Top Shelf Thoughts*

Every day I get up, go to work, come home and watch something mindless until it’s time to take a sleep pill. I’ve lost interest and motivation in anything I used to enjoy. It feels like I’m never going to get that stuff back – I’ve tried. I don’t want to socialize. The only reason I’m still alive is that I don’t want to upset my family.

My therapist and psychiatrist are both aware of the depth of my suicidal thoughts (10-1,000,000 times per day for 10 years), but no one, including me, seems to really know what to do. Medication doesn’t help. Talking about suicide in therapy makes it easier but also has only solidified the idea that I will eventually kill myself – each month that goes by I’m surprised that I made it.

I was seeing an Endocrinologist in conjunction with the Psychiatrist with the thought my thyroid was messed up from some medication. Yesterday, the endocrinologist said that my thyroid level is fine and she thinks I should consider doing ECT. The idea of ECT, all the preparations that go along with it (being out of work, having an emergency contact, wearing the damn hospital gown, thinking of people looking at me while I’m unconsciously having a seizure) are terrifying. I don’t want to do it.

My mind has translated this into if you don’t do ECT, you should kill yourself. I’ve been here before – thinking that the next treatment is the last option, the last hope. If I say decline the last hope, then I’m willingly embracing hopelessness and if all that remains is hopelessness, then I should kill myself. But then there’s the chance of doing that last treatment and it not working, and if that happens, then I should kill myself. There is also the possibility of doing the treatment and it working, but history shows that scenario is very unlikely.

There are days when I walk by the hospital and think, “Should you check yourself in right now? Are you safe out in the world on your own?” Then think of actually being in the hospital – no privacy, taking leave from work, telling people where I am, talking to strangers, endlessly talking, no headphones, restricted autonomy, et. al. No thanks.

Tricky. Tricky times.

photo.jpg

*This is a reference to the amazing podcast Professor Blastoff. Listen to this video. It is absurd-funny.

**Sometimes I start writing to Reddit, then decide to put the post here instead. This is one such post. Forgive the redundant background.

The Perils of Too Much Sleep

Of the past 48 hours, I’ve slept 33. In addition to my prescribed Sonata, I took two over counter sleeping pills Wednesday and Thursday nights, instead of the usual one. I just don’t want to be awake – there’s no reason to be awake.

And sleep begets sleep, so I feel tired/out of it/depressed for the few hours I am awake.

I know this much sleep is a bad idea. I know that it will make me feel worse. I know it’s tough to break out of this cycle. I know that I just need to get moving to beat it.

But I can’t find any reasons to get moving.

sad businessman egg

Terrible with Raisins

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it” – Dorothy Parker

I’ve hit the lowest point in the mood cycle.

All I want to do is be asleep. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to exist. This is nothing new. I’ve been here countless times before. I know I have to just wait it out.

Attack of the Shoulds

I’ve been very anxious lately.

New medication Brintellix acting like Lamictal- flattening my mood. As such, I don’t feel anything, neither good nor bad.

Because I don’t feel bad and I have more energy than usual, I’m being attacked by shoulds:

  • I should be doing more.
  • I should be enjoying myself with formerly enjoyable activities.
  • I should be able to find something, anything satisfying, fun, or remotely pleasant.
  • I should be using the energy to wake up early and go to the gym or run/rollerblade now that the weather is nicer.
  • I should be doing more than going to work, coming home and watching old Law and Order episodes until it’s an appropriate time to take the sleeping pills.
  • I shouldn’t be forcing so much fake enthusiasm at work. I need to tone it down.
  • I shouldn’t be putting this “should” pressure on myself, but simultaneously I should be working harder to feel better.

But then I remember that I feel neither good nor bad – not feeling bad doesn’t mean feeling good…which is a very confusing string of words.

I need to learn to give myself a break, even though I worry that I’m giving myself too much of a break and it’s making me lazy and stupid – that I could just get over all this anxiety/depression business if I tried harder.

