Nine Months Out, or How Medicating and Talking About Bipolar is Really As Tough As They Say

Nine Months Out, or How Medicating and Talking About Bipolar is Really As Tough As They Say

CW: Oblique references to suicidal ideation, Bipolar, medications, mental illness as a whole

People really don’t know what to do with me. After I was diagnosed with Bipolar II last fall as well as ADHD (finally) I’ve been running the marathon of medication.

I was told at the beginning “it usually takes about a year to get things all figured out and properly medicate people with Bipolar.” I both deeply believed it to be true, but I also hoped that I would be some wunderkind who would smash those averages. It was incomprehensible to me that I would continue to feel as utterly hopeless as I felt at the end of last summer into early fall. I honestly didn’t know if I could make it. This is no overstatement.

As I had written about in February, every moment of my existence in my brain was agony that can’t be fully expressed unless you’ve been there yourself. The vibrating chattering nondescript noise that makes it too loud to think, but at the same time having a loop of the worst fears of dread I’ve ever felt. Intrusive thoughts playing the “greatest hits” of my human experience, and utter desolation that nothing would ever get any better. I wrote at length about it to paint a horrifyingly visceral portrait of what it’s like to live with a brain like mine, but I think that scared people.

Continue reading “Nine Months Out, or How Medicating and Talking About Bipolar is Really As Tough As They Say”

On How My Life Finally Makes Sense or, Surprise, I Have Bipolar 2

On How My Life Finally Makes Sense or, Surprise, I Have Bipolar 2

Preface

This essay….memoirlet? Super-sized blog post? has been months in the making. I’ve compiled it from notes from my phone written in my deepest depressions, barely able to have the energy or mental cognition to do so. It’s partly from a borderline manic night of writing right after my diagnosis, in a flow that I felt nearly completely unhinged, to waiting two months to read it because I was terrified that I would just sound batshit crazy, to reading it in a slightly more “sane” mind, to attempting to pare down the slightly-over-12-single-spaced-page piece but only ending up making it longer. Its journey into the public sphere began with sharing it with my therapist, mother and partner, to wondering if I should try to break it up into installments, to deciding “fuck it, I’m just going to dump it all at once.”

So I serve it up to you as a multi-course meal, full of sludge and static and Heaven and Hell and jagged-turned-to-gruel-turned-to-jagged with just a glimmer of sweetness at at the end. Do with it what you will. Read it or bail now. It’s a lot, both length-wise and emotionally and I completely get it.

And here’s where I’m going to dump a whole lot of content warnings:

CW: Suicidal ideation, self injury, invasive and obsessive thoughts and spirals, repetition of profanity, brief mention of calorie counting, mental illness, depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, depersonalization, dissociation, derealization, Evangelicalism, sexual anatomy, the Devil, spiritual warfare, vivid depictions of depression, hypomania, anxiety, physically graphic analogies for mental illness involving viscera

In January 2020, I wrote, “I feel like there’s something so fundamentally flawed and different about me. I feel like if I find the correct diagnosis, it will crack me wide open and I can research it and I can learn how to live a life with the proper knowledge and help.

Continue reading “On How My Life Finally Makes Sense or, Surprise, I Have Bipolar 2”

Searching for Sonta, or How Discovering My Great Grandmother’s Institutionalization Helped Me Find My Place in the Family

Searching for Sonta, or How Discovering My Great Grandmother’s Institutionalization Helped Me Find My Place in the Family

I’ve had struggles with depression and anxiety for forever.  I went on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds when I was 17, a full half lifetime ago.  And last month, I learned that my struggles, which always seemed deeper than “‘just’ anxiety and depression” were actually Bipolar 2.  

Whenever I would meet with a new therapist or GP or psychiatrist, they would ask me about my family history of mental illness.  And I wouldn’t really know what to say.  That wasn’t something my family really talked about.  I would always say that my paternal grandmother who died when I was 8 was considered a “major worry wart” which I translated to having some pretty severe anxiety issues.  

Me and my Grandma Esther, 1987

And, a couple years ago, I learned that her mother, my dad’s grandmother, had been institutionalized for the last 20 years of her life.  

“But that’s because a cheating husband gave her syphilis which caused major deterioration of her brain which caused her to go mad,” it was explained.  “That’s why she was adopted and raised by her aunt and uncle.”

