Period.

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Two years ago, when I was on a trip and going through a rocky time with my mental health, I got a tattoo of a semicolon on my ankle. It was inspired by Amy Bluel’s Project Semicolon, a nonprofit dedicated to presenting hope and support for people who struggle with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts, addiction, and self-harm issues. The idea is that your life is a sentence – a period ends it, but a semicolon means a pause and then continuation. It’s a powerful symbol for a powerful message, and Amy’s project has inspired thousands to share their stories of struggle and survival (and photos of their tattoos).

This morning I read the news that Amy has died by suicide.

It isn’t fair.

I’ve been crying on and off all day, and there are two things I keep coming back to: it’s scary and it’s unfair. I’m choking on the injustice of it. Nobody deserves that illness, that pain, that death. She just couldn’t pause anymore.

I’m feeling well and have been feeling well, consistently, for months. No swings, no highs or lows, a bit of anxiety but overall just a nice stability. But today has served as a reminder for future days when I don’t feel as well:

Pause.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

A light somewhere

So.

So.

Hell of a year, right? Enough already. I don’t think the world is going to reset at midnight on New Year’s Eve and everything will be better, but I hope it’ll be a bit of a relief to put this calendar year to rest and enjoy that initial fresh-start feeling in 2017.

 On the 30th it’ll be a year since I went to the emergency room because I wanted to kill myself. I spent New Year’s Eve drugged out of my skull and asleep by 10pm in a sad little bed in a psych hospital. Yesterday Facebook showed me a photo from a year ago, the day when my college friends and I got together, all seven of us, for the first time in forever. It’s a great group photo and I found myself studying my own face, wanting to analyze that smile that looks so easy and bright. I think about what a wreck I was and feel sad for that year-ago girl who was spinning out of control and didn’t think anyone could help her. My hospital stay was a largely positive experience because I was with the rehab patients, not the other patients who were mentally ill and posed more danger to themselves and others. I came out feeling emotional but also glowingly grateful for the chance to get things off my chest to a supportive group (never underestimate the power of unloading your stuff on a small group of impartial strangers and have nothing come back at you but unconditional acceptance and a complete lack of judgment).  I was better for a while, then started spiraling out again, even worse than before, and that’s when the bipolar II diagnosis came. Ultimately this was an incredibly good thing, but before we got the meds right, I wound up in the hospital again in May. That was a fucking trainwreck. I was locked up with severely sick and disordered patients and nobody there was going to get any better. I woke up to people screaming their heads off in the middle of the night and getting locked into “quiet rooms” that were basically prison cells. It was a horrible hospital with horrible staff and I walked out in no better shape than I was when I went in.

But then I took a month off work and we got the drugs right, and everything’s been different since then. I’m still a little depressed most of the time, but that’s pretty normal for a bipolar II sufferer, and sometimes I’m manic, although that’s mostly mild. But overall I feel much more in control and that’s a win all around. My mom gave me a book about bipolar II and it’s been a revelation to learn how some things that I assumed are just my personality are actually symptoms of depression or mania. Sometimes that makes it hard to know when I’m feeling angry or upset about something genuinely shitty and when I’m not, but it’s still good to know that irrational irritability, explosive anger, and my sometimes-debilitating sensitivity to rejection are often symptoms of hypomania, not my “crazy” personality traits that I’ve spent so much time hating. There’s so much freedom in that because it enables me to understand myself better and recognize when it’s time for self-care to get myself balanced and feeling more like me again. I’m not always an unwilling rider of the bipolarcoaster, as I like to call it. It can be a subtle, insidious disease, but every day I’m learning to recognize its many faces.

That’s been my year in mental health. Six months of garbage followed by six months of slow but steady improvement. Thank you to those of you who put up with me being cripplingly depressed and unable to go out, or relentlessly crabby, or just not present in general, and still supported me. None of it’s been intentional but I know that I don’t exist in a vacuum so I am, in fact, a pain in the ass to be friends with sometimes.  So thanks to everyone who’s still here. I love you. Everything won’t reset as 2017 rolls in, but I still feel hopeful that my health (and life) will stay on this upward trend.

As Bukowski said, “Be on the watch. / There is a light somewhere. / It may not be much light / but it beats the darkness.”