And it’s these thoughts that leave me stuck in bed, covered in pillows because the extra weight somehow feels a little comforting.

 

 

Shower 011

4 Reasons Why I’m Humiliated by My Social Anxiety

1. Simple things should not be this difficult.

Ordering food from an unfamiliar restaurant.
Doing laundry at a new laundromat.
Letting someone read over my shoulder.
Talking on the phone.

2. I shouldn’t care this much about being judged or embarrassed.

Underlying social anxiety disorder or social phobia is the fear of being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed in public. You may be afraid that people will think badly of you or that you won’t measure up in comparison to others. And even though you probably realize that your fears of being judged are at least somewhat irrational and overblown, you still can’t help feeling anxious.

3. I realize the anxiety is unreasonable.

Countless times people have tried to assuage my anxiety by sharing their own troubles.

“I really don’t like small talk either.”

“Oh, public speaking is just the worst!”

“I can’t really talk on the phone.”

At first, I hated these responses. I hated them so much. I filed them under, “Nobody understands. Nobody ever will understand. I should stop trying to share my experiences.”

But over time, I came to really understand that reaction was unreasonable because my anxiety was unreasonable. Others were legitimately trying to help but can’t understand because it doesn’t make sense – it’s irrational. For someone without social anxiety, my saying, “If I come to your party, I will die” doesn’t make sense. Reading it now, it doesn’t make sense but I understand it.

As a kid, I was confused by it because I didn’t understand what was happening – why things that seemed so easy to others were impossible for me. Once the term Social Anxiety entered the picture, I recognized, but didn’t understand, that the anxiety was unreasonable. Now, I understand that it’s unreasonable but feel powerless to change it.

4. Progress is stupidly slow.

photo (3)

Progess. Positivity.

Today, I am making a list of all progress.

In no particular order and with little context or timeframes:

  • I am less afraid to speak in class.
  • It’s easier to disagree with colleagues/superiors.
  • In general, it’s easier to simply say “no” to anxiety-provoking invitations.
  • It’s been over six months since a panic attack.
  • I can define what “the medication is working” feels like.
  • I haven’t thrown up while planning to ask for a promotion at work, and even had the thought, “I’m worth more than my current salary.” Hey there, self-esteem.
  • I was honest with the headshrinker about the suicidal thoughts and it’s getting easier to talk about them.
  • I went on human dates.
  • As of next month, I’ll be halfway through the masters degree.
  • I don’t hate the clothes I’m wearing today.

What is your progress/positivity?

creepy statue gnomes

My brother and I both think this statue looks a bit like me. Creepy.

Social Anxiety and Dating, Part 3

gnome2

From a voicemail to my brother after a date. A rational, non-anxious person would also react this way…I think.

I went on a date last night.

It’s part of an ongoing campaign to push through the anxiety in order to conquer it. This was actually the fourth person I’ve seen in the last seven months.

Bottom line: I hate it and it’s terrible.

During my flirtation with mental wellbeing (the Nortriptyline period), I started to think that maybe I could have a relationship. The wellbeing didn’t last long enough to figure out if I wanted one, but I began to think it was something I was capable of doing successfully.

Though I no longer identify with that thought, I remember having it. What follows are my current, scattered thoughts. Strangely, these scattered thoughts feel less anxious and depressed than usual. They kind of feel like thoughts regular people have. Small steps, right? Don’t tell me if you disagree.

 

Socializing is exhausting.

social anxiety and dating

I know the math doesn’t really make sense – calm down, nerds.

Let’s consider the equation A – B < C.

  • A = amount of anxiety created and energy depleted while socializing
  • B = how much I want to see this person again.
  • C = how much I enjoyed the socializing

These parameters must be true in order to consider the date successful. If we substitute in the numbers, the problem becomes clear

1,000,000 – 15 < 30
999,985 < 30

That is simply untrue. A – B < C is never true.

Social Anxiety is tough. I don’t want to spend time with others but am also kind of lonely. I don’t want to spend time with myself, which is simply impossible unless I’m at the movies. But until we start living like Theodore Twombly, there is no in between.

