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Posts tagged ‘mental health’

Brushing Up on Life

The last few days, I conducted an archeological dig through a bunch of my old writing–some of it from as far back as 7th grade. It proved to be an emotional roller coaster–thankfully not the kind that go upside down, because I’m not puking as I type this. Yet, it sure yanked my gut around. It was like reading a piece of literature where the audience knows something the character doesn’t. For example, the irony I felt when I found the blog entry where I’m rationalizing my choice to stop taking my anti-depressants. Writing about how healthy I felt, I knew I wouldn’t fall back into the depths of despair I’d been in. I had learned too much about the illness to let it take over my life again. Keep in mind about six months after I wrote that, I was in an even deeper depression than I could have imagined. Reading it felt like I was watching a scary movie where the killer was hiding in the shower, and I wanted to shout, “Don’t do it!” while the character turns the knob to the bathroom. God, I hate that type of movie.

While there were plenty of embarrassing parts, I also felt compassion for my younger self. Some of my young reflections really impressed me. I was sharing excerpts with one of my best friends, and she said, “Geez, no wonder you were a lonely kid. Who thought about these things at those ages? My God, who are you?” I laughed, but felt validated in a way that I never had been. I think that is why I’m so quick to favor children I observe off alone and thinking a lot (when I work with children in the summer). I understand they are extra sensitive and perceptive, so I try to love and encourage them with everything I have. It, hopefully, helps them gain confidence while also helping me make peace with myself as a child. As a child, I had overwhelming amounts of guilt and self-hate. It’s a shame to think about, because I’ve recently realized what a thoughtful and sensitive kid I could be.

The most shocking of my old writing was a poem I wrote in 7th grade. It was an assignment for an English class called, “I Remember.” We had to start each line of the poem with “I remember…”  The poem itself is not any good (I mean, let’s be real, I was like 12?) Yet, there were several things that shocked me. First, I talked about how time was moving too fast, and I felt like I couldn’t control it. I also reflected on how I complained of being bored as a kid, but I would give anything to have time to be bored. The real kicker comes when I talk about how I used to be afraid of failure and hated how hard it was to succeed. Apparently at the wise age of twelve, I’d realized that failure is necessary to succeed and success only feels rewarding because it is so challenging to attain. I read that, thinking, “My God, Child, you aren’t gonna even BEGIN to know that in your heart until everything you’re terrified of happens when you’re 21.” This realization made me accept that despite having “failed,” or at least having failed in the eyes of my old self, I’m still afraid of failing. Why? Apparently life is a series of cumulative exams. Just “knowing something” once isn’t enough. When I feel anxious about the future, I will have to pull out the flash cards I’ve been studying since 7th grade. Brushing up on life, preparing for the next test.



Paranoia has a variety of root causes. It can be learned from nervous parents, a result of traumatic events, or more often, a part of a psychological disorder. It also can be triggered, or in many cases intensified, by street drugs or prescription medication. I’ve had traces of paranoia for most of my adult life. Both my parents worry just like their families did. Not to mention, paranoia is a part of Depression and Anxiety, which although they were often undiagnosed or translated into alcoholism, contaminate the soil of my family tree on both sides. I’ve come to accept I’ll always be a bit paranoid about some things. Plus, I like to think like Kevin Nealon’s character from the HBO show “Fat Actress.” He plays some shady record producer who offers one of the main characters marijuana. She declines and says,  “That stuff makes me really paranoid.”  He responds by saying, “Well it’s good to be a little paranoid. It keeps someone from just comin’ up and whackin ya.”  Amen, Nealon. Amen.

In all seriousness, I’ve been unbearably paranoid a few times in my life. It often correlates with when I first start taking Wellbutrin or have my dosage increased, which I’ve experienced a few times. For instance, a couple years ago I had to start taking it again after a year of being off of it completely. Kanye West’s album 808 & Heartbreak had just dropped, but I hadn’t heard it yet. It was around Christmas, so I sat in a room full of some of my closest friends from high school. I was tense, and I hadn’t seen most of them in a long time. One of them started singing that Kanye song, “Paranoid,” and I had never heard it, so I got paranoid thinking that they were making fun of my paranoia! It’s the most intense sort of paranoia where I panic in cars, certain people aren’t breaking or are turning into us. Or, I’ll panic and think I see animals running out in front of me when I’m driving.

After I adjust to being on the medication, I’m stilly jumpier than if I didn’t take it at all, but it’s manageable. I’ve been paranoid again lately, though. Not as extreme as mentioned above, praise the deities, but it’s bothering me. I’ve had unexplainable stomach pain and cramping for about a month now. They’ve done a lot of tests and found nothing that could be causing it. They suggested I get my psychiatric meds adjusted because the pain could be psychological and caused by anxiety/stress. I try to remind myself that just because I’m on almost the same amount of medication I was after my hospital ordeals, I’m not regressing. I’m still relatively well, mentally speaking.

