Brain Over Mind: Dealing with Psychological Disorders

This is a story about how I have learned to conquer psychological disorders.  I still deal with a lot of this stuff every day, but I am slowly coming to terms with it which enables me to feel better. I have been in denial for so long about the things in my head and I have been too ashamed to talk about them with anyone, even my doctors.  I decided to write this (long) entry to reflect as briefly as I can on how my mentality has changed over the years. Hopefully someone can relate and feels encouraged by this.  The point of this entry is to reflect on my progress and remember that it’s okay to be told you have a disorder (or several) and that, in some ways, a disadvantage is actually an advantage.

1Seeing life through a different lens.

Last night, after dance class, I was expecting a call from a friend.  It never came.  Yet I somehow managed to pack up my ghilles, drive home, and read a couple of books without a fret.

For me, that is HUGE.

There was a time not so long ago (perhaps just weeks) that not getting a call from someone would have led to a complete breakdown.  I would have absolutely lost it.  It’s kind of hard to explain.  Yet I’ve managed to come to terms with it in my own head and it’s given me a huge grip on life.

THEY CALL IT “DIAGNOSIS”
I’ve struggled with my emotions, perfectionism, and self-hatred for a long time and always just assumed it was how everyone lives.  I just referred to it as my “inability to cope” and denied the help of doctors and psychologists.  Even after being diagnosed with a few disorders when I was 18, I still was in denial.  I was required to do counseling during college due to my declining physical health, increasing injury rate in athletics, and a series of mental breakdowns that led to bouts of what the doctors were calling “severe depression” with sudden swings of “anxiety” that were sometimes triggering paranoid episodes – basically, borderline bipolar.  I just scoffed at what they told me.  I didn’t want to hear it.

Despite being told these disorders are real and that it’s okay to have them, let’s just put you on meds and get you into counseling – I refused to accept defeat.  I’m not sure if it was denial if I seriously believed I was unable to cope, that it was all in my head – and not in the psychological-disorderly way.  As a reaction to being told there was something inherently “wrong” with me, I just kept denying the evaluations.  I didn’t want to admit to myself how I was feeling.  My doctor would ask a survey at the start of each appointment that rated how depressed or suicidal I was the past week.  I was afraid she would judge me if I was below-average-happy, so I started lying on the evaluations.  Then I felt guilty.  I asked her to scrap them all together, claiming it made me “feel worse about myself”.  In hindsight, I probably received the lowest psychological scores for having done that.

MEDICATION, THE WORD I HATE
I started with Wellbutrin for depression.  I didn’t think it did a damn thing.  Maybe I was expecting to be healed, but I also recall thinking it was a trick, that they were just feeding me blanks to see if I was lying about my feelings (which I didn’t even feel like sharing anyway).  I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac.  But the pill really just made me feel less.  Less bad, but less good too.  I think it numbs the brain.  They kept upping the dose until they were probably worried it would kill me, then they decided to try Celexa.

On Celexa, I at first hardly noticed a change.  I kept saying “I don’t need pills”, but I was told “pills or counseling” and was happily blackmailed for the time being.  They doubled my dose and I admitted I felt a little more in control.  As I started taking the pills, I noticed I could control my hunger better.  I had less shakes, but my heartbeat seemed more spontaneous.  My dreams were so vivid that I started waking up to myself screaming and crying.  It was always dreams of me being crushed, my bones breaking, my breath torn from me.  I took the pills for a good year before I finally thought, Why do I need these?  I don’t want to depend on medication.  This is silly.  I literally talked myself out of it.  I bullied myself.  Fool, grow up and stop blaming your problems on something that doesn’t exist.

That’s when I tried doing what I had done with Wellbutrin – just not taking the pills and pretending like I had.  In the past, I just felt cleaner somehow not taking them.  Stronger, even if I was still as “off” in thinking as I was previously.  But cutting that many milligrams of Celexa off at once… that was not good.

Have you ever watched The Hunger Games movie?  Do you know the part when Katniss was stung by the tracker jackers and her world spins and it looks like she is tripping?  That was how I felt 50% of my day.  If I skipped my medicine for a day, I would start to feel light-headed.  After two or three days, I started hallucinating.  I couldn’t see straight and it always felt like the world was turning 2 seconds behind me.  The room always spun when I looked to either side.  I was terrified, so I kept playing the game of a few days on, a few days off, then I almost started feeling my anxiety again as my bottle started to empty and I dreaded being trapped in that tripped-out world again.

WHAT I WAS SECRETLY FEELING IN MY MIND
So, over the course of these years, my mental-whatever-it-was progressed like this: I started noticing so much self-loathing that I was drained of energy, had no motivation, and found no entertainment in life.  I started asking rhetorically about life and why I’m being bothered with it.  My negative attitude made me hate myself even further.  Then I started to feel extreme waves of self-consciousness, like if this is how I perceive myself then dear god what do other people see?  I began to stress.  I understand now that a huge part of these “disorders” is environment, and I was placing myself in a very unhealthy one.  I began caring too much about others and how they feel in regards to me.  My ups and downs became so dramatic that I don’t know how I ever got out of them.

