despondency

Hanging in Limbo

What is wellness?  Stability?  These are questions that I have oft asked myself over the last month or so. How will I know when I have achieved the coveted status, the pinnacle place of mental health wellness? I ponder the importance of this contemplation.  Does it matter or hold significance in whether I perseverate over whether I am “well” and “fit,” or rather is it more important to just “be,” to live in the moment with mindfulness and awareness?

Since the beginning, I have been highly treatment-resistent.  I have had twelve hospitalizations, been on over twenty different drugs, and have endured thirty-eight electroconvulsive therapy treatments. In the last few months, I have explored alternative routes of treatment as a supplement to my psychiatric care.  A naturopath has honed and fine-tuned a special concoction of supplements and extracts that have positively affected my mental wellness, resulting in some symptom reduction.  In fact, a significant reduction.  Natural approaches coupled with the psychiatric approach have proven highly effective.  I am still weighed down with depression, anxiety, obsessions, and agitation, but utilizing my arsenal of coping skills and treatments has created a life and existence for me that has been elusive for many years.  So am I well?

My psychiatrist recently placed me in partial remission, which was the impetus for my perseveration surrounding what it means to be well.  Initially, this instilled in me a belief that I am now healed and should act and conduct myself as such.  Symptoms I may feel should be diminished, and I should embrace a life in which I no longer have sickness.  This led solely to frustration, as I knew that my true predicament was incongruent with these notions.  Then I started to think.  Is this black and white, or is there a spectrum? Room for the vague and the unsure?  For relativity? I see this as a complex phenomenon. In a linear direction, there is the spectrum of mental instability to mental wellness.  A person may land anywhere on that spectrum at any given time, but this categorization is superficial and not the only factor in involved.  In comes the concept of relativity.  Someone may fall closer on the spectrum to the societal understanding of instability, but yet have exceptional coping skills and support, thus creating a situation in which they could cope and exist more adeptly than someone in the same position – thus possibly more well than first perceived.  Contrarily, a person may fall closer to mental wellness on the spectrum, yet be unable to effectively cope.

I feel as though I am slowly navigating my way from the instability end of the spectrum to the place of mental wellness. I am beginning to understand the ambiguities and relativity in the process, and labels such as partial remission are not all-indicative of a certain state or place in someone’s existence.  In fact, it is just a label used solely for documentation in medical records.  When considering the spectrum and the concept of relativity, I can see that while I may not be entirely well, I am walking in the right direction, and my obsessions over the worth of words and labels are insignificant. What truly matters is to live mindfully and unconstrained by one’s own psyche.  To be controlled by the spectrum is to hang in limbo, not knowing where one truly falls and whether that knowledge is important at all.

I am sitting in my new apartment writing this piece.  I am scared.  I am afraid.  Obsessions and anxiety are creeping from the darkness and grasping their sticky tendrils around the threads of my mind, attempting to draw me from my place of progress.  While I could succumb to their power and view my place on the spectrum as the be-all and end-all, I can instead draw to mind the concept of relativity and recognize that while I may have some setbacks, I am fighting with well-honed coping skills and implementing my naturopathic and psychiatric interventions, compounding the linear nature of the spectrum and allowing a more dimensional look at my wellness and stability.

Wanting to Die

The voices first started during the summer of my fourteenth year.  I was training heavily to run cross-country in high school in the coming fall, and as I traversed the Calabasas mountains, I remember a soundtrack beginning to appear.  I slowly gained awareness to the preludes and waltzes of Bach, Vivaldi, Chopin, all playing audibly within my ears.  No, this was not strange.  Not in the least.  In fact, I appraised it to be entirely normal.  I would run listening to the Four Seasons, the crescendos and decrescendos rising and falling with the hills I was climbing and descending.  The music was not threatening, but rather became an inherent part of my existence that summer.

Light turned to dark as the summer ended and I entered the first month to two months of ninth grade.  The music disappeared and was replaced by something far more sinister, far more malicious.  Where choirs once sang praises, now were the odes of death.  I could both hear and see my mind telling me to kill myself, showing me the ways in which I must do it.  Images of blood and pills flooded my mind and my awareness in an all-consuming fashion.  I became disconnected from the world, a floating entity whose strings lay cut far from the earth.  I picked and tore at my skin until it bled and scabbed and sliced the skin on my arms with anything I could find – glass, tile, shards of metal, razor blades.  My mind wished for me to die, and I was willing to do the bidding.  

