Nonlinear progress

When a friend asked me why i temporarily quit therapy, I said I could write an entire blog post about it and it still wouldn’t be enough. But the short answer is that it wasn’t working.

I’m not saying it didn’t work; it has actually helped immensely. But i’ve reached a plateau of sorts.

it’s really hard to explain: i want to talk, i need to talk, but i don’t want to make it into this whole thing. All i do is talk, and I’m sick of it, and I kind of just clammed up and couldn’t think of anything else to say because i constantly felt put on the spot.

and also, taking the “in some way it still has an effect on you” argument to its logical conclusion, you could be in therapy all your life. which is fine if you’re the one paying for it, but i honestly feel that there are many people in more serious need of public mental health services than i am.

I had casually considered therapy for years, always seeing it as a theoretical last resort, and with no real intention of going. i ended up there because of a crisis — the first one that i couldn’t deal with on my own.

I’m painfully aware that the crises arise as a result of my problematic personality. thus i can say with relative certainty that the next one is just around the corner (always is). But. the one that brought me here is resolved. and once that happens, i lose all motivation to work on myself.

i know im flaky to quit as soon as i have to admit that there are things i could change about myself that might make me better. but that’s not the only reason i had to take a break.

Keeping in mind that i never seriously considered therapy as a valid option (because i didnt think my issues were “serious enough”), I have actually already accomplished much more than i thought i would: I realized that they are, in fact, pretty dang serious, and they warrant numerous therapy sessions, indefinite even.

But I’m not ready to do the work just yet. I’m still coming to terms with my flaws. Maybe i shouldnt even be calling them flaws. i’m just transitioning from assuming that everything about me is inherently awful and terrible … to just seeing my personality without judging it. and assessing which parts might help me along the way and which ones not so much.

I had never seen myself as malleable before. well, easily manipulated, yes, but only by others. I lacked the self-awareness to manage my own thoughts or actions based on how they affected my life. I had never asked myself questions like, why do i behave a certain way or why i don’t do certain things that might be good for me.

idk if it’s plain ol’ stupidity, or my victim mentality: i’m so pathologically passive that I cannot conceive of the possibility that i could act instead of only being acted upon. I had no agency whatsoever, so how could i hope to ever change?

but now i have a little bit of that basic sense of agency, and it’s a lot. i’m not used to that kind of responsibility, and i feel i need to practice on things in my life, where the stakes are lower, before I can experiment on myself. it’s like a muscle you didn’t know you had, and you have to start with really basic workouts to avoid injury.

There are many more reasons I left. One of them being that I enjoy making people pity me, and my therapist refused to do that. That is a lesson in and of itself.

Plus, I suspect that intellectual conversations about my feelings while I’m drugged out of my mind aren’t gonna help when I’m going through withdrawals. Stabilizing on psych meds was hell, and I don’t expect lowering my doses to be a walk in the park, either.

The only reason I haven’t spiraled into a deeper depression interspersed with panic attacks is that my higher cognitive functions are compromised. In other words, my brain is in power saving mode. I don’t care …. but I’m going to.

and it’s going to be tough. going back to my neurotic self. anxious and overemotional. angry that i wasted ten months in a daze when i could have been making progress towards genuine change.

of course that’s not what’s happening, either… the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, the meds make you docile and more accepting of your present circumstances that might otherwise seem unbearable. but I still want to change, even now. I just don’t have the motivation…

Note to self: you haven’t wasted ten months. You’ve gotten to know a different version of yourself, and it’s one you can learn from.

but you’ve gotta admit that it isn’t you, exactly… hence why i don’t feel particularly compelled to invest in its well-being, if that makes sense. That part is just fine. It’s when i finally have a clear head that I’m really going to need therapy.

It must sound strange when I’m compartmentalizing like that, but it’s true: there’s only so much you can achieve in terms of insight into your mental states when the states themselves are so inhibited.

It’s the “meta”-knowledge that i’ve gained — about how i process information, how i react to stimuli, etc. — acquired in the process of analyzing my past behaviors — that’s going to help me navigate therapy. I really don’t see how pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy can be used together, at the same time (even though i know they frequently are).

I can’t wait till i’m ready though.

I think my psychiatrist hates me

I mean i can’t know for sure, i have little else to go on other than his averted gaze, curt responses, and general indifference to my very presence in his office. It’s either that, or I’m seeing something that isn’t there.