Ultimately, this is another case of not knowing what is real and what is anxiety – what do I want? And what is realistically achievable?

 

I am broken.

robot
Then I try to think about potential upsides. What happens if I meet someone I do like? How long it will take to reveal how broken I am?

There’s no easy way to say, “Hey buddy, I get super anxious and super depressed. There are months where I need to cordon myself off like a crime scene or wild animal. It’s not great. Sooooo it was nice to meet you but you don’t want to get involved with this bag of crazy.”

It’s just not fair to bring another person into my life right now. What’s the saying – that you need to love yourself before you can love anyone else? Is that even true? Or do other people help you love yourself? I’m starting to ask a lot of questions.

Maybe the first step is to hate myself a little less.

 

Self-esteem is tricky.

When necessary, I can be delightful.

I call this delightful personality my “tour guide mode,” since it stems from the fake persona I adopted as a college tour guide. I’m engaged, inquisitive, enthusiastic, funny, a little sarcastic, capable of speaking for minutes at a time.

Tour guide mode is exhausting and unsustainable. It’s essentially forced hypomania.

I date these gentlemen under tour guide mode because it’s the way I interact with strangers. It places a barrier between myself and others. It matters less whether you like or dislike tour guide mode because it’s not really me. Failure is less of a blow.

But translating from tour guide mode to myself doesn’t work. In comparison, myself…sucks. I feel terrible so much of the time – it’s not fair to subject anyone to my consistently terrible mood. I’m better off spending time alone.

Added to that, it takes me at least six months to be comfortable with a new person, i.e. enough to consistently be “myself,” and that’s simply too long. These barriers apply as much to new friendships as new relationships.

 

Society, man. Oof

Part of the trouble is society. Dating and relationships fall under that “things that people do” umbrella.

It’s tough to watch the overwhelming majority of people follow particular patterns while personally feeling removed from that pattern. So I ask myself, “Ok. This is a thing that people do. Is it something that I do?

gnome1

This isn’t me.

This idea of whether you fit into societal norms is surely something with which we all struggle. So how do you think about it? Where do you find yourself going against societal norms and how do you deal with it?

Social Anxiety and Dating Posts:
Part 1 – my all-time most popular post
Part 2

The Unbearable Brightness of Being

I measure my levels of depression in various ways.

Heavy or Light. High energy or low. White noise or clear.

Dark or bright.

Dark/bright is hard to explain. It’s not just that I feel dark. It’s like light levels change depending on my mood. For example, when I try to remember the day I told the headshrinker about the suicidal thoughts, my recollection of her office is really dark – like half the lights were off. Dark/bright has absolutely nothing to do with actual light levels, just my perception of them.

But dark/bright is an imperfect measure because dark equals bad but bright does not equal good.

Today is really bright but I don’t feel bright, light, high energy, clear or good. I feel confused. There is a ton of chatter in my brain and I’m having trouble concentrating. My energy levels are low and I’m having trouble leaving my bed.

But it’s bright.

Days like this are frustrating because brightness should equate to feeling better. I put extra pressure on myself to feel better when everything is bright and get extra frustrated when I fail.

It’s like when spring and summer roll around and you see people outside enjoying themselves – you can see it but you can’t feel it or experience it.

This is the point of my mood cycle where I want to feel worse. I’ve been stuck in the middle section for too long – I feel nothing in the middle section. I want to feel worse because at least it will be something. And I can’t reach those couple good days until I get through the worst days.

brooklyn bridge park nyc

It doesn’t help that it was actually bright today.

My Brain is Taffy Paired with Brown Noise

I continue to struggle with pairing adjectives to my emotional state, but I can usually come up with a weird visual/aural analogy.

For example, my brain feels like taffy.

Everything is being pulled and twisted. There’s so much happening in my head that I can’t manage to do anything (get outside, read, clean). I can’t focus. It’s frustrating because it’s exhausting but not tiring. I wind up staring into space for much of the day because I don’t have energy to use on anything else.

