Recognizing your ‘normal’

This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, and I know I’m not the only one.

It’s not all that surprising – when your mood changes, your thoughts, opinions and feelings are bound to be affected too.  And when that’s something that happens around the clock, without notice, it gets hard to pinpoint who’s the impostor and who’s the real you.

Sometimes I’m a pessimistic, angry, inconsiderate witch who says horrible things to the people I love most.  Other times, I’m the kind of person who makes handmade gifts, sends random messages of encouragement to a friend, or buys coffee for the person behind me at the drive-thru.   There are days I wake up in a loud, smiling, energetic mood.  And then there are the days where I am nothing but a silent blob, breaking code only to cry.

So which one is really me??

Obviously, I’d like to say it’s the generous, happy-go-lucky girl who can do no wrong.  But I have to admit that’s not the case.  It’s hard to pinpoint where (if) Becca ends and depression, mania, schizo-shit, what-have-you, take over.  And it’s easy to say, “this isn’t you,” to someone who is depressed. But is it true?

I know I’ve heard it before and I certainly didn’t believe it when it was said to me.  And even now, in a ‘sounder’ mind, I don’t really agree with it.  Of course it’s me.  Who else was it if it wasn’t me?

Don’t worry, I’m going to elaborate.

I’ll start by saying my overwhelmingly dark days have been drastically reduced.  I’m still on a rollercoaster, but for now, the big loops and turns are behind me.  I haven’t had more than 3 consecutive days of hell in over a year.  Coming from someone who used to get stuck in black holes for months at a time, that’s a serious improvement.

In my personal opinion, I am my depression/mania/schizo-shit, and my depression/mania/schizo-shit is me.  I know this goes against what I’ve said in the past, and it certainly goes against what everyone tells you about your depression not defining you.  But I’m just trying a different approach because the other one simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

Subconsciously, I think being told “this isn’t you,” ate away at me for a long time.  People used to say it to me a lot, especially when I was stuck in a cloud.  I was hurting inside and I didn’t know why.  They wanted to help, so they told me that’s not who I was; this sadness isn’t the bubbly Becca they knew. Eventually, I think it got to the point where I started to believe it, but not how they intended.   It made me feel like I really had lost myself, and that I wasn’t ever coming back.  Becca was gone and depression took her place.  And as much as I didn’t want to believe I had turned into this broken down piece of a person… I had.    I had been beaten down by my own psyche, and I was so afraid at the fact that I didn’t even know myself anymore.  I tried to remember who I was ‘before’, and I couldn’t do it.   I had no idea who I was with or without depression.

A whole lot of love and support has led me to a different thought process.

All of this is me.  All of these traits are who I am.  And that’s fine.

On my bad days, I am me.
On my good days, I am me.
On my ‘normal days’, I am me.

In short, my depression is me, and I am my depression… but I’m a lot of other things too.

I live, act, feel and love in extremes.  Unfortunately that means sometimes I lose control.  It means that some people can’t handle me.  It means that sometimes I’m hard to understand.  It means that sometimes I hurt people.  But it also means I love with an exploding heart.

I’m done fighting my own image.  I am who I am as I am.
Trying to separate pieces of my identity is tedious and unnecessary.
This is who I am, and I’d rather just deal with it.

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Help me instead of hating me

For me, writing has always been a sort of solace.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed by my thoughts, I write to get them out and organize them.  I have countless word documents on my computer from over the years. Most of them are short; just a few lines I wrote when I needed to vent.  I typically feel the need to vent when I’m in a bad state, and so a lot of my writing is quite sad.  Some of it, though, is downright scary – even for me.  It’s those documents that remind me of how very real depression is.

I make an effort to write when I’m in a happy mood, too.  I write to myself so I can read it when I’ve fallen back into a depression.  I read my own happy thoughts as a reminder that I’ve been there before, and I can get there again.

Although I am feeling strong right now, not everyone is.  And I wasn’t always.  The following is a rework of many recurring thoughts I’ve had when I’ve been depressed.

I’ve written it to anyone who is trying to support a person suffering from depression.  I get that it can be exhausting to care for someone who doesn’t seem to respond to your attempts to help.  I wrote this, hoping to provide some perspective – to both parties.

