people closer than you have in the past. If you have porous boundaries like I did, then the potential confrontation of saying no and insisting that your wishes be respected can be very anxiety inducing. If you want to keep your relationships with yourself and with other’s intact, however, it’s very important to establish those healthy boundaries.

It took me a lot of practice to firm up my defenses, and then I overcompensated a bit and had to let them out a little again. Life is a process of trial and error in which we learn a lot about ourselves, including what we are comfortable with and how far we are willing to go for people. Working on my boundaries, however, has given me happier and healthier relationships with essentially everyone in my life. I have an easier time keeping myself protected while not becoming too isolated.

If you find that you have a hard time getting close to people, or that you’ve become something of a doormat for the people around you, then maybe it’s time to closely examine your values and draw up a new draft. A healthy life begins with healthy relationships, and no healthy relationship can thrive on unhealthy boundaries.

Filling Your Own Cup

Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

Eleanor Brownn

Nearly everyone has heard the phrase “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, but what does that mean to someone living with mental illness? The phrase itself conveys the message that one cannot put energy into helping other people when they do not have the energy themselves. The concept is similar to the emergency instructions give on an airplane: affix your own oxygen mask before you assist others.

When you have a mental illness, however, sometimes you are running on empty more often than you would like. Life can take a lot out of you when you are depressed, or anxious, engaging in behaviors, using, or even manic or psychotic. You don’t always know which way is up when symptoms are dragging you down, and struggling to find the surface can take all of the energy you’ve got.

It can be hard for other people to understand this concept, when you find yourself with nothing to pour out for them. Friends can feel hurt, partners unloved, family ignored. It can be equally frustrating for the exhausted sufferer, if not more so. It’s painful to realize that you have nothing to give to someone who is reaching out to you. But in order to provide support, you need to be stable yourself.

Yesterday, I had a horrible, awful day. My grief, depression, anxiety, and guilt overwhelmed me and for the first time in weeks, I simply did not have the energy to do any more than the bare minimum. I reached out to a friend for support, but was hit in return with a long list of their own problems that they wanted to talk about. I closed out of the conversation.

I felt terrible, and angry. Part of me was mad at my friend, for burdening me with their issues when I had so clearly communicated that I was not in a good place. The rest of me, however, was angry at myself, for abandoning them when they obviously needed help themselves. The fact of the matter, however, that I was simply in no place to be giving support or guidance while in the midst of my own turmoil. The very idea of responding left me feeling drained.

I apologized to my friend today, and I’d like to say that they were forgiving and understanding. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not everyone is going to be able to sympathize with us all of the time. My friend was clearly annoyed with me, and brushed me off. That stung, but there was nothing I could do. I wasn’t able to be there for them when I was called on, and I couldn’t force them to forgive me for that.

After some reflection, I’ve found that I no longer feel bad about myself for this interaction. Yesterday, I needed the help, and that’s okay. As much as I’d like to be the perfect friend to everybody, it is ultimately up to me to take care of myself. My responsibility to my own well-being is far greater than my responsibility for theirs.

Self-care is not selfish, even if it feels like it sometimes. If we don’t take the time to heal ourselves, we only prolong our suffering, and decrease our ability to be there for others for an even longer period of time. Better to stitch yourself up before heading back into battle than to bleed out on the field.

I reached out to some other friends whose cups were a little more full, and I drew strength and support from them. I played my current favorite video game, and watched my current favorite cartoon. I cuddled with my cats, and cried when I felt I really needed to. When my husband got home, I came clean to him about the fact that I’ve been struggling with my ED again, but I asked that I be allowed to try to work this one out on my own. He was supportive and loving and understanding, and I felt better that he knew. I did the things I needed to do to get back to where I needed to be today.

This morning, I woke up an hour and a half early, and woke my husband up with a smile and a kiss. I played with my dog for a while, and then I sat down and finished all of the homework that needed to be done for the day, and even some that didn’t need to be done until next week. My vessel felt full at last, and now I am ready to begin serving again.

Anorexia: The Selfish Plague

I’ve joined a sort of eating disorder support group. It’s not exactly a typical support group- it’s more of an informal chat between lots of people who have eating disorders. We talk about what we wish we could eat, what triggers us, how to deal with other people’s opinions, favorite snacks and how our disorders make us feel. I won’t say it’s improved my behavior, but it has definitely made me feel much less alone.