The taffy is paired with brown noise. This is the noise I play while trying to fall asleep because it most closely echoes what my frenzied, muddled thoughts feel like.

For a quick trip into my brain, play both videos simultaneously (with the sound off on the taffy video)!

Visiting the Doctor When You Have Social Anxiety

Doctor visits are stressful. You have to explain your issue correctly, answer questions, take tests, await results, and take medications.

It’s enough to make anyone anxious.

Doctor visits when you have Social Anxiety are difficult because, in addition to the normal stressors, you have to call to make the appointment, sit in a crowded waiting room, talk to multiple people, and avoid having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the office…among other things.

For me, the worst is explaining your situation. My mind completely blanks – I manage to stammer out a few sentences but I completely downplay the issues, so the doctors are left thinking,

Why is this weird half-mute person even here? What she’s saying isn’t even a medical issue. She needs to be in an art supply store.

Because it takes me at least six months to become even remotely comfortable with a stranger, I needed to develop a nonverbal way to communicate with medical professionals.

Tips and Tricks

1. Keep Notes

I keep daily notes in my phone to bring to the headshrinker each week. Because I was forgetting anything I wanted to say and then getting too anxious to speak at all, the headshrinker and I decided that I’d bring notes each week to use as a jumping point. I still have many issues with forgetting and talking but it’s been useful.

 

2. Track Stuff

One of my anxiety safety behaviors is taking my heart rate – I do it at least five times a day. As such, I noticed immediately when my medication was causing a heart rate increase. This way, I felt like I had more credibility than just saying “my heart is beating faster” and relying on the single reading from the office visit as evidence.

doctors office prep

These are my notes for tomorrow’s psychiatrist visit where I need to talk about my elevated heart rate..because it’s happening again. Blerg.


 

3. Use Questionnaires

If it’s your first visit, sometimes it’s helpful to bring in results from questionnaires. The PHQ-9 (Depression) and GAD-7 (Anxiety) are probably the most commonly used. For Social Anxiety, the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test is very helpful.

Sometimes it helps to take these at normal intervals and track changes. I find this to be unhelpful because I memorize the questions and my previous responses…essentially, I can’t help but cheat.

 

4. Mutter “I’m Pretty Anxious Right Now”

This is the most difficult. It’s easier if you have something written. Heck, even if your notes say, “Hi, I get really anxious at doctor’s appointments and forget what I want to say. Here are my notes.” But if you can manage to tell someone – nurse, doctor, etc. – that you are anxious, then it might make it easier to talk.

Actually – here. I’ve done it for you. Good luck!

 

Download Doctor’s Visit Notes Sheet

I don’t want to be alive anymore.

I like to think that I’m not the typical suicidal person. I’m 29. I have a full-time job and attend graduate school part-time. I’ve never attempted suicide nor have I been hospitalized. I go to therapy and have tried many medications. But somewhere along the way my anxiety and depression turned into Anxiety and Depression, the kind that can’t be treated with meditation and yoga, the kind that causes your psychiatrist to recommend electroshock therapy.

At first, I was certain that I would never kill myself – I was too curious about how things would turn out for me and for my loved ones. Then suicide became a certainty. I stopped being curious about myself. Eventually, I stopped being curious about other people. Everyone around me was following predictable life progressions so I didn’t have to wonder about them. Guilt replaced curiosity: I couldn’t kill myself because I didn’t want to anger and disappoint anyone.

But that reason is becoming less convincing. I’m only staying alive so that others aren’t upset? It’s not enough.

Imagine taking an hour to drag yourself out of bed only to stare blankly into space all day because leaving the bed depleted all your energy. Then you think, “I just need to do something enjoyable” so you eat delicious food, read a great book, go to the movies, have sex, take a nap, watch some tv, etc. But instead of feeling pleasure, you feel nothing.

