Chemicals.

It’s always so strange when life comes to a screeching halt and it’s not until that point that you’re able to look around and ask yourself “What the fuck is all of this?”

I’ve been here before. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, but its equally as jarring as the first time. And the second time. And the third. I have a love/hate(how ironic) relationship with psych meds. I’ve been through so many at this point. Brands. Doses. Combinations. Antidepressants. Antipsychotics. Antianxiety. Mood stabilizers. Some have almost killed me(Lithium) and some have made me want to kill myself(Lexapro). Some have done their job well(Wellbutrin). One I’ve had a long, exhausting love affair with(my sweet, sweet Ativan). One made me essentially narcoleptic(Latuda). That’s not even all of them, or the worst of it all.

I had been taking my current cocktail (Welbutrin and Trileptal) for close to two years when I switched medication managers. A medication manager is basically a doctor that prescribes my meds and checks in with me every few months, but isn’t necessarily a psychiatrist. So, I switched people close to three months ago and in our first visit she doubled my Wellbutrin dose. Great, right? A little extra boost? Wrong. So, so fucking wrong.

She warned me. She said there’s a slight chance I would become more paranoid or manic. She said the other possibility would be that my anxiety would go down immensely and my mood would improve with that. I took the chance because I could feel the slippery slope of depression coming on.

The outcome has not been in my favor and I didn’t realize how damaging the results have been until today.

In retrospect, I’ve lost all sense of impulse control or mood regulation over the last few months. Impulsive spending. Impulsive self harm urges. Impulsive word vomit. Unsafe behaviors. Larger than life emotions that I have no semblance of control over. A mood that swings between ecstatic to loving to anger to rage. I’ve been doing things that I know are out of the realm of normal and reasonable behavior from my self.

The last few days have probably been the worst of it. I realized tonight that I haven’t taken my mood stabilizer since Sunday night. I had skipped a few nights the week before as well. I’ve created a recipe for disaster at this point.

So at this point, the plan is to cut back on my Welbutrin and call my med person as soon as possible, and to get back on my Trileptal consistently. In my attempt to keep my head up out of suffocating depression, I put a fire under my ass and have been sprinting ever since.

Time to put out the fire and slow the fuck down again.

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Nothing can prepare you for losing a pet. Even if you think you’re ready, you’re probably not.

Over the last few years, I’ve been preparing to lose my dog Winstan. If you’ve ever met me, you know that I have an ancient, blind, three-legged, bulletproof pug at home. Winstan is very old for a dog of his breed, let alone for a dog that has underwent the amount of physical trauma that he has. With his aging, I have been trying to mentally prepare myself for the day I wake up and I find him in his bed, cold and breathless. It’s morbid, but every day I wake up and I check to see if he’s still breathing. Throughout the day I will pause as I walk by and hold my breath until I see the rise and fall of his body.

I was not prepared for Vespa to be the first one to go. I was not prepared to be the one to find her dead on the side of the road, a mere hundred yards from my house. I was not prepared for my son to ask me where his dog is. I was not prepared to deal with a panicked Winstan, frantically searching the house for his best friend. I was not prepared to lose one of the few beings that has been there for my day to day for so long.

I’ve lost family members. I’ve lost a best friend. I’ve lost other important people in my life. But nothing compares to losing this dog. She was so sweet and loving to my whole family. She was Winstan’s guardian and companion. She had been my guardian and had come to rescue me countless times. I don’t feel safe without her here.

I don’t know how I’m going to cope with this. I feel so helpless and powerless.

Little Words: Patti

A few days ago, I went to work. Anymore, getting out the door to my job is a difficult task. I hate my job. I get berated by strangers for things out of my control, I’ve been doing the same thing for 5 years now, and I just don’t feel like I’m properly compensated for the work I do. About a year ago, I had the same opinions and decided that going back to college was the only way I was going to get out of working retail. I had been to college before, but dropped out and that’s how I ended up in retail in the first place.