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You may never say it, but I know you resent me.  At least sometimes.

You resent me for holding you back.  You resent me because you don’t want to be stuck here, looking after me.  You are annoyed by me.  You wish I had no problems, so you could go out and do whatever you want, whenever you want, and never have to worry about me.

I’m sorry to put you through this. 

I get that it’s hard for you, too.  You want to understand but you can’t.  You can’t because you’ve never experienced this – and I am so glad for that, because believe me: this fucking sucks. 

You want to provide solutions.  You want to fix my problems.  But you can’t.

You know this isn’t my fault, but sometimes you forget.  Sometimes you get mad at me for being such a downer.  And sometimes, you do blame me – you say it is my fault, and that if I’d just get out of bed, everything would be fine. 

No.  It’s not that simple, although I wish it were – and I know you wish the same.

I want so badly to want to do things.  I want so badly to want to go out.  I want so badly to want to be social.  But I don’t want to.  I can’t want to.  No matter how hard I try to want to.

I want to believe that people like me, and that they want to be around me.  But I can’t believe it.  My mind won’t allow me to believe it.

I know that my negative attitude brings my negative thoughts to life: I know that no one wants to be around someone who is sad all the time.  You don’t need to remind me of that.

Try to remember that I can’t help it.  I didn’t choose this.  It chose me, I guess.

Support me by reminding me that this is now; this is not forever

Validate my feelings, because what I’m feeling is real.  Accept the fact that I am the way I am right now: I am sad.  I am feeling worthless, useless, and hopeless.  Validate me, and then remind me that you’re here for me; that WE will get through this together.

I know you’ll have moments where you resent me.  That’s okay.  This isn’t a walk in the park for you, either.  Just try to remember it’s not me you’re resenting: it’s the depression. 

Help me instead of hating me.

My Two Closest Friends

Depression never used to knock before coming in.  Depression would just show up, uninvited, and stay as long as she pleased.  She’d hang out with me wherever I was.  She’s quite lazy though, and usually convinced me to stay in bed all day.  We wouldn’t do anything!  Even if we watched a movie, I could never pay attention because she was so distracting – always rambling to me, talking about god-knows-what.  It’s really hard to focus on one thing when someone is talking in your ear about something else.  Basically, whenever she came over, I was stuck doing whatever she wanted to do (and that doesn’t consist of much).

Sometimes, when I had friends over, she’d leave me alone for a bit.  She’d hang back, I’d hang out, she’d wait for them to leave, and then she’d come out as soon as the door shut behind them.  Usually, though, she’d demand all the attention: my friends would come over to hang out with me, but they’d end up hanging out with Depression.  I’d kind of just be there in the background… somewhere.

One day, Depression and I were hanging out.  She left soon after she came though – which was a very rare occurrence! – so I decided to go out.  I ended up meeting Mania that night.

Mania and I instantly hit it off.  We went out together with a group of my friends and had a fantastic night out.  We spent a bit too much money and drank a bit more than we maybe should have, but I didn’t care!  It was too fun to care.  After that night, Mania and I hung out nonstop for about two weeks.  We had become inseparable!

I guess Depression heard that Mania and I had been spending a lot of time together, and she wanted to be a part of it.  But for some reason, our schedules never allowed for us to spend time as a trio.  Depression kept asking me to hang out more and more frequently.  Every time she’d heard that Mania had been over, she’d insist on coming by the next day.  She was even more selfish during these visits, if that were even possible.

Everything had to revolve around her.  If she didn’t feel like eating, we wouldn’t eat.  Oh, but if she did want to eat, we’d eat an unnecessarily large amount of food.  If she didn’t feel like talking, we’d sit in silence.  But, of course, if she did want to talk, we’d talk nonstop about whatever she wanted to discuss.  I say ‘discuss’, but really it was more of a lecture: I just listened to her talk; I never had a say in anything.

Eventually, I couldn’t even have friends over anymore while she was in town.  She would literally take the phone out of my hand and write up some excuse.  She even forbade me from going to work.  She’d call in, pretend to be me, and say she was sick with the flu, or food poisoning, or whatever else came to mind.