Out of the Darkness, Again

Today was my third time doing the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness walk in Chicago. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention works to end suicide and mental illness stigma and has yearly walks all around the country to raise money. In Chicago there’s an opening program and then a 3.5-mile walk along the lakefront. The first two times I did the walk, I went alone. This year I got a team together and from now on I don’t want to do it any other way. I realized that going by myself was a lonely experience that made me feel alone in being sick and struggling. Today felt a lot different, walking with a bunch of friends and having people to talk to. I cried a lot during the opening program because I always do, but the whole day was a reminder that I have people to support me. Being sick has been very isolating for me, but I’m starting to understand that it doesn’t need to be. Some people don’t know what to say and are uncomfortable, and that’s okay, but I do have a core group of people who get me to at least some degree and are there to listen, and I’m so grateful for them. I was also proud of me today…doing things like this makes me feel like I’m showing up for myself and acknowledging what a year of struggle this has been, with two hospitalizations in six months and a bipolar II diagnosis. Jesus, it’s been a rough one. And I’ve started to learn that instead of always keeping a stiff upper lip and just dragging myself along, it’s important to acknowledge what a shitshow it’s been and how much it’s sucked, because there’s no shame in that and I also get to be proud of my own resilience – I can be as open about that as I am when I’m hurting. This year has kicked my ass, but I’m still here and I promise I’ll fight like hell to stay for a good long time. I don’t want anyone who loves me doing that walk  in my memory.

Fight, etc.

Been quiet around these parts lately. I guess I haven’t had anything interesting to talk about, except I escaped the job I hated and got into one that I hate just as much and is just as bad for my brain as the first one. So, yay for that. I’m trying hard to keep my head up and sometimes take things hour by hour if that’s what I need to do. It’s exhausting. Yesterday I found myself in that passive “not going to actually do anything about it but I really wish I wasn’t around anymore” mindset. That probably sounds horrifying to people who aren’t sick but for me it’s as normal as something like that can be. I have a hard day or start stressing too much about something and there’s that little monster ready to introduce that thought into my head. He’s an asshole. I’d take this over the actual suicidal state that’s landed me in the hospital, but obviously it still sucks. Who wants to walk around feeling like that? I don’t know what the answer is. Talking about it scares people. Talking about it to my shrink makes him want to throw more medication at the problem and I already take so much and truly don’t think that’ll help. And yet I’m not cool with the idea that I just have to live with thoughts about not wanting to live. That’s some bullshit.

Anyway. That’s all I got. Feeling kind of crappy but hanging in there. This has been a really, really hard year and I’m tired, but just on principal I’m not surrendering to this goddamn disease. Fight, fight, fight, etc.

Asking matters

I’ve been shying away from writing because it’s depressing as hell but today I say fuck it, it’s my blog and I’m about as depressed as I have ever been and I get to write about that if I want to. I’m back at work and it’s awful and I’m having a hard time getting transferred to another position, so I sit and shake with stress and anxiety all day unless I dope myself up on Ativan, which makes it difficult to get work done, which makes a stressful situation even worse. And I come home every day and cry like someone has died because I’m carrying all of this around and there’s no relief. I’m not okay and I feel really alone with it, and I feel like after this second hospitalization people wrote it off as not as big a deal as the first time, or like it’s routine after a second trip and there’s no need to check in or ask how I’m doing. So whatever, here’s the answer: NOT OKAY. You can’t fix it, but you can show me you care by occasionally asking. Asking matters and makes me feel like people think of me and want to know, and it helps. The end.

Watch me

So I spent last weekend in the hospital because I was suicidal again. I won’t go into details here because it was fucking awful and this blog has gotten sad AF lately, but that happened. New strategy is to take a month off work and go to intensive outpatient therapy (IOP) at a local hospital a few hours a day for a few days a week. I like this plan. Work is dragging their feet about FMLA leave and it’s really annoying because I need to know if they’ll, like, pay me (since legally speaking they don’t have to), but at least a little time away from the excessive stress of that job will do me a world of good. And honestly, I’m a little bit excited to start IOP tomorrow. It’s basically group therapy for three hours a day. I got a lot out of the group therapy during my first hospital stay, so I’m hoping to have a similar experience now. And it’s supposed to teach me some skills to get the DM (and the HM, I suppose) to shut up or at least quiet down so I can function as a person. It’s not enough to just not be suicidal – we need to make it so I never get suicidal again, because I’m sure as hell not going back into inpatient hospitalization again. 