Soon nothing is pleasurable and formerly pleasurable activities make you feel worse, but you feel like you should continue because… what’s the alternative? Suicide. Then repeat this for ten years.

Not an hour goes by without thinking about killing myself. I can’t cross the street without hoping and picturing that I’ll get hit by a car. It feels unsafe to keep sharp objects or too many pills in the house, but I do anyway – just in case. As such, I don’t feel safe at home. I need to take sleeping pills to avoid lying awake too long because lying awake makes me agitated, agitation makes me impulsive, and impulsivity leads to suicide.

There are layers to my suicidality. I call them text thoughts, images, urges, and planning thoughts. The text thoughts repeat ad nauseam: “I want to kill myself. I want to kill myself. I want to kill myself.” The images flash quickly: jumping in front of subway cars or falling out windows. Urges are more subtle, like feeling the blood running through my veins. The planning is practical: “I need to write a list of who gets my belongings.”

I’ve had these thoughts for so long that many of them are benign – sometimes I forget that most people aren’t suicidal.

At first, the suicidality made me feel sad. Now, I feel ashamed because I’m not strong enough to control it. I’m ashamed because I lost – it’s just a matter of time before suicide wins. I’m ashamed because I’ve accepted the defeat. Mostly, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t win.

 
IMG_1416
 

Things to Say to Someone With Depression, Anxiety, et. al.

Every night while laying in bed waiting to fall asleep, I am bombarded for hours with negative, bullying, anxious, suicidal thoughts. Those few hours between arriving home and falling asleep are very difficult to manage.

Like tonight, I write this at 6:55pm and I’ve finished all I need for the day. All I want is to be asleep because the thoughts are too fast and too furious.

It’s so chaotic and overwhelming that I can’t concentrate so I end up listening to mindless tv, podcasts, or movies until the sleeping pills kick in. The trouble is that these mindless activities are a poor distraction.

One of the few rational thoughts during the chaos is –

What would make me feel better right now?

And the quick answer is I don’t know.

pursuit of magic dumbo brooklyn nyc

sidewalk in DUMBO

I find myself scouring Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, academic journals…anything, looking for something to calm the chaotic thoughts.

The trouble is that I really have no sense of what specific words or actions would help, so my scouring is frantic. And the longer I scour, the more frantic I become…and being frantic definitely doesn’t help me to fall asleep.

But really -

What would make me feel better right now?

borough hall brooklyn bust nyc

(Sidebar: I didn’t edit this at all. Cool, right?)

We see countless articles or images explaining How Not to Make Your Depressed Friend Feel Worse or 5 Ways to Comfort Your Anxious Buddy! I googled “what to say with a depressed person” and got nearly 74 million results.

These articles suggest you say things like

I hesitate to judge whether suggestions are helpful or unhelpful – everyone’s experiences are different so surely what we find comforting will be different.

For instance, I read the Buzzfeed “21 Comics That Capture The Frustrations Of Depression” listiscle and thought, “Yep, this is pretty much it exactly.” But didn’t find it comforting, i.e. it’s not something I bookmarked and return to for solace.

It probably would have been comforting when I was seeking commiseration.

But I’ve been depressed for too long to seek commiseration. When you’re first depressed and you don’t really understand what’s happening, then you need those comics, those quotes, those essays. You need them so you can say, “Ok. I’m not alone in this.”

I’m passed that now. Now, I need the next step of “Ok, you get it…Now tell me what will make it better.” And that’s why I scour the internet.

brooklyn dumbo manhattan bridge nyc

DUMBO, Brooklyn

But what am I really looking for? Distraction? Hope? Sympathy? Reassurance? Serenity?

I don’t really know. The only way I can describe it is “something that will make me feel better” but I can’t explain what “feeling better” means.

I posed the question on Facebook and got two responses:

  • I just wish someone was there to listen to me ramble on about all the things that do make me happy.
  • I just need to be with someone, do things to pass time, talk about it. Anxiety, well I usually just want to deal with it myself.

And those are great. To be able to verbalize specific needs is really great. Please feel free to comment with what makes you feel better.