I don’t know why I never stopped her.  I just never really felt like I could.  Peer pressure, maybe?

Anyway, I started to strongly resent Depression.  Hate her, really.  Looking back, I realize that Depression had sort of become a little jealous of Mania.  But at the time, I just wanted to hang out with Mania and forget about Depression entirely.

Mania and I always had so much fun together.  She managed to make me forget about Depression, even though we’d been so close for so long.  I always thought Depression and I would be in each other’s lives forever, but Mania made me second-guess that notion.  She pointed out how terrible Depression treated me.  I honestly never realized it until then, but it was a very abusive relationship.

It was a good thing that Mania and Depression were never in the same room.  I feel like Depression would have definitely taken away all the fun.

Those days, I hung out with Mania as much as I could.  Depression would still come by every once in a while, but she didn’t stay as long as she used to.  Mania was my new best friend.

The early days of my friendship with Mania were great!  We would always be on the go, doing something, going somewhere.  We would spend our free days making things, writing stories together or planning a trip.  I would go to work and she would entertain herself – that was another thing I greatly appreciated, because Depression couldn’t handle me leaving her alone while I went to work.  We went out on the weekends and the occasional – albeit rare – week night.  We had a great social life and my friends absolutely loved her.

After a while though, she started to go a little wild.  And, well, I saw how much fun she was having and couldn’t resist joining in.

We started to go out a lot.  We spent money on things we didn’t need.  We drank. We did drugs. We had a very unhealthy sleep schedule.  We would go days without sleeping properly, and then crash for 20 or more consecutive hours.  Usually, I’d wake up to an empty bed and the doorbell ringing: Mania was gone, and Depression was back.

It was exhausting, keeping up with those two!  If I wasn’t with one, I was with the other.  I had very few days to myself.

Depression came over after Mania and I had had another binge.  I wanted her to go the second she walked in, but I didn’t want to be rude, and I had a hard time flat-out asking her to leave.  After all, she did just want my company.

She eventually opened up and told me she was upset – she felt like Mania had taken over and that I didn’t like her anymore.  She told me she missed me, and just wanted to spend more time with me.  She asked me if we could just stay in bed all day and pretend to watch movies while she distracted me, like old times.  The fact that this all made me feel guilty didn’t even matter: I was so exhausted after my binge with Mania that it actually sounded like a great idea.

So, we stayed in that bed for almost an entire week straight.  We slept most of the time.  We ate occasionally.  We would start a movie and I’d turn it off after a few minutes of her rambling.  I would wake up in the morning and see that she was still asleep, and I’d resolve to stay in bed so as not to leave her. It always upset her to wake up alone.  Sleep, sleep, sleep, repeat.

After a couple of weeks, Depression left, and I was by myself for the first time in over a month.  I was able to reflect on things, and I realized that maybe Depression wasn’t as evil as Mania made her out to be.  She was just lonely.  I felt bad for her more than I felt hurt by her.

Mania wasn’t perfect, anyway – was she?  Sure, we had loads of fun together, but I always spent way too much money while she was around, and it took me days to recover from our sleepless, drug and alcohol induced binges.

It was hard to talk to my other friends about Depression and Mania though, because they didn’t know either of them like I did; they could never really understand our relationship.

Sure, Depression held me back sometimes, but she also held me closer than any other friend ever had.  I could feel how much she wanted me around.  No one can argue the fact that it feels nice to be wanted. And yes, Mania would encourage me to do things that might not have been the best idea, but in the moment, it was always so fun and exhilarating.  We spent money I didn’t have, but we created amazing memories.

Mania was much better at winning me, as well as everyone else, over. She would show up, just like Depression always did, and instead of coming in to hang out, she’d insist we go out and do something.

She wasn’t always in her wild, party mode: sometimes she’d revert back to her original form, and we’d be incredibly productive.  She’d come over and help me clean my house (this was especially nice when she came after Depression had been over, because there was always an accumulated mess), or we’d cook a delicious dinner, or we’d paint something or draw something or rearrange my apartment.

I started to resent Depression.  Again.  This time, more intensely.  And it stuck.