As much as I know that my family was not intentionally perpetuating lies, that explanation never sat right with me.  I knew that syphilis took 10-20 years to get to that point, and she was only in her mid twenties when she was admitted to the Kalamazoo State Hospital (formerly the Michigan Asylum for the Insane.)  

“View of Michigan Asylum for the Insane, Kalamazoo” Map of Kalamazoo Co., Michigan. Philadelphia: Geil & Harley, 1861. Library of Congress

I looked into the possibility of obtaining her medical records from the institution, but the chances of them still being around 80 years later was pretty slim, not to mention the fact that I would need to secure a lawyer to petition a judge to grant a formal request (before knowing if the records actually existed) even if it was a long deceased relative. 

I learned about this two years ago when I started my search into the genealogy of my family, but then I fell into the deepest depression cycle of my entire life for the next two years.  

Along with my diagnosis came newfound energy and determination to find out what happened to “Cynthia ‘Sonta’ Amanda Helena Karthaeus/Kartheus/Karthens/Semeyn.”  

I have always felt like the black sheep of the family and was desperate to find some more information about this woman.  Maybe she held some more secrets that would illuminate my family history. 

Continue reading “Searching for Sonta, or How Discovering My Great Grandmother’s Institutionalization Helped Me Find My Place in the Family”

On The Dark Void of the Future, or Fuck Depression and My Broken Brain

On The Dark Void of the Future, or Fuck Depression and My Broken Brain

CW:  Suicidal ideation, Evangelical Christianity, descriptive passages about major depressive episodes

The time has come once again for me to purge my thoughts and emotions the best way I know.  Writing is like some strange form of soul-colonic cleansing for me.  It always has been.  I’ve written before that it rips me apart and stitches me back together again.

It’s like the thoughts and concepts that are constantly rattling and buzzing and humming and yelling around my head are made real in their acknowledgement on the physical or virtual page.

Therapy and Trauma Stuff

I started therapy for the first time in earnest last fall.  I had met with a few therapists over the last decade before for “spot treatment” in times of extreme crisis but I had never clicked with anyone, or had the time or money.

I also resisted the idea for a long time because I am already extremely self-aware and didn’t really see the point.

But when I broke spectacularly over the winter, partially provoked by a traumatic event in my partner’s family, I realized how much work I had to do, and that I finally had an idea of how to go about it.

The past nine months I have been various sort of functional and non- and it was no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic and revolution and the complete idiocy of our country’s leadership during this precarious time.

I have learned that healing is not linear at all.  And I have realized that everything can be fine and then one thread is pulled and then it’s like a magician’s handkerchief trick where the memories and feelings and traumas just keep coming and coming.

A lot of people have a weird feeling about the word “trauma.”  I definitely did.  I hadn’t experienced physical assault before and had a good childhood with an amazing family.  I’ve been extremely privileged in a great deal of my life.  I didn’t feel I could claim it.  But in an Exvangelical support group, someone told me “often it’s the people who don’t think they have trauma or aren’t sure if theirs qualifies that are the most traumatized.”

It was freeing to be able to call some of my life experiences traumatic.  Learning more about trauma responses in the body put so much of my life in perspective.  And in having a name for my experiences, it helped me figure out how to deal with them.

I coined the term “emotional slingshot” for myself the other day.  The more emotionally unstable I am with my anxiety and depression, the more wildly my moods vacillate.  It feels like I’m riding a bucking bronco of emotions and I just have to hang on for dear life.

I feel everything so deeply and the pain of the world permeates me like I am a thin membrane.  I am constantly torn between throwing myself tirelessly into activist work and realizing I’m pouring from an empty cup.  And then the guilt that follows because I feel like I’m letting everyone down.

I’ve talked with my partner about how, some times, I feel like I’m so desperate to help and “fix” others in a way that’s actually a bit self serving because if they stop hurting, I can too.  I feel like my own well being is linked closely with theirs.  And I also know this isn’t healthy but I’m still trying to figure out how to be able to separate myself without turning off all of my empathy.  I struggle with the grey, with the nuance.

My therapist told me the other day that she’s found that a lot of people are retreating back emotionally to their March selves as they look at the current state of our country and the pandemic that half the country doesn’t seem to care about.  And I’ve definitely found this to be the case as well.

