Sunday, January 1, 2017

Meet Me on the Road to Recovery

2016 has been a rough year for everyone. I am not sure I know a single person who has not faced a major struggle this year, myself included. However, with struggle comes growth... or at least that is what they tell me.

The truth is, I have grown exponentially this year. I met people who truly cared about my well-being. People who wanted to see me get help. 

See, I have fought mental illness the majority of my adult life, but I had always been too afraid to seek professional help. Too afraid to be diagnosed. Too afraid for people to see me differently. In reality, no one needs to know my diagnosis unless I choose to tell them, and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses had help me back for too long. So, here I am, telling stigma to fuck off, and professing my diagnoses loudly and proudly to the world. It's a long story, but I hope you will stick with me until the end. I say this not because I need people. I am learning to let the need for validation go. I say this because the more we educate ourselves regarding mental and other invisible illnesses, the more we can do our part to lift the stigma so others do not do what I did for so long... refuse to seek treatment.

Let's start with a little background information.

November 8th, 2007: I moved in with my best friend. I was in love with him, and he was in love with me. He told me once, honestly and openly, but he said we would destroy each other if we tried to be together romantically. He was right, to an extent. We did destroy each other, but we were never romantically involved.

April 20, 2008: We were evicted. He packed up and left without a trace. My heart was shattered. At the time, I didn't see that I had been a pawn in his con. All I knew was that the man I loved more than anyone else in the entire world got in a U-Haul, drove away, and did not reach out to me for almost a year. When he did reach out to talk to me, I was so angry. I told him I could forgive everything, but I couldn't forgive him for the icy wall I had built around my heart in his absence. He told me that was my choice. He was right. The icy fortress I had built around my heart and my soul to protect myself from feeling the pain of his leaving, the drugs and alcohol I used to numb myself... all of that was my fault. I had done it to myself. Eight years ago, I blamed him. Eight years ago, I loved him. Eight years ago, I was trying to hang onto him in any way I possibly could. I refused to believe he was gone.

Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one... and we're here. 2016. Well, we are technically one hour and thirteen minutes from 2017, but stick with me.

This past year, I forged friendships with two co-workers. These people saw through my facade, saw the damage and the sickness that lived within, and wanted to help. They earned my trust. I told them more than I had told anyone, including my former roommate of seven years, up until now. They convinced me to get help. They wanted me to be okay. However, their story is not my story. They were as supportive as they could be. Mental illness can be just as taxing on the members of the patient's support system, as it is on the patient. (This is something I learned the hard way.) All the same, I will always appreciate and never forget the part they played in my story. They will always have a place in my heart, even though they no longer have a place in my life.

In March, I developed a crush on someone I never should have developed romantic feelings for. It happens, even to the best of us. I have never been able to read social cues. One of the downfalls to borderline personality disorder. I became really invested, but not so invested that I was willing to wreck this woman's current relationship. I have morals. I may misread social cues on the regular, but I understand the difference between feeling something and pursuing it. It dissipated around the end of July. No romantic feelings for this person since; however, I let myself feel. See, the aforementioned people had earned my trust, and I began to break down that icy exterior. I had no idea there were so many suppressed emotions hidden inside me, and I definitely had no idea what would happen or even how to begin to cope when they all came bubbling to the surface.

April, May, June: I spent almost every free moment I had helping a myriad of friends through their own emotional garbage. I thought I was doing good. I thought I was helping them. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn't. Their stories are not mine. What I do know is that I was in no way helping myself. I was merely distracting myself from a mountain of emotional garbage, through which I did not want to sort.

Sometime in mid-July, the exhaustion of running from myself and my emotions began to take control. I felt worthless and empty or I felt so much pain I couldn't breathe or move. I believed everyone would be better off if I did not exist. My illnesses told me they didn't even notice me, that they didn't love me, that I was a burden. My brain told me I should die, and I wanted to. I wanted to build my icy fortress back around me to shut off that voice in my head, and at the same time, I didn't. This wasn't the first time I had experienced depression, but it was the first time I had fallen this far in such a relatively short amount of time.  I finally went to see a counselor at the urging of the aforementioned friends. The counselor immediately referred me to a PCP to be prescribed anti-depressants. I would say they worked for a while, but that would be a lie. I wanted people to believe I was okay. I wanted them to think I had changed because I was terrified they would tire of me and leave. Another BPD moment: fear of perceived or real abandonment and frantic efforts to prevent that abandonment which, in turn, usually causes the abandonment one feared in the first place. It's a vicious cycle.