One thing that struck me is how many of us are hiding our disorders. Essentially everyone. Not one person spoke up and said they weren’t, at least. We hide them from our families, our friends, and our significant others. We dump food into the garbage behind their backs, and tell them we’ve eaten things we haven’t.

Everyone feels bad about it. It’s not like we want to be lying to people we love. We’re not sociopaths, we all have empathy- too much of it, in a lot of cases. But eating disorders are master manipulators, and they turn even the best of us into liars in order to keep themselves hidden and thriving. They’re like parasites; their survival depends on our continued starvation, and so they will work their host like a marionette just to keep them sick.

What a selfish, selfish disease anorexia is. What a deplorable scourge on the human psyche and on our relationships. I have never hidden anything from my husband, not one thing, until I slipped back into my behaviors. I know it’s splitting hairs, and that lying by omission is still lying, but I do find some comfort in the fact that I have never told him a direct untruth. If he were to ask me upfront, “How many calories have you eaten today?”, I would tell him.

But I would do any and everything to prevent that conversation from coming up. So I exercise while he isn’t around to see, and I count and restrict every calorie when he isn’t looking, and I make myself carefully calculated portions of dinner in front of him: just big enough not to arouse suspicion, but not so big as to disrupt my goals for the day.

What a rotten person I am. I feel like this will break his trust in me completely. He will never be able to look at me the same again. I am ruining the most beautiful relationship I have ever had, just because a little voice in my head is telling me losing weight is more important. How despicable of me to listen to it.

My only hope is that I get control over this thing before he finds out, but I don’t know how likely that is anymore. I have a countdown timer on my phone that tells me how many days I have left to reach my goal weight. He will surely notice if I manage to pull that kind of weight loss off in such a short time.

I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want him to see me as anything but who I have always been: a loyal, loving, and honest partner. But I can’t take back what I’ve been doing, I can’t change the fact that I have been hiding a part of my life from him. My only hope now is that he will understand, that he will be able to see that it is my disease that drives me to do these things, and that he will forgive me. Oh how I hope he will forgive me.

You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets

Someone gave me that little line of advice once, when I was in a bad spot and unsure of what to do next. I had been struggling significantly, but I didn’t want to tell my loved ones about what I was going through. I hate making others worry about me. If I can handle a problem on my own I will- why would I want to burden anyone I care about with my own personal issues if I don’t need to?

But this person brought up a great point. Mental illness and bad behaviors thrive in the dark. It is so much easier for one person to be overcome when they stand and fight alone. Sharing our stories is vital to our success; secrets are the breeding grounds for shame, fear, and unhealthy coping.

It’s not always easy to share your secrets with other people. Even if you aren’t afraid of that person judging you, you still don’t know if they will understand, or if they can, or even want, to help. It’s hard to know who will be a good listener, who will be an ally, and who will prove to be a waste of your trust.

Once you have found even one good person to turn to, don’t keep them in the dark any more than is necessary. While it is by no means crucial, or even healthy, to pour out every thought and feeling to your loved ones, it’s toxic to leave them unspoken and festering when they really are important.

If you’re finding things a little too hard to deal with- if stress is eating away at you, if you’re having harmful thoughts, or if you know you’re partaking in self-destructive behavior- then it’s time to share with someone you trust. If you don’t know who to go to with your problems, even just sharing anonymously on the internet can lift at least some of the weight off your shoulders. It’s a very difficult thing to bring yourself to do, but once it’s done, the relief is incomparable.

I’ve seen what my illness does when I keep it hidden, and I’ve seen it shrivel in the light. I know that letting others worry about me is sometimes best, when I can’t handle all the worrying on my own. Even when they don’t know what to do any more than you do, other people can make you feel like you’re not in it entirely alone. Support gives you a fighting chance. And when you are brave enough to let your private battles become known, your shame has nowhere to go. It’s very hard to harbor shame when other people have heard and accepted you for who you are.

My plea to anyone who reads this today is to reach out. That’s it. Even if that’s only thing you can do today, just let someone know you are hurting. Help is unlikely to come if you never call for aid. Even if you don’t really need help, just having someone else in the world know what you are going through can ease so much of the burden.

The truth shall set you free.

Sad Songs

What is it exactly about music that can make us feel things so intensely? The right melody can fill us with joy, calm our nerves, even move us to dance and sing along. Some songs, however, make us feel something else entirely. Some songs make us pensive, melancholy- and sad. There are songs that can, without fail, make me cry.

