The Night of December 13, 2015

Bottle of pills[Image: A full bottle of pills.]

I recently overdosed on Klonopin in a bout of self-harm and, while completely out of it, posted on Facebook that I needed a ride to the hospital. I stated that the overdose was an accident which happened while I was trying to get to sleep. I later clarified that this overdose was no accident, it was a form of self-harm that I had engaged in. My second post seems to have confused some people about what is a suicide attempt and what is self-harm and more pointedly, which one I was engaging in.

Allow me now to clarify the definitions of some terms:

Overdose: an excessive or dangerous use of a drug. Overdoses can be accidental, although in my case, it was not. However, overdoses are not always suicide attempts.

Self-harm: intentionally harming one’s body often without the intention of suicide.

Suicide attempt: an intentionally attempt to end your own life.

Self-harm is an often misunderstood coping mechanism which is very difficult to explain to someone who isn’t mentally ill and doesn’t suffer from these recurrent thoughts. What happened the night of December 13 was that I was trying to punish myself. I started out taking the Klonopin to help me sleep. But then I stayed awake and kept thinking of my most recent setback, the crushing guilt I felt, the dread that saturated my mind, the feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, and hopelessness that had been plaguing me for weeks.

I kept taking more pills. When I started to become impaired it only spurred me on. I have no idea of the timeline of that night, but I remember downing small handfuls at one point. The only recollection I have are some very disturbing poems I wrote while I was taking the overdose.

According to the poems, I Googled Klonopin in order to figure out how much would kill me. I couldn’t find the exact information and lamented there existed no overdose calculator which could tell you how much you needed to end your life. I cataloged my disappointment that, apparently, Klonopin is only dangerous if you get addicted to it and a fatal overdose is almost impossible without ingesting huge amounts of the drug; far more than I had on hand.

Although I never consciously wanted to end my life, during my altered state, I was well aware that this was a possibility. I finally went to bed at some point, after taking either one or two narcotic pain pills which I had leftover from my breast reduction surgery earlier this year. When I woke up I was vomiting and aware that I needed to do something. So, instead of simply asking either of my roommates for a ride to the hospital, I got on Facebook.

I didn’t want to die. I experienced a setback and that compounded with whatever kind of mixed episode I’m in right now and led to me experiencing the all-too-familiar feelings of guilt and shame which drove me to start and continue taking pills. After the overdose, what I thought was a solid romantic relationship disintegrated, and I continued having thoughts of hurting myself.

I felt as though I had ruined the relationship and needed to be punished for it. I told myself that if only I had been more normal and didn’t have these mental health problems, everything would be fine. In an effort to prevent me from once again acting on my feelings of self-harm, I got rid of all of the excess pills I had, including a fresh refill of the Klonopin that I had gotten a few weeks before the overdose. I also reached out to a few people to chat when the need to hurt myself was becoming too strong for me to handle.

At this point, I realize I’m experiencing a bipolar episode and I need to be cautious. I also realize that I’m a person with a mental illness and I need the space and understanding that will help me work through these issues, not compound them. My desire to hurt myself may never go away entirely and I might not be able to stop myself from acting on it in the future, just as I was recently unable to.

However, I now recognize these old feelings of shame and worthlessness are futile. I am only capable of what I’m capable of and no one in my life should make me feel as though that isn’t enough and trigger these recursive negative emotions. I hope I can remember this the next time I’m in a situation where the desire to hurt myself arises and I have to fight it. Because it is a very difficult battle and one that I’m not always strong enough to fight.

Imposter Syndrome

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[Image: A corgi in front of a keyboard with a phone propped up beside them. The dog is sitting in an office chair. The text reads, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”]

Imposter syndrome: a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

Example:

Brain: Your writing sucks and no one likes you.
Person: OMG, I just love your blog. I read it all the time!
Brain: …Looks like they haven’t figured out how terrible you are yet. YET.

We talk about this a lot in my tech writing pedagogy grad school class. It seems ridiculous, but each of us in there feels like, to some degree, that we are imposters and someone will “find out” that we don’t belong there and remove us to our utter shame and embarrassment. Which, upon hearing that other people in the class were suffering from this made me immediately think, “but they’re all so smart and insightful. Unlike me, who is definitely theĀ real fraud.”

No one would ever accuse me of being the most confident person in the world, but starting grad school again just made my imposter syndrome become all that more apparent to me. It also doesn’t help that I have a mental illness which can create a false sense of confidence and self-esteem on its upswing. So if I do start to feel like I have any idea what the fuck is going on, I start to wonder if I’m hypomanic.