Exodus from Evangelicalism 

I’m also finding myself extremely triggered by the heartless and hypocritical reactions of the Religious Right.  I am seeing, more baldly than ever, exactly why I left the church.  It is laid out openly and there is a reckoning.   I am seeing a huge influx of new members in my Exvangelical chat groups, talking about how Christians are viewing this pandemic or Black Lives Matter or Trump was the final straw for them.

People are finally seeing what I’ve been seeing for over a decade and realizing that it’s unacceptable.  People are being excommunicated from their families because they realized that they could not live with themselves if they stayed.  And my heart breaks for them all because I deeply understand.

My heart breaks for my dad who realized that a political statement of not wearing a face mask at his church of 35 years was more important than his fragile immune system.

My heart breaks for my mom who left her job teaching home schoolers science classes for 25 years because they refused to mandate masks, even with her biblical and scientific evidence about how wearing a mask is the safe as well as Christ-like thing to do.

My loved ones, deeply enmeshed in these communities that preached love and family and God for decades, have found how disposable they were if their beliefs didn’t align.

I don’t wish for anyone to experience this pain, but I am so, so grateful that people are waking up.  I see the struggle and know the betrayal.  It’s been over a decade since I started doing the “slow fade” from the church, and I’m still feeling betrayed.  More betrayed than ever, in fact.

I also hate talking about it because I know that it makes many of my loved ones uncomfortable.  But I keep thinking of myself as a bridge.  I’m ready to help lead you across whenever you’re ready.  I will help show you the way because I have tramped down the underbrush already.  I have hacked my way with a machete, though the vines still sometimes wrap around me and threaten to pull me back into the abyss.

Fuck Depression and also Letting Go of Financial Control to the Patriarchy

Like I said above, healing isn’t linear.  Since March, I have experienced a few of the best days I’ve had in over a year.  But I have also experienced many of the darkest I’ve ever had.

The kind of days when you can’t stop crying and literally cling to your partner, feeling like if you’re not physically anchored to them you’re liable to just drift away.  Where you experience nearly constant nausea because your anxiety is fluttering in your throat and there’s a general feeling of dread and doom, and that dread and doom is actually a real threat.  And then you just continue to play Existential Whack-A-Mole in both waking and sleeping.  This is your life now.  Wheeeeeeee.

The kind of days when living doesn’t seem to be appealing.  Pointless.  Like there’s no future that one could possibly conjure up, just a dark void in the distance that threatens to rip me to shreds.  Like just being gone would mean at least things would stop hurting.  Never enough to actually do it, but enough to wish it every single day for weeks on end.  That everything is so unsure and hazy and I feel that my career and future have been stolen from me.  And that I am left with nothing but my partner and the securities he can provide for me.

Last year was mostly spent reconfiguring and reformatting my expectations about my future and we had finally made a plan. My partner and I were going to start trying for a child right about now.  This was going to hopefully be my last year at work before I would be a Stay at Home Mom.

And with the huge health risks and uncertainty of the long term implications of COVID-19, we have decided to hold off until a vaccine is available.

And now it’s unsure if I will still have a job this fall after all, and I won’t know until perhaps the day before my contract is supposed to start.

One of the big parts of my growth last year was becoming okay with the concept of depending on someone else (especially a man) for my finances.  I’ve done a lot of excavation about why this fills me with so much deeply entrenched dread, even though I have witnessed how my partner has continued to help his ex wife over the years and know that he’s definitely not the issue.

I trace it back to two sources:

  1. After I broke up with my extremely emotionally abusive codependent boyfriend my Sophomore year of college, I claimed my independence and autonomy above all else.  I have gotten in and out of huge amounts of credit card debt over the years, and have student loans out the ass for eternity, and I’ve never had much, but it was MINE and I did it myself.
  2. I still have a knee-jerk reaction against traditional Biblical gender roles and being financially reliant on a man is literally a woman’s God-ordained lot in life.  So it’s kind of triggering to imagine myself in such a traditional role, beholden in that way to a man.  Though I will say that this partnership is far more egalitarian and un-gendered than my same-sex marriage (my ex, as a Butch, had always dated extremely feminine girls and often viewed my androgynous nature as a threat sometimes to her “Southern Gentleman” persona.)