So now here I am at my day job playing Russian Roulettle. Who is this next customer I’ll be matched up with? People from every possible walk of life come into my work day to day. Lawyers, Poly students, homeless people, Joe Schmo and his five kids, artists, angry people, happy people, techies, and people that “don’t know what a WiFi is”. I’ve been offered jobs and have had my physical wellbeing threatened. I’ve been invited to participate in fundraisers and join a Renaissance guild. I never know what I’m walking into when I walk into work.

A few days ago, I met Patti. She’s a regular at my work, but I had never helped her before. I got set up with her and through our interaction, she told me she had bought a few things for school from us. I had to ask her what she was going to school for because that’s just what I ask everyone.

Paralegal.

Patti had grown up traveling the world as a child. An Army brat. She grew up to also join that Army as an adult and rose through the ranks to Colonel. After leaving the military, she acquired a doctorate in Psychology. She spent many years working with Veterans with PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health problems. She has since worked for many mental health organizations in the area. She is a patient’s rights advocate and wants to become a lawyer specializing in Veteran legal issues. She’s been a student over the last fifty years. She turns 70 this year.

We spent several hours of my shift talking about school and careers. I gave her a bit of my background and told her I was studying Psychology.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t really know exactly. I do know I want to work with at risk teens and/or the homeless.”

We spoke on different aspects of mental health and theories of psychology. She gave me a few book recommendations and her business card. She gave me a better pep talk than most guidance figures in my life. It was really refreshing and a great boost of confidence. She said to give her a call if I need help finding volunteer work or getting a foot in the door at any of the organizations in town that I might want a job at.

“You like learning and know how to talk to people. You’re going to be a doctor.”

I had almost called out of work that day. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m really looking forward to speaking with her again someday.

Online Dating and Murder

Fasten your seatbelts kids. This is going to be a wild one.

So…..a few months ago, during a heated last session with my therapist, he told me that weird shit happens to be because I invite psychopaths into my life. I was part offended and part in shock at this statement. Who seeks out psychopaths on purpose? I sure don’t.

False. I do. Not on purpose, but I’m some sort of shit magnet apparently. Over the years I’ve put myself in some compromising situations and it didn’t really hit home until today.

In my early adult years I went through a phase with my roommate where we did some online dating. For the most part we would just talk to people for entertainment and nothing more. It got boring so I decided to actually go out and meet one of these people. He seemed normal enough, so why not? We met for coffee because you always meet strangers in public places and this was the first person I had ever met on the internet. You always hear those horror stories about people getting catfished or abducted and murdered. But I’m smarter than that.

So I met this person and right off the bat I got a really bad vibe. Initially I thought it might have been nerves, but after minutes passed and the feeling didn’t l, I started to worry. This man gave me the heebee jeebees. At one point he decided to show me all of his prison tattoos and that’s when I decided to make my exit. He forced a hug from me, the creepiest, most skin crawling hug of my life, before we parted ways. I sat in my car for what seemed like forever before he left the parking lot. I didn’t want him seeing where I was going. I made it home without incident.

Over the next few years I would randomly cross paths with this man around town. The grocery store, WalMart, my psychiatrist’s office. Each time I’d see him somewhere I would casually walk the other direction, and he always ended up in the same aisles and same checkout lines as me. I could feel that creepy, bad feeling each time I saw him.

Flash forward: A few months ago, a woman named Kristen Marti went missing. Weeks later her corpse was found in Prefumo Canyon. She had been murdered.

Today, a man named Robert Koehler was arrested and charged with her murder. Premeditated and deliberate. They didn’t know each other.

That was the man I met for coffee.

I’m still in shock and somewhat upset. It feels dramatic, but I can’t help but think about how that could have been me. But, at the same time, I’m relieved to know that my gut instinct was right and saved me that time. It actually may have saved my life.

Trust your gut. Always.

I may attract psychopaths into my life, but I’m not entirely blind to them.