He had every right to be hurt, even offended, by what I said to him that one time. but, assuming i’m interpreting his current behavior correctly, i would argue it’s rather unprofessional of him to be quite so open about holding a grudge. I mean he treats mental illness, isn’t he supposed to know that your words are your symptoms FFS?

But maybe I’m overthinking this, and maybe he really is just this apathetic. Main thing is, i just realized that i don’t give a fuck one way or the other. I said something inappropriate, something I didn’t mean, and then apologized profusely. TWICE.

There’s nothing else I can do short of bringing him flowers, and I’m over trying to make everyone like me, even my own mf doctor. what i need from him are my prescriptions, not his unconditional affection.

this can be another learning opportunity: not everyone will care, and still I have to stand up for myself regardless.

feels good once you realize you can.

Realistic Change

day by day, i’m peeling off layer after layer of my most basic assumptions about myself. i feel like what little i used to have in the way of a personality or a sense of “wholeness” has completely disintegrated. but maybe it’s for the best?

when i look in the mirror, i don’t see the same person i was last August. furthermore, it’s hard for me to think back to a time when i was drug-naive. because the meds opened my eyes to things i would otherwise never have realized on my own — but once i have, there’s no going back to how things were.

before, i was just impulsive. now, i can see the potential for healthy spontaneity and deliberation — even if i can’t yet execute them perfectly. before, my eating pattern was the problem. now, i see it for what it is: just one among many expressions of my impulsivity, and an attempt to ground myself firmly in the present instead of dealing with my problems.

i know i keep talking about drugs. but that’s only because of how transformative they have been to my self-perception. in ways not always positive, but mostly productive. ive been on medication for so long, it’s become my new normal. i’ve adjusted, more or less returned to baseline, and started taking this peace of mind for granted. but things will never be the same, even after i taper off.

i honestly can’t begin to comprehend how so many people can be so matter-of-fact about taking medication. it’s like, no, you don’t understand, i now feel like a whole new person! not because i behave differently, but because i perceive my own behavior in a different light. and im less attached to it; i see more potential for flexibility. it would not be an overstatement to say that i will probably forever see my life as divided into the pre- and post-ssri eras.

the first day was a revelation, in the most literal sense possible. it was like waking up in somebody else’s body. i’ll freely admit that i might not be thinking clearly right now. but it’s nothing compared to the thick, opaque, syrupy fog that i had lived in all my life. i was a child stuck in a young adult’s body.

you could argue that i might have achieved some self-awareness without pharmacological treatment, because i was simply ready to be honest with myself. even if that’s true, the meds make it that much easier and less painful & scary. but i highly doubt i could have.

the medication isn’t the only thing though. even just seeing somebody and talking about myself, just myself, sort of in the third person, where i can be concerned about my own wellbeing and kind of own all my fears, but also hopes. even just being open right here. validating my own existence. it has all made a world of difference.

the pills don’t have magical powers; they don’t alter your personality, making you into something you’re not. ha! i wish that were possible. but there’s no pill in this world that could make me into what i think i “should” be. and besides, therapy doesn’t have to be about “change”; it can be about acceptance through understanding, and about learning to play the hand that you’ve been dealt.

what the meds do is they make you … notice. because of the contrast. what i’m saying is, i always knew i was anxious, for example. but i had absolutely no idea just how anxious i was truly am. and this is not a value judgment, by the way, im not saying that anxiety is inherently bad, necessarily. but it can be a pain in the ass.

yes, the first words that come to mind when i try to describe the effect that antidepressants have on me are still “numb” / “dull”. but a certain degree of numbness can be invaluable to someone who has thus far felt everything, all the time, and they didn’t even know it.

i have a limited vocabulary for describing my internal states, but at least now i know when something is happening. it may sound odd, but i used to be completely oblivious to my emotions, how, or that they affected my behavior.

i had a general idea of some of my problems (though it is a bit intimidating to consider what i might still not know that i dont yet know about myself lol). but i couldn’t point to specific instances of when they tended to crop up. i had no clue the extent to which they permeated all areas of my life.

but in order to combat a problem, you need to be able to identify it. that in and of itself seemed unfathomable to me. firstly, i was too caught up in my own feelings, and secondly, i was too insecure. it made it impossible for me to admit to my weaknesses, never mind analyze & try to overcome them.