She’d come over and my spirit would sink away to nothingness.  I knew that the moment she walked in the door, there was no more fun to be had.  So I got fed up.  I told Depression that she couldn’t just keep coming over without at least telling me first.  She needed to give me a warning before she came, so I could prepare.  I could never get anything done while she was around.  What if I needed to do laundry?  What if I had someone visiting and actually wanted to spend some quality time with them?  Reluctantly, she agreed that she’d let me know she was coming when possible, but couldn’t always be sure how long she’d stay.  Fair enough, I thought.

As with many things, I was wrong.

These days, Depression sometimes lets me know she’s coming.  I know she’ll be here in a few days.  I can prepare myself as much as possible, but I can never really prepare.  I don’t know how long she’s going to be here.  I know I’m going to be stuck with her, and I know I can’t tell her to leave, but I don’t know when she’ll be gone.  Trying to plan my life around her uncertainties is even worse than being utterly uninformed of her arrival.

Mania never tells me when she’s coming.  I’ve asked her to, but she refuses.  She says she wants it to be a surprise.   I’d rather be surprised by Depression than by Mania.  I want to know when Mania is coming because I want to be able to look forward to the fun.  I want to be surprised by Depression because I want to be oblivious that I’ll be in pain until the pain has already begun.

Unfortunately though, that’s not how it is.  Depression’s compromise was a warning.  She won’t leave me alone, but she’ll let me know when she’s coming.  Mania’s ‘compromise’ is surprise.  She won’t leave me alone, she certainly won’t inform me of her plans, but we’ll have a blast when she gets here.  I cannot rely on her.

This is how it is.  These are my two friends, Depression and Mania, and they’re going to visit me until they tire of me.  They’re going to stick around as long as they please, without my permission, my consent or even my affection.  It’s not certain how often they’ll come, or how long they’ll stay.  It’s not even certain that they’ll ever leave.

All that’s certain is me.   I am certain that I cannot, and will not, ignore them. I am certain that I will accept them.  But most of all: I am certain that they will be my friends, and not my keepers.  I will run the show; they’ll just be my co-stars.

23, broke and happy

So let’s just start out with the main points: I’m 23 years old.  I have zero money to my name (in fact I owe some!) and yet I’m completely happy and do not feel threatened in any way.

What?

If, at 18, someone had asked me how I pictured myself at 23, I would not have imagined this.

I would have pictured someone more ‘responsible’.  I would have pictured someone who had a good job, with savings in her bank account to fall back on, should anything happen.  A decent place to live – with or without roommates.  I might have pictured someone with a degree under her belt.  I probably would have pictured someone who, despite all things pointing in the right direction, might not have been happy.  At the end of the day though, that would be the most important factor.  I’d want to be happy.

So at this point, I’m definitely winning.

Let me just sum up the past 5 years of my life for you:

At 18 years old, I had been out of highschool for nearly a year, working my ass off to save for something (I didn’t know what I was saving for).
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life – so obviously I didn’t know what I wanted to study.  I felt this way straight out of highschool, which is why I took the first year off to work.  After that first year, I was still clueless.

So I decided to travel.

I started to look into cheaper ways of traveling – possibly not even traveling, but rather living in a new place.  This sounded pretty ideal – set up a homebase somewhere central in europe, and use it as a port to travel to other places nearby.  It sounded perfect.  I’d get a job as an aupair – a kind of nanny – and I’d use my vacation time, my days off and my ideal location as a way to travel cheaply and efficiently.  I had planned to also use the time to reflect, and ultimately decide what I wanted to study.

That didn’t exactly work out.

I had only been in Germany for about 5 months when I started looking into staying longer.  It just felt like the place I needed to be at that time.  So, I got a job at a kindergarten, to begin two months after my au pair contract ended.  Unforseen circumstances brought me to live in Jakarta, Indonesia for four months, with my host family.  I ultimately went back and stayed in Germany.

That second year turned into a third, then a fourth, then a fifth – I never left Germany. I never felt like I wanted to.  I was so content in my life – things were just easy.  I learned quickly how to live my adult life in another country.  In fact, it’s the only place I’ve ever done it – back in Canada, I lived with my parents.  Sure, I had my own car and I was independent, but I still lived at home.  I never had to completely take care of myself until I moved thousands of kilometres away.  But I did it, and I did it well.