Little Words: Eddie

I don’t talk to strangers. I don’t like talking to strangers, at least I don’t anymore. Ten years ago, I’d go home with a stranger and not think twice about it. I was the kid that could get lured into the van with the promise of a puppy and some candy. Rarely do I reach out to talk to anyone new. For the most part, people approach me.

Through school, there have been people here and there that engage me anytime we cross paths. One to two people in each class, fairly consistently.

This semester I met Eddie.

Eddie is a middle-aged family man going to school to get a construction management degree. He has been attending community colleges on and off for the better part of two decades to try to get an Associates Degree. Tomorrow he graduates.

Eddie is from Thailand, born and raised. He came to the United States as a teenager. He is first and only language was Thai. Over the years he picked up English as a second language and Spanish as a third. Although he could speak decipherable but broken English, he struggle greatly to read and write it.

We met in my transfer level English class.

I got paired up with Eddie a few times over the semester to trade and review work. I was amazed at his grasp on the concepts that we were going over, but he wasn’t able to clearly construct sentences or paragraphs. I completely missed the point of most things we read, but could write a paper on basically nothing in my sleep. I taught him how to write a thesis sentence and off he went.

Today after our final, we talked for a little bit. This was our hurdle. Worlds away from each other in life and we managed to trudge through the last class that has been holding us both back from moving forward. Together. We shook hands and parted ways. Before he left, he told me to keep moving forward and not to give up. School is hard and even harder while trying to work and raise kids.

Although I avoid strangers, I live for these exchanges of little words. I struggle to keep motivated, to do better things, but these interactions give me a refreshment of perspective at the times when I really need them.

I wish the best of luck to Eddie and his journey towards the American Dream.

30 Days of DBT

I’ve been searching for the right words to explain my experience here. It’s been immersive and all consuming. I’ve tried chronicalling the daily struggles and successes, but that hasn’t done the experience justice. I’ve gathered lots of information and am now in charge of figuring our how to sort and categorize it all.

I’ll start with the basics. On October 23rd I was admitted to a residential DBT treatment facility following a severe and prolonged depressive episode. The facility I’m at specializes in the treatment of Mood and Personality disorders with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy primarily with supplemental therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Behavioral Activation, and Art Therapy.

I work with therapists in a group setting for the equivalent of an entire work day, for an entire work week. I see a psychiatrist and an individual therapist several times a week. I have, over the course of a few weeks here, dissected my life and identified a good deal of the damaged parts. I entered this program with my “documented diagnosis” as Major Depressive disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My new “documented diagnosis” as I leave here is Bipolar 1 disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety disorder. These diagnosises aren’t completely new information to me, but going over what they are and how they have potentially been affecting my life has been a hard pill to swallow.

My medication rollercoaster has continued. My lithium dose was raised again and, after a week, I was almost sent to the hospital. They lowered my dose back to what I was initially taking, and I still feel like shit, but not to the point where I feel like I’m dying. Welbutrin is the latest addition to my ever growing list of attempted solutions. I can honestly say, I feel closer to my baseline than I have in months, despite still feeling like I’m slowing being poisoned.

The facility I’m in is ran out of a building that used to be a convent. A nunery. The therapist offices are old bedrooms and the programming rooms range from regular auxiliary rooms to the chapel to the dining room. The house I’m living in is right next door. It’s a massive house that feels like one would imagine living in a model home would feel like. It’s cozy, but has glimpses of industrial bits. Almost like a hotel that has been cleverly disguised as a singular house. I live with seven other women at this point. Some are newer to the house and some have been here longer than I’ve been here and will stay long after I’m gone as well.

Now, this setting seems highly appropriate for the programs ran within it, because what they’re doing here feels close to, and slightly short of, being a cult. There is a certain dialect that is spoken that I don’t believe exists anywhere else. Everything is neutral. There is a list of forbidden items that are not to be spoken of. The STAT list. And the staff…..they corral us from place to place with a firm hand and half smile. Everyone that works here seems very kind, but they all have a level of clinical detachment among them. Like they’ve been brainwashed. Back to my cult theory…. what cult would be complete without it’s fearless leader. For us, that is Marsha Linehan. The people around here talk about this woman like she is god. Marsha is the creator of DBT and the author of the DBT manual that we are studying ever so diligently. Now, I’m not knocking the program, just the way we are being systematically indoctrinated with it.