what’s a bit overwhelming about having more clarity is that i’m more aware of how i’m acting in the moment, and all the other ways i could theoretically act instead. i say theoretically because just realizing that other people in your situation would act differently doesn’t automatically mean that you can actually act any different. you are, after all, still you. i am indeed still me, and i still have trouble translating knowledge into action.

im also kind of confused as to what approach i should adopt. i can (sometimes) tell when im being defensive, or impulsive, or even lazy. but because i have a very narrow repertoire of communicative strategies, i will usually stick to what i know best. i simply don’t know what would work best, or even what “best” means for me; what would help me accomplish my goals, because i don’t have any (or if i do, i dunno what they are!).

one thing that truly bothers me is that i feel “normal, only better”, and at the same time i can’t recognize myself. and the longer i stay in this inbetween state without anyone to guide me through genuine, lasting change, the more likely it is that my newly developed yet equally unhealthy patterns will once again crystallize, and for good this time. and what’s going to happen when i eventually do go off the medication? it was supposed to be a stepping stone. something to help me during a particularly tough transitional period. but what if, in a month, or half a year, or two years, still nothing has changed?

i may be numb, but i’m still apprehensive :/

Paxil™ is bae

This post is emphatically not brought to you by GlaxoSmithKline! 😀

cw: suicidal ideation … physiological functions? sorry, i’m not good at TWs

youll know by now that i dont have that many opinions. and even when i do, they’re rarely some firmly held beliefs. the controversial statement above, i’m not particularly attached to, either. but it is the way i feel, at least for now.

antidepressants can cause weight gain. true. also? irrelevant. they can increase blood pressure + sugar. the list of possible side effects goes on and on. for me right now, it’s memory problems and dry skin. oh, well.

now weigh that against the deepest, most profound and absolute sense of hopelessness and worthlessness you have ever felt in your entire life. a loneliness and insecurity so severe, for the first time in your life you start vaguely contemplating suicide not because you want to die, but because the thought of going on like this indefinitely simply feels unimaginable.

I shudder to think about the depths of depression people have descended to who are physically incapable of getting out of bed. That they live to see another day is an achievement in and of itself. I didn’t have it that bad, but it was still getting too much for me.

and i didn’t see a way out.

I remember going to Open’er Festival last year, excited to stay at the campsite for the first time ever and to see The Strokes, Interpol, LP, The 1975, Tom Walker… Vampire Weekend, who are one of my favorite bands of all time… I was going alone, but that was normal for me, I usually travel & go to concerts alone.

but when I arrived, I immediately wanted to leave. not go back home, but bury myself in a deep dark hole and never get out. i was surrounded by people who were all happy to be alive, enjoying their time together with their friends, and i felt like the loneliest person on earth.

and there was no way out.

obviously I couldnt leave. so i stayed. i stayed, and i forced myself to get out of my pitch black tent… sometimes. i had to summon all the willpower i could just to put one foot in front of the other, and there were times i almost stopped in my tracks and lay down on the grass. i had to keep going though, because if i stopped, it felt like i might never ever get up again.

at times i found myself going through the motions of “having fun”. i’d be standing close to the stage, mouthing the lyrics to my favorite song, and then a minute later it’d be like i wasn’t even there.

i was completely isolated and detached from what was happening around me. i ended up only seeing parts of the acts i wanted, and none of the “fillers”, even though i usually go from one artist to another and try to experience as much as i can possibly cram into one short day.

this time, though, I lay motionless in my sleeping bag, hardly registering Kylie Minogue and Swedish House Mafia performing at the main stage. To me they were just background; just noise, cancelling out my own thoughts.

and still no way out.

I came back home, and I… immediately asked my Grandma to get me a psych appointment. i couldn’t go on pretending any longer.

My doctor first prescribed duloxetine. It’s a strong SNRI, and it took the edge off. …across the board.

On my third day on the drug, I went to Berlin, to see AnnenMayKantereit live: a concert I’d been waiting forever to go to. The concert itself was great, though I would have enjoyed it much more fully sober. But at least that poignant feeling of loneliness wasn’t quite as bad.

Adjusting to the medication took a while. I would sweat like a pig, have heart palpitations and anxiety attacks, wake up very early in the morning. I would get dizzy just standing up, and have unpredictable mood swings. I also had really bad constipation. (Sorry!)

But…

god, the clarity.

it didn’t come on immediately. I was in Berlin for four days, and I spent most of that at a nearby Starbucks, reading research papers on antidepressants for seven hours at a time. i was in some sort of hypnotic trance where that seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to spend your time. And anyway, I also got tired easily, so i liked the not moving part.