So I’m once again having to re-adjust my expectations for the future and literally have no idea if I’m starting work in a few weeks yet or not, or if I’ll have good health insurance past August 31st.

I currently find it almost unimaginable to see a bright future.  And I know that sounds dramatic, but when you’re in a major depressive episode, it’s nearly impossible to see a way out.  A little crack of light will sometimes surface for a half a day, but then it often disappears and leaves you in the pitch black void once again.   With little energy to fumble around in the dark, sometimes it’s most comfortable to just go to sleep there for a while and hope that when you open your eyes things will have gotten brighter.  Sometimes it is, but most of the times these days, it isn’t.   And then the self-flagellation and feelings of laziness and helplessness set in, which churns up a whole new spiral of emotions.

I feel like I have had to live and restart so many lives.  Like it’s broken into chunks and then the slate is wiped completely clean once again and I have to start over.  And I know that, to some extent, that’s life…but I’m exhausted.  I feel like I’ve lived so much more than so many others I know.  And maybe that’s just me.  Maybe I’m one of those people who can never feel truly happy.   But I just…really need a few good years.

My Bad, Broken Brain

I hate my bad, broken brain.  No matter how hard I try, the medications stop working, the therapy is too slow to keep up with the things that keep bubbling up after I removed the stopper last fall, and I just feel like I don’t have my thumb on what’s truly going on with me.

In March, I got a referral for a psychiatrist because I feel like there’s more going on than my GP can diagnose.  Then the quarantine happened.  I am 99.9% sure I have ADHD and it’s been more and more apparent how much it affects my life and productivity.  It’s also often found alongside depression and anxiety and trauma and the symptoms can all mirror each other.  But I’ve also been told that ADHD medications can exacerbate anxiety, which is the last thing I need right now.   But then…I’m not sure if there’s something else.

My huge mood swings have led me to wonder if I’m bipolar, but I also wonder if me feeling like I can accomplish things as a human is definitely not the same as manic episodes.  It’s probably just being functional.  Then there’s the possibility of Borderline Personality Disorder, but my therapist quite firmly believes that’s not the case.  Ugh, I don’t know.   I just feel deeply, hopelessly broken and until I can find something else to cling to, I’m just going to keep feeling lost.  But at any rate, I’m seeing my GP on Monday and hopefully we can figure out where to go from here.  She’s already indicated that at this point, if my meds weren’t working, she was out of her depth and I was going to have to see a psychiatrist anyway.  Hopefully I will still have good insurance to do so.  That little bonus bit of worry definitely doesn’t help my mental health, let me tell you.

The worst(?) part of all is that I have a pretty damn good life.  I have an amazing partner and family and other than my brain I’m quite healthy and I have a good place to live and enough to eat.  But that doesn’t matter to brain chemicals, turns out.  And that makes the self loathing worse because I feel guilty for feeling this terrible for and about myself.  I shouldn’t be struggling to live as much as I do.  I know this.  Ultimately, I know it’s not a competition but…  Mental illness can go fuck itself.

The entire trajectory of my life is currently out of my hands, and so I guess my current strategy of taking things one day at a time, one hour at a time, is how it’s gotta be.  *Raises a glass to take a Klonopin*

 

(Also if you’re struggling please know you’re not alone and I love you and understand deeply.)

On the Weaponization of Evangelical Christianity and the Cult of Trump, or: Wear Your Damn Mask if you Love Jesus

On the Weaponization of Evangelical Christianity and the Cult of Trump, or: Wear Your Damn Mask if you Love Jesus

OVERVIEW

This has been months in the making.  I have to hit a lot of different points but they generally fall into four parts:

Part One–The Isolation of Intersectionality*: In which I whine about how I feel like I’m in the middle of everything because I’ve seen “both sides” of the political conversation, as well as general hurt about the church. I also have a deep desire to want to change the hypocrisy that drove me away in the first place, but I often feel completely invalidated while speaking out because, in leaving the church, my views are deemed illegitimate.  Go with me on this one.  I know that it’s a lot but I think that it’s important to fully know where I’m coming from before I dive into this thorny subject.

*Intersectionality: a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities might combine to create unique modes of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality identifies advantages and disadvantages that are felt by people due to a combination of factors.  For the purposes of this piece, I’ll be focusing mainly on the intersections of my queer identity, current “liberal” politics (which I argue aren’t liberal but instead basic human rights) and past in Evangelical Christianity.