Jane's Carousel brooklyn dumbo brooklyn bridge park nyc

Jane’s Carousel, Brooklyn Bridge Park

In the absolute ideal world, what would help?

Do I want someone with me? Do I want to be alone? Do I want to talk? Do I not want to talk? Do I want to listen? Do I not want to listen? Do I want to be at home? Do I not want to be at home?

To what degree can I let my guard down?

I’ve been stewing on this post for a while because originally I wanted to create a list of things I find helpful.

I wanted to write a list of words I find comforting, schedule them as tweets, and let myself re-read them every night as I scour the internet.

But I failed to come up with any words. I have nothing.

atlantic avenue brooklyn heights nyc

Brooklyn Heights

I know that it’s frustrating for those who have tried to help because I’m terrible:

  • I lie about whether or not I need help.
  • The worse I feel, the less I talk.
  • I don’t know what’s wrong.
  • I won’t ask for help because it feels like weakness and
  • don’t know how they can help/don’t think they can help.
  • I feel bad all the time – there are maybe 20 days in a year where I am not miserable.
fine

I’m this person. Sorry. Truly.

I’m this person.

And this is yet another post that reaches no real conclusion because the conclusion should be my realization of what would be comforting.

But this post is nothing. It’s nothing -

it’s a reflection on how the rest of my life feels -
It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world.

Blerg.

Energy Levels, Presenteeism, and Into the Crevasse

Energy Levels

normal

This is how a normal human uses their daily energy allotment.

me

This is how I use mine.

 

Presenteeism

Because all my energy is dedicated to dealing with my thoughts, I’ve been merely present everywhere: work, class, homework, headshrinking. I show up and do the minimal amount to get by.

I’m afraid of what will happen if I try to engage without energy.

There is a reserve, but it’s risky and unstable. I’m afraid that I’m going to freak out and yell, cry, faint, throw things, have a panic attack, or otherwise respond inappropriately to the situation.

danger

Let’s say, for instance, that I panic-cry at work, an endlessly terrifying prospect.

  • I would start weeping and not know how to control myself.
  • Others wouldn’t know how to respond but would try anyway, which would make me feel worse because I don’t want their pity.
  • Presumably, I’d stop crying at some point.
  • Then I’d have to deal with the fallout – questions, concern, pity, etc.
  • I’d be humiliated for days, weeks, months, years. I would think about it constantly. I’d never get over it. Unacceptable.

 

Into the Crevasse

Sometimes the way back up is down. Let me tell you a story.

It’s 1994. I went ice climbing, and I fell into a crevasse. I hurt my leg, and I couldn’t climb back up. So fighting every natural instinct, doing the thing that seemed most awful to me, I climbed down into the darkness. And that’s how I got out.

When I got back to base camp, I went and found my fellow climber, the one who had cut me loose after I fell. And I said, “Connie Chung, you did the right thing.” – Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock

Jokes aside, my mood cycle is just that – a cycle. The pattern proves that I have to feel worse before I can feel better. I know the pattern. I know how this works.

But existing in the red zone never gets less scary. Even rationally knowing that the red doesn’t last forever, that going into the crevasse is necessary, offers no comfort.

danger

My thoughts are too fast and too furious. They’re too convincing. They focus too much on suicide. They drain all my energy.

I can’t push back. I can barely cope. I can exist.

Blog for Mental Health Project

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Read more about the Blog for Mental Health Project.

Part of the pledge is to “include in your post as little or as much as you would like about your experiences with mental health.” Last year, I wrote about why I write.

This year, I’m struggling to write something meaningful or inspirational because I feel neither of those things. Instead, I’m just going to share some things I’ve found impactful.

The Maria Bamford Show

via film.com

 

Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share


 
Maria Bamford: Ask Me About My New God

 
The Fear Project

via The Fear Project

 

Thought Catalog: 10 Lies Depression Tells You, by Anne Theriault
lizard
 
The Atlantic: This is Anxiety
stop