Monday, May 23, 2016

Inside my head

(Please don't read this if you're not interested in reading about mental illness in general, or mine in particular.  No-one will judge you if you don't read it.  No-one will even know.)

The past few weeks have been particularly rough. It's hard not to get discouraged, hard to remember that progress is cylical, not linear.

Mostly the first thought in my head in the mornings is "I wish I were dead."  I lie there for several minutes, sometimes even an hour, summoning up the energy to stand up.  That's just the first hurdle.  Then there's the bathroom, with its mirror, and the internal thoughts turn to my physical faults.  A shower is the only way to get out of the bathroom quickly, but showers are often triggering for me, so no matter how many times I resolve to shower just this once, I end up in the tub - and then I need to summon up the energy to stand up again.

Mostly I'm late for things, unless someone else in my house needs to be somewhere on time - the mother in me takes over then, and doesn't put up with this mental illness impacting my kids any more than it already has (and will), at least where there are things within my control.

There's been so much rage.  So very much rage.   "Anger is a secondary emotion", J tells me, and I think the primary emotion is either fear or insecurity or both.  I have coping skills. I have to find the energy to use them, and to fight the internal voice that protests "But I WANT TO BE FURIOUS."  I don't want to lose my job, however, or alienate my family, so I repress the rage.  And that comes out in other ways.  Anger is energy that has to go somewhere - this weekend the results of that will require me to wear long sleeves for a few weeks.

Yesterday afternoon I texted a few friends, asked for prayer.  Declined the resultant offered conversations because I don't know what the trigger is, or the triggers are, this time, I just know it's a rough patch.  And I'm really tired of rough patches, really so very tired of the mental energy it takes to remain on an even keel.

This morning, Brad was home because of the long weekend.  After he had already gotten up, I lay in the bed, begging God to send help,  And then I texted Brad from the bedroom "Nobody will care if I die."  The thing that is so hard to explain, and even incredibly hard to understand for myself, is that I *know* it's not true, and yet at the same time, I completely believe it. 

Brad came upstairs, and asked what he could do that would signify to me, and any insiders that might be struggling, that he cared.  And when I didn't know, he stayed with me, brainstorming, until we had a plan, and then he took me on a drive through the country with my homework (I need to write an essay that talks about politics.  I try to avoid politics.  This works well until I have to write essays.)  We found a good-sized flock of yellow-headed blackbirds, some nesting bluebirds, maybe a pair of buffleheaded ducks, if that's what they were -

I don't wish I were dead right this second.  The sun is coming out.

Because?  I asked for help.  I don't think that it's possible to separate Brad's reaction from the prayer - I've texted him things like that before, and he's texted back, instead of coming to find me.  Today I needed him to come and find me - how did he know?  What made the difference?

And I'm reminded, by my friend's reactions yesterday, and Brad's reaction today - while I am everlastingly tired of being needy, of not being mentally whole, of not being healed - the people who care about me are not tired of me.  They are not tired of standing in the gap, and not one of them would stand at my coffin saying "I'm really glad she didn't ask for help,"

And I think that's the point of this post.  I'm not the only person who doesn't want to ask for help: and I want to say this to all of you:   There is at least one person in your life who will walk through this fire with you.  It's just that, sometimes, they don't know the flames are there until you tell them.

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help.   Just ask.

And if you don't know who to ask, ask me.  I'm getting really good at fire-walking.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In which I discuss perfectionism

So there's this thing that happened to me between high school and now.  In high school I got good marks without much effort.  It's not that I didn't study, I just didn't study much, and was a pretty solid 80's student.  Imagine where I would have been with some effort.

So then I went back to school in my 50's, and I was a little surprised to find that any mark below A irritated me beyond belief.  I'm studying - I work hard.  I could work harder, but I work harder at school than I ever have.  I seem to have an "all or nothing" attitude - if I don't get A's, then it feels like I'm failing.  Last semester I got an A- in a psych course which ruined my perfect 4.0 GPA and while I would like to say I laughed at myself over it, I wasn't laughing on the inside.  I was filled with a crushing certainty that I was, once again, Not Good Enough.

This semester has been frustrating for me, because I cannot seem to get an A on anything in one of my English classes.  Although as soon as I type that, I remember that my partner and I got an A on our presentation but somehow I'm not counting that.  First essay, A-.  Mid-term, A-.  So I've been pretty sure I'm getting an A- in that class and my GPA will go down ever further and that has bothered me so much it's not even reasonable.

My other English class was going great.  There were only two essays and a final.  A on the first essay, glowing comments from my favourite prof - all was lovely.  And then the final exam happened, and the second half of the exam had a creative element - and I am Very Bad at creativity on demand.  There were three options to choose from - I spent the better part of 40 minutes in a two hour exam on false starts, finally picked the least horrible option with 20 minutes to spare, and wrote like the wind.  Brutal brutal brutal - I was sick to my stomach, and then I handed in my exam, and got my second paper back - and I'd gotten a B.

I can't even begin to explain how bad I felt.  I sat in my van and cried for an hour.  I considered quitting university.  And underneath all that I knew I was over-reacting in a spectacular fashion but I could not solve it.  I cried myself to sleep.

Luckily, if you believe in luck, I had an appointment with the psychologist the very next day.  I asked her for help.  I told I hated being this way ("That's encouraging", she said) and she asked a few questions trying to help my subconscious brain work out what false connections I might be making.

I'm learning, through this therapy journey, to listen hard to the inside talk.  When the answer finally came, I burst out crying again and refused to say it out loud for several minutes, but when I finally had enough nerve, I said this out loud:

"It won't matter that I am so ugly if I am smart, and a B is not smart."

And then I cried harder than I've cried in many many months, coughing choking gasping for air crying.

But once I'd said it out loud, a beautiful, beautiful thing happened.  I heard all the lies in that statement.  The first lie:  I am not surpassingly ugly, and I never have been.  I'm average, just like a really high percentage of the rest of us.  The second lie:  There are only two things to be that matter, pretty or smart.

I didn't make these lies up myself.  It's a culture-wide, internalized lie.  A high percentage of the time, we compliment our children on their good performances in school, or on their looks.  What about compassion or kindness or the ability to empathize, or a good sense of humour, or being a good sport or a good friend or trustworthy or hardworking or easy going or dedicated or a bazillion other things I could mention?

I don't think I've solved this yet, even though the B no longer embarrasses me,  I wanted to write it down so I'll remember that there are many attributes to value.  If I stop and think about what I value most, what I pursue most, when the marks-obsessed perfectionist isn't winning, it's kindness.

So I give up on a 4.0, or a 3.95, officially, publicly.  Officially, publicly, kindness is moving to the top of my list.  I will strive to be kind.