So I feel hopeful for the first time in a while. It’s a shame it took an extreme situation (two, technically) to get me and my therapist and psychiatrist to this point, but…woulda shoulda coulda. 

In the meantime, Rufus/the DM has been acting like a real douchebag. It’s like he knows he’s cornered. But I’ve been sassing him.

Me: I’m excited about IOP. 

DM: Ain’t gonna work, sister.

Me: Stahp. 

*     *     *

Me: I worked out and it felt good. Yay!

DM: It’s one workout. Girl, please.

Me: Staaaahhhhp. 

*     *     *

Me: I put on makeup and real clothes and left the house!

DM: Normal people do that every day.

Me: SRSLY STAHP.

*     *     *

Me: I’m going out Saturday night and it’s going to be awesome!

DM: I have no idea why. You aren’t fun anymore.

Me: OK you know what? Shut the fuck up, Rufus.

As you can see, he needs to be quiet and go away, because he is a jerk. I’m going to get up and put on makeup and real clothes and go to IOP tomorrow morning and it’s going to be great. I’m going out Friday night and it’ll be the MOST fun. Because shut up, depression. I’m going to get better – watch me.

What are friends for

I’m sad today. It’s not Rufus, I don’t think, but regular old something-sad-is-happening sad. 

I lost a friend a few months ago. She’s still walking the earth and such, but we aren’t friends anymore. It started over a simple misunderstanding that I thought would be easily worked out once we both calmed down and talked about it. But the friendship goddamn exploded and went down in flames, which to me means there was shit going on long before that incident. There was some discussion wherein we aired our grievances and I mostly sat there stunned, because we were very close and I thought she knew who I was and I very suddenly felt like she didn’t. That’s a weird, gut-wrenching experience, to be accused by someone you love of nasty things you would never think or do. I defended myself as best I could, and that was it. No closure, no nothing. Nada. Nyet. And I’m a person who likes closure. It’s been a few months now and we’ve seen each other socially a couple times because we know some of the same people, and it wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t easy. What I’m stuck on today is the part where we’re both pretending it’s fine. I mean, to be clear, it feels awkward as fuck when we see each other, but we’re both doing a bang-up job of acting outwardly like it’s all good. And I’m definitely not all good. I miss my friend. I don’t miss the arguments that sprang up sometimes and left me saying “what the fuck just happened,” but I miss my friend who I drank whole bottles of prosecco with and swapped hilarious/gross sex stories with and laughed myself silly with. I miss my friend who I told my worst secret and she didn’t bat an eyelash. We could text each other from work while crying in a bathroom stall and give each other pep talks to dry our eyes and go back out there and kick ass, or at least finish out the day with our heads held up. I miss my friend who I could trust with anything. It’s not that I don’t have other friends I’m close with and trust and would lay down in traffic for, but regardless of how many of those you have, it’s really fucking awful to lose one. I’m realizing that it’s not that dissimilar to the end of a dating relationship. You have to mourn it, and you have to gradually tell people and they’re all curious to know what happened and you want to sort of explain without speaking badly of the other person, because that feels like you’re disrespecting what you used to be to each other (and I do still respect her and care about her) and you just have to hope the other person is doing the same thing and not trashing you to your mutual friends, whom you’d really like to keep. 

I’ve accepted that the friendship is over. It’s beyond repair at this point and I don’t think it could go back to how it was even if we both wanted it to. Like I started to say before, I’m struggling now with the part where, much like in a romantic breakup, the other person seems fine and dandy without you and you feel like roadkill but have to pretend you’re fine and dandy too. And I know that appearances aren’t everything and maybe she feels like roadkill too. But I don’t get to see that part. I only get to see my part, and my part hurts really, really bad. Because even though I know I must be a pretty decent person because I have other friends who seem to like having me around, it was shocking how quickly and easily I (felt like) I got dropped. And how easy it is for me to stay dropped. That’s some harsh shit. I feel like the kind of person who deserves to be dropped utterly and completely and without preamble, AKA a really shitty one. And I truly never thought of myself that way. There’s no such thing as a perfect friend, but I have always tried hard to not be a bad one, or at least not such a bad one that someone had to walk away. Maybe she’s mistaken. I love her muchly and always will, but most of me thinks she’s mistaken.

But how can there not be a part of me that whispers, “What if she isn’t?”