I can distinctly remember the spring before I turned 20.  I lived in a room that felt like a box, about 10 feet deep and 8 feet wide.  Every part that made up me was trapped in the room and right in my sight whether I liked it or not.  I recall becoming hateful again at my own image, both internal and external.  I recall pushing myself so hard in athletics and academics that any slip-up put me on a burning, downward spiral within myself.  I remember my alarm going off in the morning, me shutting it off, looking at the clock, then feeling my stomach bottom out with such sudden acidity that I felt like I just bungee jumped off a cliff.  The only thought in my head: “It’s another day.  ANOTHER DAY.  I have to GET THROUGH it.”

All I could think about was how monotonous, meaningless, and painful my days were.  Every day, the same thing.  I was mechanically getting through it.
Get up.
Shower.
Brush teeth.
Give up on hair.
Give up on face.
Put on clothes.
Look too fat, put on other clothes.
Repeat.
Give up on looking okay.
Put on shoes that hide my feet.
Grab enormous bookbag.
Don’t forget something.
You’re going to forget something.
Grab clothes for practice after.
Water bottle.
Always skipping breakfast.
Go to class.
Run to class.
Why are you always late?
Sit at class.
You forgot to do your homework again.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  Don’t you EVER read your assignments?  You wrote it on your hand, too.

Knowing how much I hated my days and that I had no reason to feel that way made me that much more upset.

That’s when I started realizing how much others were affecting me.  I tried to suppress it as long as I could, but certain things about myself and the way I think always seem to leak back in to my life.  This is when the depression became much more manic and when my anxious cycles started reflecting bipolar tendencies.

Example: I’d get a text.  So happy!  I’ve been waiting to hear from this person!  Literally skipping around the cramped room, smiling.  Read the text.  Freeze.  Stomach bottoms out.  Not what I wanted to hear.  Instantly begin bawling.  Crumble to floor.  It was just because they canceled our plans for tomorrow, nothing more.  Realizing this, picking myself up.  Sudden rage at myself.  I don’t mean anger, I mean punching my thighs, kicking things, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.  Get over it, baby!  Back to tears, self-pity.  Then I suddenly remember something unrelated and I’m laughing again.  LAUGHING.  Then crying.  Then laughing while crying while pinching myself.  Then curling up on my bed, so confused, feeling defeated, and falling asleep without doing that homework assignment I put down and even wrote on my hand.

That was at 19.  The next year, the medicine I was taking numbed me enough that I was just getting by.  I started distracting myself with people and fell into the wrong crowd.  At least I wasn’t hurting myself anymore, but then I started hurting other people.  And obsessing over small things.  I had a one-track mind.  I couldn’t let things go.  I wasn’t having as big of peaks and valleys, but I was still throwing myself into them.  I started imagining things that weren’t happening and ignoring the things that were.  I was losing control of myself and forgetting who I am.

STRUGGLING TO FIND MY BRAIN
The hardest part of any psychological disorder – whether it’s an eating disorder, mild to manic depression, etc. – is being able to pull yourself out of your world.  “Your world” is your mind.  It’s where you imagine, where you dream, and where you cause yourself to fail.  “Our world” is your brain.  “Our world” is the same world we are living in, the one in which our brains must work to allow us to survive.  Something like anxiety naturally occurs in both worlds, but it crosses that fine line when anxious, fight-or-flight tendencies consume our every thoughts for six months straight or longer.  I used anxiety as the example there, but I believe all “disorders” are really just a hyperbole of a similar instinct and that they’re all cousins in the Mind.

When I began to realize that my life was literally being defined by my disorders and not the orderly, planned lifestyle that I had craved in the perfectionism that caused my manic behavior in the first place, I was finally able to come to terms with my problems.  I still uphold that I had minor afflictions, but I refuse to deny that there wasn’t at least something going on.  I took a whole 8 months to control myself and I was certainly tested in that time with some of the most painful moments I’ve experienced in quite some years. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I ended up hospitalized two or three times for what was at the time potential organ failure. Turned out, my anxiety was suppressing my appetite and causing physical pain. I had to learn to control it, calm down, breathe, see a way around it.  In this time, I became much more self-aware.  I took to analyzing myself, others, situations, etc., and learning how to mediate them.  Traveling has certainly eased those tensions and is probably a huge reason for why I’ve become so addicted to going abroad.  It’s freedom, release, and reminders that there’s so much more to life than myself.  Yes, it makes me see how worthless I quite frankly am in this huge world, but I don’t get depressed about it any longer.  No, I see it as a challenge to be the biggest I can be.

4
TODAY’S PEACE
I am now able to look at the call that never came and, instead of breaking down, crying, rolling around on the floor, bruising myself, laughing, whatever “crazy” thing I did before – now I step away from it completely.  I do feel sad and I do laugh, but it’s because I can’t help but feel hurt – and that’s okay.  But I also laugh at his foolishness.  I don’t NEED you.  I have faith in life and can get around this.

Finally, I am able to look at someone mistreating or neglecting me and chuckle, saying, Well that’s his loss.

And it is!

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