Part Two–The Weaponization of Christianity:  I discuss how the Religious Right is being flagrantly hypocritical regarding the “sanctity of human life” in their refusal to wear masks, peppered with two personal stories in which I am an angry daughter bear.

Part Three–The Cult of Trump: In which I share information about the hallmarks of cults and cult leaders and if you’re not convinced it mirrors the current political climate of the United States right now, your money back!

Part Four–What Can We Do?:  In which I especially charge those still within church communities to speak truth and model that old chestnut “WWJD” by advocating for mask wearing because it’s the loving and Christlike thing to do.  And generally just step up and be louder than those who are weaponizing Jesus’ name.

Deep breath.  Here we go.

Continue reading “On the Weaponization of Evangelical Christianity and the Cult of Trump, or: Wear Your Damn Mask if you Love Jesus”

On Week Six of Quarantine, or Stop Asking Me How I’m Doing Because This Is How I’m Doing

On Week Six of Quarantine, or Stop Asking Me How I’m Doing Because This Is How I’m Doing

when-you-find-out-your-nomal-daily-lifestyle-is-called-quarantine-meme

I keep meaning to write but every time I bring my mind to think about what I want and need to write about, I shut down and won’t allow myself to think about it. It’s self censoring. A mental block. A barrier between me and the collective trauma we are experiencing as a world.

I just can’t consider it. I don’t want to have to be confronted with attempting to fathom it. The weight of the world crushes me into a fine powder every time I dare peek my head outside my own very small world. Me, my partner, and our three cats.

Anything outside this circle is cherry-picked when I feel like I can handle interacting with others.

Keeping track is exhausting. Living is exhausting.

Continue reading “On Week Six of Quarantine, or Stop Asking Me How I’m Doing Because This Is How I’m Doing”

On The Goodness of Kitties, or A List Of Instagram Cats To Help Get You Through These Weird Times

On The Goodness of Kitties, or A List Of  Instagram Cats To Help Get You Through These Weird Times

If anyone knows anything about me, there’s usually a few identifying facts:

I’m the one with a shaved head.

I’m that person who never shuts up about mental health.

And I’m an obsessed cat mom.

img_2910-1
Me and my kiddo Winchester “Chet” the Dumpstercat

It’s been a really dark year for me, and good kitties on the internet have helped me through in a very real way. And now I share them with you!

Continue reading “On The Goodness of Kitties, or A List Of Instagram Cats To Help Get You Through These Weird Times”

On Facing the Pandemic, or What You Can Do When You Can’t Do Anything

On Facing the Pandemic, or What You Can Do When You Can’t Do Anything

I’ve been both at a loss for words while simultaneously processing at a mile a minute for the past few weeks as we’ve watched this pandemic ramp up.

There are no words.

I’d say at least 80-90% of my friends work in the entertainment industry, and more specifically, theatre. A profession that is only complete with an audience—I daresay that’s usually “a gathering of ten or more.” Furthermore, most theatre gigs are freelance.

I have doubted and questioned my luck countless times over the past few weeks, because, for the first time in my life, that is not the case for me.

Continue reading “On Facing the Pandemic, or What You Can Do When You Can’t Do Anything”

On Unstoppable Internal Downward Spirals or: An Insight into My Teenaged Mind

On Unstoppable Internal Downward Spirals or: An Insight into My Teenaged Mind

CW:  Invasive thoughts, thoughts of sexuality from my mind as a minor, hell, the Devil, Calvinism, repetition, repetition of profanity, mental illness, depression, anxiety, sexual anatomy, an accurate depiction of downward thought spirals (let me know if there’s anything else…it’s a whole lot…)

In this very intense time of self discovery and the exploration of my mind and memories, I’ve spent most of today free-writing.  And I ended up following an idea thread that became a recreation of  one of my mental spirals was like as a very conservative, anxious, depressed, very emotionally self-flagellating teenager.   What follows is a composite of a lot of the intrusive thoughts that were common for me during my (homeschooled plus supplemental classes with other homeschoolers) high school career.  I’m only realizing now how incredibly messed up and damaging this was.  

Continue reading “On Unstoppable Internal Downward Spirals or: An Insight into My Teenaged Mind”