The program has been quite eye opening. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is composed of four main modules: Mindfulness, Emotional Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness and Distress Tolerance. The main focus with all of these areas is to be mindful in your actions and interactions. There are also teachings about acting in line with your values that are a main focus as well. The mantra I keep hearing is about “a life worth living.” That’s the goal for us. Not necessarily happiness, but contentment and the will to continue. Personally, a lot of the work I’ve done here is about getting honest with myself and others. Expressing my thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or rejection. Early on here, I figured out that I’ve been living in a constant state of denial and avoidance. Denial and avoidance of my feelings. Rejection of my feelings as valid. Denial of blatant truths about situations in my life that I’ve spun to fit my vision. Denial of reality as it sits in front of my eyes. Mindfulness and validation have been my strongest tools. It’s all a work in progress, but I feel like I’ve found my footing here and I have been able to identify and outline areas that need work.

This grueling day to day work would be impossible without the support of my peers here. I felt very lonely when I first landed in this place and was resigned to not making any connections for fear of the inevitable departure down the road. That failed very quickly and I effortlessly bonded with a handful of the women here.

The first one was easy. We instantly clicked over our matching WuTang shirts. As days passed and I learned more about her, she struck a blinding resemblance to my younger sister. And suprise, suprise…. they’re the exact same age down to the day. We would spend the late evening hours outside, talking about all the things we weren’t allowed to talk about during the day. Sex, drugs, diagnosis, harm habits, the other clients stories, life stories that led us here and so on. She was a fountain of knowledge and gossip. At one point we went on a shark movie binge for several days. Most nights we could be found in the living room, laughing maniacally as people on TV were devoured by horrible CGI sharks. I grew to admire this stranger in a short period of time and I’m dreading the impending departure and the fact that I will never see her again once I leave this place.

I guess that’s a problem that I have with settings like this. Open honesty and vulnerability are expected and those circumstances generally create bonds between those that share those experiences. Attachment is as inevitable as later departure. These environments cultivate these connections, specifically between people that are prone to deep and fast emotional bonds, that feel genuine and comforting in the face of every other thing around being clinical and cold. We form these bonds for survival, only to shortly after have them ripped from us.

I’ve had to learn brutal honesty here and how to be honest when I don’t want to be. Several times a day we were asked about our emotions and distress level and then shuffled through course information and exercises that require full disclosure to be effective. That hadn’t bothered me so much. The part that severely got under my skin was that each day, I had to fill out a card for tracking my daily habits and urges. Every day I had to write on this piece of paper whether or not I was experiencing suicide ideation or self harm urges. Every. Single. Day. And I was honest when it came time to explain my answers to my therapist. But it deeply bothered me that it was something I had to do. I wasn’t allowed to forget that these were factors in my life. It felt a little dehumanizing. I wasn’t allowed to posses items such as tweezers or a pencil sharpener. Razors were completely out of the question. No nail clippers. No hair straightener. No aerosol products. I had my knitting needles temporarily revoked at one point. One girl had her jump rope taken away. If I wanted to use any of these items, I had to do a “check in” that basically meant I had to tell them that I was not in distress and was not experiencing and self harm urges. I gave up on asking to use any “sharps” because, to be honest, I couldn’t pass that check in on some days.

I learned how to be honest with others when my feelings were involved. I learned to express appreciation and gratitude to people that were virtually strangers to me. I learned how to be comfortable with verbally expressing love to other humans. I learned how to be honest with myself about what i was feeling. I learned how to be vulnerable in times that I usually wouldn’t be. I learned to be okay with whatever emotion I was feeling and sharing that and not feeling like I was going to be judged or looked down upon for it. I learned how to tell people to fuck off and get out of my space in a polite and effective, yet assertive, way.