The med adjustment seems to have thrown my body off. I don’t know if it’s medication related or not, but my new therapist thinks I’m having a bit of hypomania. Luckily, I’m not full blown manic. I can still function according to social norms, but my thoughts race, I don’t sleep as much, and I either get a lot of stuff accomplished or none because I can’t concentrate. This is where the paranoia comes in: my stomach pain is still just as bothersome. After being told my mental health isn’t as great as I thought it was and could be causing the stomach pain, I now get depressed about being depressed when my stomach hurts. Then I get paranoid about relapsing, which downright terrifies me. Then, balancing out the lows, the hypomania kicks in.

Another example of paranoia getting in my way, I just received some very good news about the potential to work with one of my favorite writers, so I’ve been on a bit of a high. I’ve always talked fast and been giddy when I’m excited. Now when I feel excited, I get paranoid that it’s not my excitement; it’s the hypomania and that something more is wrong with me. Then my thoughts spiral out of control: I think about how I’ve been so open about my mental health and tried to show others it’s worth putting in the energy to get better. How will I be able to tell them it’s worth it if I’m sick? Then, I think about how I will have to admit to the nuns I’m mentally unstable and move out and go back to the hospital and start all over again. It’s irrational thinking, but anxiety and paranoia are not rational most of the time.

I feel fine mentally. I do get depressed some days, but I know to just take it easy, sleep, and get through them. I also am having the hypomania stuff, but it’s not all bad. I’ve been getting lots done. I guess, now, my biggest concern is the stomach pain and whether or not my mental health is okay. It is an awful feeling to not be able to trust your own mind. It’s like at the end of “A Beautiful Mind” when the main guy asks someone else to make sure the person talking to him is not a hallucination. I’m like that, too (not the schizophrenic part). I have to have someone say, “No, calm down. This is normal,” or “No, this is definitely not normal, let’s address how to combat it.” I’ve gotten better. I used to panic at even just one bad day and think I was relapsing. I’d need my psychiatrist or psychologist to say, “Hey, be nice to yourself. You’re allowed to have bad days.” I can tell myself that now. Lately, these strange medical issues are bringing back my insecurity about my own sanity. Because here’s the thing about insanity, you don’t know you’re insane until you get better. Through all this confusion and paranoia, I’m still staying strong, though, thanks to all my wonderful friends and family who support me.



“Proved faithless, still I wait.”
–Franz Wright

Above I posted a link to an article by one of my favorite writers (Marya Hornbacher) about thriving in AA as a nonbeliever and just what it means to be both spiritual and atheist. I’m so grateful a professor of mine recommended her first memoir, Wasted, to me a few years ago. At the time, someone had suggested that maybe I should try to write in genres outside of creative nonfiction, because all of the great creative nonfiction I read was written by people over fifty. My professor had been lecturing me about my lack of confidence, telling me my insecurity hindered my performance. I couldn’t even fake the confidence, so I said, “I’m only twenty. Maybe I’m not mature enough to write in this genre.” Praise Zeus this woman was patient with me, because anyone else might have slapped me. She told me about how Hornbacher published Wasted at twenty-three, and it received all sorts of recognition and awards.

I bought it and devoured it instantly. I also lucked out because only a month after I read Wasted, her memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life came out. I discovered she was then 34, so I got to jump from her perspective at age twenty-three to thirty-four in just a short time. I felt like I got to skip the hard parts, and just gain all of the wisdom she shared about the struggles she experienced in between the two memoirs…That’s why I’m obsessed with memoirs, because I can learn from other people’s life experience. Their lessons-learned-the-hard-way add to my wisdom. I hope my mistakes can somehow provide wisdom for others too–if I ever finish my memoir.

Hornbacher’s latest book just came out this past May. It’s called Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power. When I heard about her working on this, I felt ecstatic and slightly scared. I couldn’t wait to see her tackle spirituality after I’d read so much about her struggles with mental health. I also feared that there wouldn’t be room for me to reflect on mental health and spirituality after someone with her talent beat me to it. Her book only proved to excite me even more about my own project.

I’ve been reading all sorts of spiritual books here. Plus, I go to mass every day. I came in as a pretty confident nonbeliever, but the more I listen to religious individuals with an evolved, well-thought-out spirituality, the less anger I have toward religion. I used to think it was just an exclusive club. They all say anyone can join their religion, but if you don’t believe, what are you supposed to do? Force it? I love that Hornbacher addresses her attempts to find faith, because she thought she was missing something. It gives me hope that she realized the answers and wisdom already were inside of her. It blows my mind that I can be reading a Catholic nun (Joan Chittister) and Hornbacher and feel like I agree with both of them. I don’t really like religious language. Wise individuals like Chittister define “God” in a way that I can get behind. Yet, I’m still slightly uncomfortable with a word that stems from  belief about an angry man in the sky.

This long entry was really just to say that all of the spiritual seeking I’m doing is pointing to nothing more than telling me to keep seeking. It’s about the humility of seeking something greater and waiting. Hornbacher and many other great spiritual writers, regardless of “technical belief labels,” agree on the importance of humility and a constant seeking. The quote from the poet, Franz Wright, is how he ends his book God’s Silence. There were points that the book got a little too Catholic for me. Wright has struggled with depression and alludes to suicide attempts throughout his work. Yet, I still started to disconnect because of his devout faith. Then, he ends the book with that line, “Proved faithless, still I wait.” Wow. What a punch to the gut. I love it.