It takes constant effort on my part to prevent that cycle and many other cycles my brain wants to force me to accept as reality. Multiple times a day, every single day, I have to employ mindfulness and tell my brain to shut up. I have to recognize that the thoughts are only thoughts. That what other people think of me is in no way a reflection on me. I have to remind myself that recovery is a process. It isn't easy. For anyone without a mental illness reading this who thinks, What's the big deal? I have to do that too. Yes, you do. Everyone has to do that from time to time. It's a normal coping mechanism. It is usually such an insignificant part in "normal" every day life, that you don't even realize you are doing it. My brain chemistry, through major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, does not allow me to function in that way. Everything has to be at a heightened state of consciousness. In an 8 hour work day, I typically practice mindfulness 96 times. For those of you counting, that is an average of once every five minutes. On top of that, I am performing my work duties, which, not to sound prideful, but I'm pretty damn good at. It's mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. So, for those of you still in my supportive system, please understand that I am doing the best I can. Practice makes perfect, but if you invite me to do something, don't be offended if I cancel. Also, please please please do not automatically think I have experienced another breakdown that led to hospitalization. Most of the time, especially now that I am properly medicated, it is just that I am exhausted and just want to relax with quilting and Netflix.

Back to the year...

August through late October was a downward spiral. Most of which, I only remember bits and pieces. People kept trying to get me to say what I felt, and I couldn't.

I'm now learning how to do that. I consciously use "I feel" statements. I hate them. I hate the way they feel in my mouth, but I make myself say them anyway because when I look past the stereotypical therapy aspect, they do work. I feel like a tool, but if it helps me in my recovery, I will do whatever it takes.

Anyway, I tried to tell people how I felt, but situations were all I could talk about. I thought if I explained a situation enough time, they would somehow figure out what it was I was trying to say, even though, I didn't even know what I was trying to say. Then, at the end of October, I broke over and over and over again. "I want to die. I want to die. I want to die. Will this kill me? Will this? What if I did this?"

I had a similar breakdown in July to one person. I trusted this person more than I have trusted anyone since the best friend I loved in 2007/2008. I still trust this person. However, our friendship ended shortly after my birthday in August. I blamed myself. I took all responsibility because I always feel like everything is my fault. I am now learning that I cannot be responsible for all of it. His choices are his. They are not a reflection of me, regardless of how I feel about it.

I said those words to the right people apparently. For the first time since July, someone reached out to authorities for help. In fact, I got to see the police twice in a 24 hour period. This led to my 3-day hospital stay, which I will never EVER do again. Maybe some of those places are nice or even close to helpful, this one was not that for me. However, the moment I sprinted out that doorway, I tried to jump right back into my life like normal. That was a mistake they had warned me about. When they say, "Take it slow," you should listen to that advice. This led to a terrible breakdown in the middle of Red Lobster.

November 8th, 2016: My last major breakdown occurred. External forces beyond my control plus facing the anniversary of the day "the best friend I was in love with" and I moved in together, which also happened to be his birthday, for the first time in 8 years, mixed together into a breakdown that flowed right into a breakthrough.

I'm not saying I have perfected any of this. I haven't. Maybe my meds finally interacted in my brain chemistry in the correct way. Maybe I became more determined to beat this. Maybe I accepted the fact that I had lost enough and wanted to fight. I'm not sure what caused the shift, but I know it happened. Here I am, and I want to share this journey with you, the readers I may or may not have. I know I won't post everyday. I'll try for once a week. I may only achieve three post in one year, but I want to share my journey. I want others to know that they are not alone in their journey. Each of us has our own unique journey to walk, but we do not have to do it alone, even when the ones you thought would be there aren't, you cannot take it personally. You must keep fighting. You must keep pushing. You are strong. You are enough.

My name is Sarah, and this is my road to recovery.

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