But why would someone want to cry, you ask? I would ask you in return, who doesn’t want to cry from time to time? Crying is one of the most human experiences we can partake in. Sadness is but one color in the rainbow of a rich emotional life, though for some reason many don’t appreciate it’s beauty. It is the indigo of the rainbow, often brushed over, ignored, seen as unnecessary or unwanted. But even if you can’t find the right crayon in the box and decide to just leave it out, the rainbow’s name is still ROY G. BIV, not ROY G. BV.

I personally love to feel sadness, in the right amounts, at the right times. I revel in my joy, celebrate my pride, even indulge my anger with righteous indignation. It feels good to round out my inner world with a few key doses of sadness, especially sadness that does not pertain directly to my own circumstances.

That is where sad songs come in. Have you never sat back and just enjoyed a sad song, alone in a quiet place? That song can sound very different for different people, and what makes one person tear up may leave another completely unmoved. But it’s how the song makes you feel that matters.

The first song I ever heard that filled me with that sweet, sweet sadness was called My Ain’ True Love, sung by Alison Kraus in the movie Cold Mountain. I first heard it when I was pretty young, maybe eight or nine, but it stuck with me for life and I am always sure to give it a place on whatever device I’m currently using to listen to music. The lyrics are about a woman who is left behind when her lover goes to war, and Kraus’s sweet, soft, haunting vocals send a chill down my spine every time I hear it. On one train ride home from school, I played it over and over and over again, and I crafted the emotions it inspired in me into a short story that I still am proud of to this day.

If you want to give it a listen and share in the emotional goodness, here you go: https://youtu.be/wU7MEtAYSkA

Some songs can be sad without ponderous cellos and violins and a bluegrass voice, though. It’s about how the song makes you feel. Sometimes the lyrics just really strike a chord, and at other times you can’t quite put a finger on what is making you feel so deeply. You just do, and that’s beautiful in and of itself.

One song that gives me delicious waves of sadness for no reason is Gold, by Chet Faker. It’s nothing like Alison Kraus; it’s more upbeat and mainstream, some might even find it a happy song. But it will always make me pause, take a seat, and bathe in the bittersweet feelings it gives me.

If you want to give it a listen, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/hi4pzKvuEQM

My other two go-to sad songs are from the same movie- a foreign film I was introduced to in an advanced conversational Spanish class. It’s called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices), and it’s about a young El Salvidorian boy whose life is torn apart by the revolutionary war that his village lies on the frontlines of. This movie fills me with the entire emotional rainbow, and if you know Spanish, or don’t mind subtitles, I highly recommend it.

The two songs that I love most from this movie fill me with a different shade of sadness than the others. While Alison Kraus fills me with the aching, pining, resolute sadness that speaks of a missing love and stubborn hope, and Gold makes me reflect on both my sins and my traumas alike, these songs give me nothing but pure, unadulterated grief. I grieve for the people that the songs are about, for the cruelties of life, and for my helplessness in the face of human suffering.

The first song is Casas de Cartón (Cardboard Houses), specifically the version that is heard in the movie itself. It’s the official song of the revolution, and it speaks of the gut-wrenching conditions of the working class and the grave injustices of those in power. I have a link here: https://youtu.be/Sg08kREh824 (I apologize for the quality of the sound, it’s damn near impossible to find a decent copy of the movie version).

My final sad song to offer up is called Razones (Reasons), by Bebe. It’s a song about the loss of a loved one, and about the piercing hunger to see their face and hear their voice again. It’s about the emptiness of the bed you once shared, and the pleas you make to the wind for their return.

https://youtu.be/-1t-A1GjVZo

Sadness can feel awful, but every once in the while it’s exactly what you need. Happiness is what we all strive for, and rightfully so, but how can we truly feel happiness if we never know it’s opposite? Music is a portal into a world that is not your own, where it is safe to feel that sadness, and then leave it behind you when the song ends. Whatever that sad song is for you, do your best not to forget it for too long. Welcome it into your life and learn to love and appreciate it for the fullness it brings you. Without these moments, our world loses one beautiful shade of color from its rainbow.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

TW: eating disorders, weight loss, restricting

For the longest time, I believed that skipping out on my morning meal was the fastest way to losing weight. The longer I went without eating, I thought, the easier it would be to continue the streak. This resulted in me waiting until dinnertime every day before I had my first bite to eat.