I learned a lot in my 30 days of treatment, but I still have so much more to learn. I’ve caught my footing and have gained enough stability to start taking life on again: one step at a time. I’m fucking terrified and my constant state of emotion for the last day or so has been *screams internally* with a side of anxiety, terror, panic, fear and somewhere in there is a shred of hope. Hope is what I’ve been holding onto for the last year since this mission to better mental health commenced and it’s what I will continue to hold onto into the foreseeable future.

Freedom.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of reflecting lately and my mind has consistently been going to times where I felt a full sense of freedom. I’m learning that freedom is an essential part of human development and if you want to break a human or stunt their emotional growth, take away their freedom. I’m sitting in a proverbial cage and can’t help but try to rattle the bars a little bit. Memories of freedom are all that are keeping me composed for now.

The first moment of true freedom that I remember is from my first adult trip to San Francisco, the winter after I turned eighteen. A friend and I took off for a week to explore the city. The exact moment I felt flooded with joy and a sense of peace was when we stopped for a minute on one of those steep surface streets that had steps instead of sidewalks. We had been hiking around for a couple hours and needed to refuel our buzz. As we sat there on those steps, passing a wine bottle back and forth, we had the most beautiful view overlooking part of the city. I just remember the feeling of knowing there was no where else I had to be in that moment and there was no one else in the world I’d rather be sitting next to. The following days had shreds of that feeling intertwined into them, but nothing nearly as potent. 

The second memory I have of true freedom is from the night I spent camped out on the side of Madonna Mountain. I had left work for the evening and was supposed to stay at a friend’s house, but his brother kicked us out. I wasn’t quite equipped for bridge camping, so we settled for an open field away from people. As I lay there in the grass, all I could look at was the vast night sky. The stars were incredible and if I was still and concentrated, it felt like I was flying through space. The rest of the world dropped away from me. I was alone. It was just me and the sky. Space. Nothingness. It was oddly comforting. In that span of time, I felt free. I had no where else to be, nothing else to do, no one to answer to. There wasn’t as much joy associated with this memory, but there was an overwhelming feeling of relief and some serenity. 

There are many more glimpses of freedom woven through the time between all of these memories, but these are the most glaring examples. My third and strongest memory of freedom is from a very strange time in my life, just a few short years ago. During this period I had a job that I hated, I was chronically ill and had no answers from doctors, I was getting increasingly more frustrated with my living situation. I was in constant physical and emotional pain and more stressed out than I can recall having been in my entire life up to that point. And so I broke away from it all. I loaded up my car and ran away. For my health. For my sanity. I ran away to the mountains to stay with my sister for awhile. It took some adjusting, but once I did, there was no where else I wanted to be. This place was paradise. And here is the exact moment I felt freedom…. The only running water on the property was from the garden hoses and there was really no privacy anywhere but the garden and fruit orchard. It was the tail end of summer, so it was still hot enough outside to shower with the hose and not freeze to death. A few days after my arrival it came time to finally shower. My sister showed me the set up (hose, ladder, soap, trees that need to be watered) and left me there in the orchard. Now, these trees were situated on the side of a hill and this hill overlooked a valley and across this valley was some more hills. That was where the sun would set. I stripped down between the trees and got hosed off. The sun started to go down and by the end of my shower it was starting to set across the valley. As I stood there watching the sunset across the valley, naked and wet with mud on my feet and leaves in my hair, I felt free. I had another instance of the world dropping away. I was flooded with awe, joy, amazement, happiness and an overwhelming sense of freedom. In that moment I knew I had made the right choice to close the previous chapter of my life and start a new one. 

These are the times in my life that I chase. Lately it’s been a little more difficult, but I still have the fire burning inside. I still have that drive. I cling to these memories to remind myself that good things happen in my life. The ups are definitely more rare than the downs, but they are exponentially more powerful.