Lately, the imposter syndrome has been spilling over into other areas of my life. Within a week’s span I had a dream that I was fired from my pet sitting job for incompetence and another where my partner broke up with me because I wasn’t intelligent or interesting enough (he also topped off the breakup by crashing my computer). I thought that simply having awareness of this syndrome would prepare me for dealing with it, but the truth is that the feelings are as vivid and powerful as any other feeling I might have.

As for how to deal with this problem, I try to remind myself that I’m not an imposter, I do belong where I am, but then that just leads me in circles of self-doubt and questioning where exactly that is and what exactly it means. All I can say right now is that my therapist will be hearing around this next time I see him. Until then, I’m not entirely sure what to do. After all, I’m just an imposter.

The Earth is Bipolar, Too, part 2

blogs_a_true_story_4344_971540_poll_xlargeContent notice: Discussion of depression, attempted suicide, mental illness.

Author’s note: When I was in my 20s I started writing my autobiography. For some reason, I started with my first bout of depression which I experienced when I was 17. I didn’t get very far, but reading over this now, it has details and parts that I don’t remember. I’ve told the story of my bipolar disorder many times. But here it is when I didn’t have the distance that I do now.

[Image: Black background with white text. Text reads, “A true story.”]

Read Part 1 here.

I fell asleep for about an hour and woke up delirious. I was disappointed that I wasn’t dead, but I held on to the vague hope that maybe the pills were working and I just had to wait a bit longer. I started crying again and mentally apologizing to everyone that I had ever wronged in any way, no matter how slight. My parents came home eventually and my mom found the bottle of pills on the counter.

My sister had been diagnosed with depression and had attempted suicide several times in her mid-teens. My mom was all too familiar with the signs. My parents took me to the hospital. I was so dizzy that I could hardly stand. I was seen almost immediately and the doctors made me drink a liquid charcoal concoction. I drank it in sips, not realizing that the point of the drink was so it could induce vomiting and get the Vicodin out of my system.

I cried the entire time. Then a woman came in to talk to me. I had no idea who she was and in my state, I really didn’t care. I realized late that she must have been a counselor of some kind. She asked me a couple of questions, I can’t even remember what they were, then told the doctor that I was fine and it was okay to release me. I couldn’t believe it. I just tried to kill myself and I was fine? What was her definition of “in desperate need of treatment”?

One of the doctors mentioned voluntary commitment as an option but not as a necessary one. I stopped him. I wanted to be committed. I wanted help and I wasn’t getting anywhere else. I thought about what the experience would be like. There would be doctors there who could help me. I would be around other crazy people who were just like me and we’d get along and I would fit in.

Of course, nothing is as good as you imagine it to be. The hospitalization didn’t help at all. I saw a psychologist who let me talk and jotted down notes and never responded to what I was saying. I ate hospital food that I could barely finish. I was rated on a points system for behavior and I didn’t understand why my rating was always rather low.

I had been terrified. I was in this strange place without anyone around that I knew. I didn’t feel safe and I took a stuffed bear dressed in a leopard costume with me everywhere. One time I lost sight of the bear and became distressed until I realized that the toy had just fallen off of the table that I was sitting at. The other crazy people that I had been so excited to meet weren’t like me and I didn’t fit in. I realized that I was still stuck where I had always had been when one of the girls who was there commented on my generous hips.

The attendants weren’t very helpful either. At the end of one day a staff member sat down with us and asked us to come up with a goal for tomorrow. I went last. I was working on a puzzle and was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I didn’t devote my full attention to the conversation. The first person who went was a girl. She had been very quiet and very timid the entire day. She said that she planned on being more talkative. The staff member shook his head and told her that she wasn’t hospitalized because she was quiet. I wondered what she was supposed to say? That she would solve all of her emotional issues in one day and walk out of the ward a changed person?

The other people said their piece, each one told by the staff member that their goal wasn’t good enough. Finally, it was my turn. I didn’t even look up when I said that my goal was to finish the puzzle that I was working on. The attendant sighed and told me that I wasn’t here because I couldn’t complete puzzles. I then responded that one of the reasons that I was there was because I had low self-esteem and I would feel better about myself if I completed the puzzle because then I would have accomplished something. The staff member agreed. The other kids glanced up at me. I had challenged one of the adults. And I had won, too.

By the third day I realized that this wasn’t working. I had started to gain a sense of safety being locked in the ward. I was safe from everything outside of it and I didn’t have to worry about the daily hassles of life. My laundry was washed, my meals were brought to me, my medication was brought to me, I didn’t have to clean anything or do any chores.

But at the same time, I had lost so much of my freedom. I wasn’t allowed to keep my diary with me because it had a spiral binding. I wasn’t allowed to have a pencil or pen while out of the sight of a staff member. One of the women who worked behind the desk was unsure if I should be allowed to have a stick of my Degree deodorant. To this day I still wonder how someone can harm themselves with deodorant.