I recently discovered a subreddit all about intermittent fasting, which is when people spend most of their day fasting and then eat all of their calories in a smaller time window. So many people have posted success stories and progress pictures there that my certainty in my eating habits grew stronger.

The other day however, I agreed with my therapist to partake in a small protein shake in the morning to start my day. I was dubious, and worried this would impede my descent in weight. I was proven wrong, however, and not only did I still lose weight, I felt much better doing it.

Fasting all day led to a few problems: energy, mood, and medicinal efficacy.

I take my psychiatric meds in the morning and at night, and while I know that they are supposed to be taken with food I stopped seeing the harm in taking them on an empty stomach. Yesterday and today, when I drank my shake with meds, I felt them kick like they haven’t in months. I finally felt the full effects of the pills I’d been downing every morning to no avail.

I also had been experiencing a serious crash in mood in the evenings, probably due to a day full of fasting. I would become irritable and gloomy right about when my husband got off work, meaning the quality of our time spent together was seriously diminished. Adding in a morning dose of energy reduced the crash, making me less grouchy and a lot more fun to be around.

Perhaps the most important difference I’ve noticed since adding breakfast to my routine is that I have so much more energy throughout the day. I still get a little dizzy at times, or have a hard time getting going, but I was able to do a full days worth of chores and schoolwork, as well as a workout, once I had some nutrients in me.

I feel like this is a big step in the right direction. I’m still not taking in exactly a healthy amount of calories per day, but I think it’s something that I’m allowing myself to add this into my meal plan. I feel better, stronger, and more healthy.

Moral of the story, don’t skip breakfast folks.

The Two Sides of Bipolar

“I went from crying to laughing in, like, two minutes- I’m so bipolar!”

“My girlfriend gets crazy mad out of nowhere, I swear she’s bipolar or something.”

“Yesterday felt like fall and today it’s snowing… what is with this bipolar weather?”

It’s because of seemingly innocuous interactions like these that a lot of people don’t know much about what bipolar really means. Calling someone or something “bipolar” has become synonymous with being fickle, moody, or even just perceived as overly emotional. The term is tossed around, sometimes all in good fun, but sometimes as an insult, to diminish another person’s feelings, or to make them seem like the villain.

In reality, bipolar is a serious mental illness that is often all-consuming. While many people are able to live normal lives and cope well with their bipolar, it is nevertheless an obstacle that can be very hard to overcome. It hurts loved ones, damages relationships, and even decreases average life expectancy (the key word here being “average”- this does not apply to every individual). In many cases it drives people into the arms of addiction, or prevents them from being independent and holding down a job. It’s a lifelong disease that is extremely difficult to navigate, and some people are never able to truly find peace with it.

The “bi-” in bipolar refers to the two distinct mood states that characterize the illness: depression and mania. This is why it used to be more commonly referred to as “manic-depressive disorder”, which is honestly the term I prefer. Personally, I feel as though “bipolar” has become so overused and misunderstood that it gives people the wrong idea of what I deal with. People hear that word and often jump to inaccurate conclusions about my personality. In my eyes, the term manic-depressive more accurately reflects the true nature of the disease: the presence of both mania and depression. The majority, however, obviously disagrees, and so bipolar is what I refer to my illness as.

Depression is defined as an extreme state of low mood and low energy, a loss of interest in life and even suicidal thoughts and actions. It’s a giant, heavy, wet blanket laying on top of you, making it difficult to move, to participate- even sometimes just to speak. It can cause serious increase in anxiety and terrible feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and shame. It hinders everything you try to do, and often paralyzes people into complete and utter immobility. I have spent entire weeks in one spot on the couch while depressed, rewatching the same movie over and over again because I couldn’t bring myself to get up and put a new one in the player. In the worst cases, people become desperate in their search for a way out, and too many have lost their lives.

A surprising number of people experience depression at some point in their lives, so this is generally the part of bipolar that others have an easier time sympathizing with. The other side of bipolar, mania, is not so easily understood by the average layperson, and so it is that term that I will do my best to describe here.

Mania is quite literally the opposite of depression: a state of extremely elevated mood, heightened senses, and an intense level of energy. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Almost like being a superhero even. In it’s milder state, called hypomania, that’s not always an entirely unfair description. Low levels of mania in some people can lead to very productive and social periods, generally a huge relief from the grueling depressive episodes.