I learned the language.  I paid my taxes.  I had my friends.  About a year into working at the kindergarten, I started dating Nick.  Soon after we met, we had moved in together.  Everything happened really quickly but it worked.  My best friend and roommate, Sarah, also had a boyfriend, Rob.  Our best friend, Charlynn, lived nearby and spent loads of time at our place.  We’d all hang out together like a big happy family. It was a lovely time in our lives.

Eventually, Nick and I got our own place, Sarah decided to move home to California. Charlynn stuck around.

I still don’t know if it’s related to everything or not, but soon after all the changes, I fell into a really bad depression.

I was in a terrible state.  I was paranoid, I was sad, I was exhausted all the time.  I still pushed myself hard enough to go to work – it was hard, but I did it.  I could fake it for the 7 hours a day I was there, and then I’d go home, cry, and sleep for 15 hours straight.  I didn’t have a life and I didn’t want one either.

If it weren’t for Nick, I probably wouldn’t be here.  He was my fucking life line.

I started seeing a psychiatrist, spent a week in the hospital to get a diagnosis. I was overwhelmed with support.  Charlynn and Nick came to visit me in the hospital whenever they could.  Charlynn would always let me know she was there and she loved me.  Anthea, someone I had known for years but never been close with, reached out to me with her own story.
I was finally diagnosed as schizo-affective about one year into ‘treatment’. I started taking the correct medicines, and eventually things got better.  Of course when I was doing really well, I’d think I was cured, and I’d stop taking my medicine. I’d fall back into a state: sometimes I’d be depressed, sometimes I’d be irrationally angry for days, and sometimes I’d be overly happy and reckless – those were the manic days.

One of my worst symptoms was paranoia.  This one went across all boards – it didn’t matter if I was depressed or happy, I’d still be constantly worried about what people thought of me.  I was convinced everyone talked about me – about how much they hated me.  As I’m sure you can imagine, that was exhausting for Nick to deal with day in and day out.  He is a saint because he never blamed me.

One day I literally woke up and thought, “fuck this. If they want to talk about me and hate me, whatever.”
I just didn’t care anymore.  I somehow had a moment of clarity that stuck.  I wasn’t being like this on purpose.  Nick would tell me all the time that this wasn’t me – Becca isn’t like this.  This is just Becca when she’s in a state.

Finally I understood what he meant.

After that realisation, my entire life changed.  I started to go out.  I met an incredible group of people who quickly became amazing, close friends.  I had a family again in the place I’d adopted as home.
The problem with schizo-affective disorder is that it’s selfish.  It doesn’t care if you’re having a great time – it can decide how you’re going to feel regardless of your environment.

This is true.  To a point.  I learned that I could distract myself.   I realised that when things were constantly new and changing, I could keep myself busy enough to get past the numbness.

Picture it like running.  You know when you’re running, and you reach a point where you feel so drained and like you can’t go on any longer.  But, if you push yourself just a little further, you get past it and you gain your second wind.

That’s kind of how it was for me with mental health.

I know this is controversial.  I’m not saying you can cure yourself with attitude alone.  I’m doing this while also being diligent about taking my medicine.  I have other weapons, but I’m using my will power as well.  I’m helping myself, but I’m not doing it alone.  I still don’t think I’m strong enough to do it alone.

So, when I felt myself dropping again, I knew I had to dive in again.  I had to throw myself into the deep end to prove to myself that I could swim.

So what did I do?  I booked a flight to Thailand.

I had been wanting to go for a long time.  I wanted to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary.  That was my plan in the making that I had never actually planned.  It was an idea.

One night, after hanging out with Jen, another wonderful person who stuck by me, I went home, opened Chrome up, and booked a flight to Bangkok.

Just like that.

Then, I went and quit my job, spent as little as possible in the coming weeks, and got on a plane. I was on my own for nearly 3 months.

I just got home four days ago.  I have no job.  I have negative money (I borrowed some to fund my trip).

But I am so excited for what’s coming next.

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