July 30, 2019

Reminding myself that I’m not alone

If there’s one thing I’ve been lucky to learn over the past fifteen years of living with my bipolar diagnosis and my anxiety disorder, it’s that I’m able to see, a few days in advance, when a relapse is coming.

I had a fairly tough relapse earlier this year—my first one in years—and while I’ve made immense progress in my recovery and healing since then, I know I am on the verge of another one. I’ve already reached out to my psychiatrist and therapist, and I’m in good hands when it comes to my care, so I’m not worried: I know I will rebound from this one and emerge stronger, no matter how long that may take.

One of the things that helps me when I’m on the precipice is reminding myself that I’m not alone. As such, I’ve been spending some time reading articles that have stuck with me recently—articles about depression, anxiety, suicidality, and recovery—to remind myself that so many people live through this, and that I have lived through this many times before; I know I can get through this, again.

Here are a few that I’ve shared before, but have been re-reading recently—just in case you needed a reminder that you’re not alone, either:

The usefulness of dread, Samir Chopra:

Anxiety is insidious, more than just a simple fear. It is, all at once, a fever and an occupation, an affliction and a constitution. An anxiety is a lens through which to view the world, a colouration that grants the sufferer’s experiences their distinctive hue. The Buddha alerted us to a fundamental metaphysical feature of this world, the co-dependent arising’ of all that we experience and know. That is, nothing possesses existence independent of all else that makes it so: an anxious person inhabits a world coloured and contoured by their own, highly individual anxieties; it is a world co-constructed by the sufferer and his or her anxieties. Anxiety is therefore a perspective, a hermeneutical relationship with the world, whose text now gets read in a very peculiar way by this anxiety-laden vision. Things and persons and events fall into focus depending on their interactions with our anxieties: that man in the corner becomes threatening, this chair becomes unstable and unbalanced, that food becomes the agent of a fatal illness, my family — my wife, my daughter — appear as targets for cruel twists of fate. I live in a distinctive world shaded and illuminated by an idiosyncratic anxiety. […]

Anxiety is not singular; individual anxieties make up a sufferer’s full complement. An anxiety might be a distinctive suite packaged for application to a particular situation of time, place, circumstance and connotation. To know oneself is, very often, an injunction to know one’s anxieties — individually, distinctively — and to know how they change and morph as we do. I have learned, partially, which environments provoke and sustain my anxieties; my future steps are circumscribed by this induced caution. My trajectory through the world is thus informed, at every step, by the anxieties that afflict me.

Anxieties are not immortal. Some die on their own, subdued by exposure to enough recalcitrant facts about the world to make some terrors untenable. Moreover, anxieties are not impervious to relief: sometimes an all will be well’ missive arrives from origins unknown. At that moment, the fog lifts, the burden eases, and an exhilarating giddiness makes its presence felt. The clarity of that moment is intensely pleasurable, so pronounced is the relief from the anxiety’s chafing that had preceded it. The drooping shoulder lifts, there is a slight spring in the step. Caffeine, alcohol and marijuana can induce this effect, a pleasing trait that partially accounts for their perennial popularity across cultures and civilisations. I have flirted with these palliatives, pushing them to the boundaries of their use. But when they ran out, anxiety returned. I then felt a painful, tender nostalgia for the comfort of the ones I love. […]

We are rational animals, but implicit in that rationality is an anxiety. The rational animal remembers and has learned from its past; it anticipates and plans for its future; it modifies its present, anxiously, in response to these memories and anticipations; it is anxious to avoid mistakes, even those it cannot remember and has consigned to the unconscious forgotten. If memory, as John Locke suggested in 1690, is constitutive of our personal identities, then so are our anxieties. The Buddha and David Hume considered the self to be a bundle of ever-changing perceptions and thoughts and images. Similarly, I propose a self-as-bundled-anxieties’ theory: we are a bundle of anxieties; by examining them, to see what vexes us, what makes us anxious, we come to know who we are. Anxiety is a reminder that our selves are rather more diffuse and disorderly than we might imagine, that there are more bits to be seized as they swirl about’ and inside’ us.

I am not always very attached to being alive, Anna Borges:

I’ve settled into a comfortable coexistence with my suicidality. We’ve made peace, or at least a temporary accord negotiated by therapy and medication. It’s still hard sometimes, but not as hard as you might think. What makes it harder is being unable to talk about it freely: the weightiness of the confession, the impossibility of explaining that it both is and isn’t as serious as it sounds. I don’t always want to be alive. Yes, I mean it. No, you shouldn’t be afraid for me. No, I’m not in danger of killing myself right now. Yes, I really mean it.

How do you explain that? […]

For me, and I suspect for countless others like me, the threat of suicide isn’t like being carried over a waterfall — it is like living in the ocean. Not as sea creatures do, native and equipped with feathery gills to dissolve oxygen for my bloodstream, but alone, with an expanse of water at all sides. Some days are unremarkable, floating under clear skies and smooth waters; other days are tumultuous storms you don’t know you’ll survive, but you’re always, always in the ocean.

And when you live in the ocean, treading to stay afloat, you eventually get the feeling that one day, inevitably, there will be nowhere for you to go but down.

I’ve become adept at treading. I know — or I suspect, or I dread — that my legs will exhaust and I will slip beneath the surface, but I don’t want it to be soon. For now, I can and want to keep my head above water. But will is never enough, and so I have learned to surround myself with ways to stay afloat.

The Midlife Unraveling, Brené Brown:

I was right about one thing — to call what happens at midlife a crisis” is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed.

Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.

By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect. […]

We go to work and unload the dishwasher and love our families and get our hair cut. Everything looks pretty normal on the outside. But on the inside we’re barely holding it together. We want to reach out, but judgment (the currency of the midlife realm) holds us back. It’s a terrible case of cognitive dissonance — the psychologically painful process of trying to hold two competing truths in a mind that was engineered to constantly reduce conflict and minimize dissension (e.g., I’m falling apart and need to slow down and ask for help. Only needy, flaky, unstable people fall apart and ask for help).

It’s human nature and brain biology to do whatever it takes to resolve cognitive dissonance — lie, cheat, rationalize, justify, ignore.  For most of us, this is where our expertise in managing perception bites us on the ass. We are torn between desperately wanting everyone to see our struggle so that we can stop pretending, and desperately doing whatever it takes to make sure no one ever sees anything except what we’ve edited and approved for posting. […]

It’s a painful irony that the very things that may have kept us safe growing up ultimately get in the way of our becoming the parents, partners, and/or people that we want to be.

Maybe, like me, you are the perfect pleaser and performer, and now all of that perfection and rule following is suffocating. Or maybe you work hard to keep people at a safe distance and now the distance has turned into intolerable loneliness. There are also the folks who grew up taking care of everyone else because they had no choice. Their death is having to let go of the caretaking, and their rebirth is learning how to take care of themselves (and work through the pushback that always comes with setting new boundaries).

Whatever the issue, it seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt, and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt.

Be Drunk, Charles Baudelaire:

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

How to be human, Leah Reich:

Everyone fumbles. Everyone has biases. Everyone has perspectives they can change. Even the best, smartest, kindest among us have terrible, even ignorant opinions. But that’s how to be human. At least, that’s how to be the kind of human I want to be: complicated, messy, open to change, willing to learn, ready to do better. Change means sometimes we’re going to get it right and sometimes we’re going to get it wrong. Change takes time.

If you or someone you know is in a tough place and needs immediate support, please reach out to Crisis Services Canada.

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