But I was starting to see a way out.

Cymbalta wasn’t perfect for me. In the end it made me impulsive and sort of crazy. But in a way it saved me; it did exactly what it was supposed to do: it dulled the pain. It alleviated many of my physical symptoms, and there was a short period of time where it gave me some insight into my mental states.

Because i was so bad at expressing myself, I accidentally offended my psychiatrist when trying to tell him that I wanted to try something else. I stayed on it for two more months, and then, after hearing some of my symptoms, he complied with my wishes…agreed that duloxetine wasn’t good for me, and switched me to something else.

and that something was paroxetine, and it made a world of difference. it’s not perfect either. perfection doesn’t exist, you see. but its pretty fucking great.

it made me gain weight… and those hands, ugh, i need to moisturize like 24/7.

but it is so worth it.

Because now, I can see a way out.

and for the first time in my life, i can understand that the road to recovery is long and bumpy and far from linear… and be okay with it.

I owe it to Cymbalta that I was able to tell my doctor that I wanted to go off Cymbalta. It started to happen often, me recognizing my needs and not being afraid to tell people about them. I owe it to Paxil that I finally did what I should have done years and years ago, meaning starting this blog.

Continued use of antidepressants over several years may or may not be harmful, as anyone in certain facebook groups and some professionals disillusioned with their own field will tell you.

Moreover, I myself don’t believe that they’re the solution to the underlying problem. I would gladly stay on them forever, if not for the side effects and certain health concerns. Not because they solve the problem, but because they help. Simple as that.

Because there is a way out.

and now i can see how good life could be. and it’s like the negative experiences in my life hadn’t affected me. and i feel less anxiety. less shame. less dependency on other people. and things aren’t as black and white anymore.

i had absolutely no idea how many of my most basic assumptions about the world where wildly inaccurate. it’s kind of insane how one small pill a day can change your perception of everything that happens to you (or not even to you, but just in general). in very subtle ways it reduces the feeling of being inadequate, a burden, incompetent, that sort of thing. finally i can take criticism and not be tormented by it, or by whatever mistakes i make, for days afterwards.

i feel it’s important to keep in mind that the meds have changed my personality in some small but significant ways. contrary to what some of you may believe, though, it’s mostly been positive, and im far from the medicated zombie that some might make me out to be.

i feel as though i’d been deprived of an inner life before, and it’s now that i can finally process all my negative feelings. take a step back and assess them more rationally, because it doesn’t hurt as much.

What’s more, I’m not afraid of being vulnerable. coming off as silly. making a fool of myself. because i just. don’t care. and i know this kind of disregard for your own … dignity? migh be dangerous for someone who’s naturally more open about their feelings, idk, but for me it was eye-opening.

it’s now — on Paxil — that I wrote those notes to my family. it’s now that i started the blog. it’s now that i’m affectionate towards my loved ones, i sometimes joke around with friends from work, and i occasionally giggle (out loud!) when i read something funny. all of these seemed impossible just last July.

I can still (genuinely) laugh. I do still cry. And, to my own surprise, i find it easier, not harder, to empathize with people; possibly because I’m not burdened by my own emotions all the damned time.

and i can finally see how far up my ass my head has been all this time — and, importantly, still is. you have to be comfortable acknowledging your flaws if you’re ever going to change. damn right i’m narcissistic. and lazy. i can work on it.

Lastly, I would like to point out that initially, being prescribed antidepressants felt incredibly validating. i thought i wasn’t “sick enough” to seek help, but that prescription was proof that what i was going through wasn’t normal. i didn’t hide the fact that i was on them, but i didn’t overshare, either.

well, now i’m all about oversharing, haha. neither bragging, nor complaining, but simply stating the fact: antidepressants can help. they have helped me, and my only hope is that the withdrawal symptoms aren’t too bad and i can keep at least some of that positive outlook when i stop taking them.

i hope a similar peace of mind can be achieved naturally, if you know what you’re going for. that it is within your reach. in this way it’s a helpful therapeutic excercise that can teach you by how much your own perspective can change depending on the circumstances.

i believe the above is true for me. if you feel that you’re always going to need antidepressants, i can see where you’re coming from. they’re more than just a crutch, and i hope with time there’s less and less stigma surrounding them.

you take care of you, and do whatever you need to do. ❤