By the end of the third day I wanted to go home. I realized that the doctors weren’t helping me, the medication wasn’t helping me, the staff wasn’t helping me and being around the other kids who I thought would be my crazy new friends weren’t helping me either. I realized that I would have to help me. The idea was exhausting. I didn’t know what to do. But no one else seemed to, so I figured that I might as well give it a try.

I was release back into the world and my parents took me to Arby’s. I love Arby’s.

Swimming: Craft of Fiction

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[Image: a person with long hair wearing a white dress drowning. They are looking upward as they sink to the bottom of the image.]

NB1: I wrote the following on September 21, 2009 in my Craft of Fiction class. We were given the exercise to write for 15 minutes without stopping. We had to keep writing even if we just wrote the same word or phrase again and again. At the time I wrote this, I was in a deep depression which lead to a hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, a suicide attempt, and then another hospitalization. Here are some of my thoughts which lead up to these events.

NB2: The text remains completely unchanged. Apologies for the ableist language used.

I really feel like I don’t belong here. Nothing makes sense and this entire endeavor has just turned into an exercise in frustration. I don’t understand 18th century English novels, I can’t even begin to comprehend 18th century social commentary, and, of course, poem structure. I still don’t understand poem structure. Hard as I try it jut doesn’t penetrate my thick head. Have I actually made myself stupid, living off of reality TV for too long? But isn’t this BSing what I’ve been doing all along anyway? I’ve written book reports on books that I’ve never read. What can be more BS than that? Too bad there is no degree in BS. I would definitely have applied for that program.

Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Everyone here is so much older than me, too. I suspected as much but figured that there would be at least some grad students my own age. No, I figured that there would be droves of eligible men in grad school. One that I could fall in love with and marry and have children who would also go to grad school. Of course. That didn’t quite work out as planned. Now I’m too scared to leave my apartment and I just sit inside all day watching… reality TV. Another exercise in frustration. I should be doing something productive.

I have to get my meds adjusted. I have to. I can’t keep living like this. It certainly isn’t healthy. But what is? Do I even know what healthy is? I think not. I never managed to figure it out.

And now I sit here, completely miserable with everything that I wanted. Now I find that the one thing I can’t have is what I really want. Although I struggle with that too. I can’t even write a decent crime blog, now I’m supposed to decipher 18th century English novels? Why do I even bother? I walk the campus like a stranger, longing to go home. But even home is not a home to me anymore. Although I think that it never really was to begin with. I finally got my own apartment. Finally. I’ve wanted one for so long and now I have it. I hate it. I spend my days thinking about the Burg [Williamsburg]. Being where I feel safe and not trapped by four walls. Feeling safe.

Like I said, I get the feeling that I don’t belong here. But if I’m not here then what are my other options?

Bipolar genius and the rest of them

vangogh[Image: a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh.]

I recently saw a post on a bipolar support group I’m a part of on Facebook that made me think about something I’d never considered before. The post was someone someone who stated that they had had been diagnosed bipolar for years now and everyone expected them to be some kind of creative genius or visionary because of their mental illness, but they didn’t write books or create great art and couldn’t figure out complex mathematics. They felt as if they got all of the bad parts of mental illness and none of its alleged benefits.

This was something I had never given much thought to because I have the benefits. I’m hardly a genius and I’m not exactly setting the world on fire with my writing, but if there is a privileged class of the mentally ill, I’m in it. I do write books, I do creative things, and I do it all with tremendous output. Not to mention, I think I do all of this because of my mental illness. Part of the reason why I’m so willing to call myself bipolar and not someone with bipolar disorder is partly because I see the benefits of my illness and it’s sometimes very beneficial to me.

But it strikes me that part of why this person felt so badly about themselves is that culture loves to talk about outliers and exceptions as if they are the rule. I once had someone describe autism to me as all if everyone diagnosed with it is a prodigy in some area. Which isn’t even close to being true. Instead, when the picture of mental illness is painted as exceptional people constantly doing exceptional things, it leaves no room for the mentally ill who don’t do this. Which isn’t accurate or fair.

There should be no image of mental illness and no expectations placed on someone with a mind disease like this. Bipolar is incredibly difficult to deal with and around 30% of the time, deadly for those that have it. Yes, some bipolar people, like me, have the ability to write 10,000 words a day, but just because I can doesn’t mean everyone else should or there’s something wrong with those who don’t.

There’s isn’t one way to be anything and certainly not one way to be bipolar. No one should be made to feel badly because they’re not curing cancer or writing the next classically-inspired song. Especially all because they’re mentally ill. So if you see a mentally ill person, don’t assume greatness. Don’t assume incompetence. Don’t assume anything.