For many, however, mania is just as destructive, if not much more so, as even the worst depressive episode. Mania drives people to wild extremes, causing an abandon of all inhibition, scrambled thoughts, and, in the worst cases, a total break from reality. Mania often comes with hypersexuality, causing unsafe interactions with strangers or making otherwise loyal partners cheat. It gives you a dangerously exaggerated sense of confidence- as if you are the most desirable and important person on the planet- which can utterly destroy otherwise strong relationships with your inability to see past your own needs and wants.

The unprecedented levels of energy caused by mania can be very problematic. The electricity in your veins drives you forward at a constant, accelerating speed. Sleep is one of the first things to go. Speech becomes faster and more pressured, until it becomes a nearly incomprehensible gargle. You may engage in dramatic levels of physical exertion in an effort to curb some of that unrelenting energy. Once while manic I became so overwhelmed that I sprinted out of my friend’s apartment, completely barefoot, into the snowy parking lot to sprint back and forth, stopping only to do push-ups in the spaces between cars.

Mania is often not solely an experience of exaggerated positives however. A great number of manic episodes are mixed, to some degree, with depressive symptoms, or may otherwise have undesirable aspects. It can cause awful bouts of irritability, hypersensitivity, and anger. It can also blend with the suicidal ideations of depression, leading to increasingly reckless disregard for your safety or even self-harm and suicide attempts.

When mania is left unchecked it can develop to such a degree that you start to lose your grip on reality. Sometimes this is manifested when one’s inflated sense of self-esteem becomes delusional: they may believe themselves to be the next messiah, or simply that they are invincible and immortal. I have surfed on top of moving cars while manic, the possibility of injury or death entirely unconsidered.

Even more unsettling, mania can devolve into pure psychosis. It can cause hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, not unlike those found in schizophrenia. During my first major manic episode, I became convinced that my roommates were stealing my stuff and purposefully damaging it, just to spite me and to laugh at me for being poorer than they were. I once even berated an innocent chinese food delivery man, thinking he was sent by my roommates to embarrass me for not being able to afford the food on the spot. The food had already been paid for, but my suspicion of them didn’t dissolve until I was being medicated in the hospital. Looking back, I still have a hard time parsing out what really happened and what was simply paranoia.

Both depression and mania are extremely damaging to one’s sense of self and their overall well-being. Too many loves and lives have been lost to the depths of depression, and to the dangerous heights of mania. Bipolar is more than mood swings; it’s continuous life-altering episodes of stress, instability, and even danger.

I may paint a grim picture here, but that is only to impress upon the otherwise unaware a better sense of the gravity of the illness. Bipolar is not untreatable, and many people learn to live their lives in a way that insulates them from the worst of the damage and affords them pure normalcy in the interim. I do not in any way mean for my descriptions of this experience to lead to any sort of preconceived ideas or judgments of others with bipolar. Everyone is different, some struggle differently, and some more noticeably than others.

A diagnosis of bipolar is a life sentence, true, but it is not a death sentence. There is always, always hope- your future lies in your own hands, and there is nothing any disease can do to prevent you from making the best of your situation.

Weigh-ins and the Great Plateau

TRIGGER WARNING: weight, calories, eating disorder behaviors

I’m not perfect, I know that. For all the focus and effort I put into recovery, I still have my days where I feel like it’s a losing battle.

For the last two days, I haven’t lost a single ounce. The scale has read out exactly the same for three days in a row.

Just last night, I saw my therapist and we agreed to one baby step in the right direction- a protein shake in the morning, so that I wasn’t going all day without any nutrition at all. But seeing that cursed number on the scale today is making it really hard to choke down this protein shake.

It’s a pretty low calorie shake, and it’s full of stuff that I’m hoping will keep me more energized and ward off that dreaded 5 o’clock mood swing.

Shamefully, I’m also really hoping that maybe it will keep my metabolism a little busier and I can break this plateau.

My attitude right now is a dialectic. On the one hand, I’m putting at least a small effort into avoiding a full-blown relapse. On the other, I’m sort of hoping that small effort serves to further my weight loss goals.

I don’t want to become a zombie again, I want to stay productive and high-functioning. Maybe this shake will help me do that without seriously impeding my desire to be thin. Maybe I’ll even start losing weight in a slightly healthier way.

Recovery is hard. The motivation comes and goes. There are two voices inside of me, battling it out. I want to get better, but I hate what I see in the mirror.

Regardless, I am not giving up. I may not be winning today, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost.

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