The above depiction was one of my first experiences battling suicidal thoughts and ideation, and certainly not my last.  I still struggle to this day – to this moment – with intrusive thoughts, at the least, and intent plans at the most.  People question how one can contemplate the taking of one’s life or complete the action itself when he or she has what society holds to be the pinnacles of happiness – ample financial holdings, supportive family/friends, a strong faith base, and, in some cases, fame and stature, etc.  This question arose with the death of Robin Williams.  He seemingly had everything the world could offer, yet was unable to find the will to live.  This questioning – this mindset – induces feelings of guilt in those contemplating suicide, as they cannot reconcile the simultaneous existence of their dark emotions and the presence of pinnacles of happiness in their lives, and it also perpetuates the carried notion of the selfish nature of suicide.  

I often return to the quote of Thomas Browne declaring, “It is a brave act to despise death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live.”  Wanting to die is a complex desire, a complex state of existence.  At times, it is my darkest enemy, and at other times my closest friend.  It becomes either a struggle to which I fight valiantly or a desire to which I longingly wish to acquiesce, deeply ruminating the possibilities within my mind like fingering a smooth, iridescent pearl between my thumb and pointer finger.  It is hard to articulate why my mind vacillates between wanting to fight and wanting to relinquish all power, but perhaps it can be best described as a longing to be free, an intense desire to rest.  My illness depletes my energy and wreaks havoc upon my body and mind relentlessly and mercilessly, leaving me incapacitated and dry.

In a recent conversation with my psychiatrist, she pointed out the degree to which I have become desensitized to suicide as a result of my years of battling contemplation and urges.  It no longer jars me to think about or see an image within my mind of me cutting my wrist and the blood flowing copiously, or swallowing a bottle of pills or stepping in front of a car.  She described a past patient of hers as the owner of a car dealership.  He would constantly and insistently talk about and describe his suicidal desires and plans with seemingly little emotional attachment.  On one occasion she challenged him: would he take a hammer to one of the new models on the lot?  He was repulsed and offered a resounding no.  She then asked, why would you do so to yourself?

What has jarred me was a conversation with a family member I had a few weeks ago.  This family member expressed openly that she knows she will probably lose me one day to suicide – that I will just be so tired of fighting and long to finally rest.  Hearing this put a pin through my heart, stole my breath but just for a moment.  I realized I truly would be gone and the repercussions my act would have upon my family members and those who love me.  To this I am not desensitized.  It shed a different light on the intrusive thoughts that have plagued me for so long.  

Though the nature of my illness dictates that I will likely continue to battle suicidal thoughts and urges, I know I must find a way to be free, to rest, within this world.  My desensitization to my suicidal thoughts has resulted in a disconnect between the way I view death by suicide and the result of the act of suicide itself – its definitiveness and finality.  My longing for rest and freedom does not have to equate death and the exit from this physical plane.  Challenging my thoughts is, and will be, of utmost difficulty, but I must show my strength and persist through the darkness, for I have yet to fully realize my purpose as a human being on this earth.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Hi readers, I want to shake things up a bit and post vignettes and random commentary from my life in addition to the style I have established over the last few months. It’s time to throw some different ingredients in the blender and bake another cake. Hopefully you may be appreciative. Thank you for your reads and your support thus far. Here goes.

 

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut butter and jelly. On white bread. The quintessential sandwich of childhood, memories built around baked bread with bleached flour, ground-up peanuts seasoned to taste, and a pomade of preserved fruit. Simple, yet profound, in its existence, a component of childhood often overlooked in a cacophony of recollections of soccer games and ballet recitals. However it is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that forms one of my earliest memories of childhood – feelings of loneliness and despondency and the bonds of friendship.

I was about six years old, nearly seven, residing in a suburb of Los Angeles. Our family had just trekked across the United States in a blue minivan from the state of New Hampshire. I had two sisters in tow, both younger, one an infant and the other preschool age. I was beginning first grade. It was my first day of school, and my mother had dutifully packed my lunch. It was simple. I am not quite sure what exactly it was composed of, but I know of a certainty there was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.

When it came to lunch time, I made my way to the outdoor quad that served as what I like to call the lunch arena. The day was warm and sunny, as it commonly is in Southern California, and students of all grades flocked toward one another and formed their cliques and lunch buddy clubs. I took a seat on the concrete towards the side of the quad, not in the action, but not necessarily detached. I took out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, and amidst the first few bites, I began to cry. Tears of loneliness, tears of despondency. I was alone. Devoid of any company, and it stung. One of the lunch aids came over, addressed the situation, and treated me in a brash manner. Had she never encountered a student, experiencing the fear and timidness associated with beginning life at a new school and being friendless in a big pond?

Apparently following lunch, word made its way to my teacher about the incident in the quad, and she took matters into her own hands. See, my elementary school had this program where students received lottery tickets for commendable work or behavior performed, and the more accumulated, the better the recognition and awards. My teacher stealthily manipulated this system to find a set of friends for me. She selected three of the young girls from the class and awarded them lottery tickets should they befriend me and show me the ropes, so to speak, of surviving and thriving at the elementary school. Our friendship spanned far past the first grade and into high school, where we parted ways, as many relationships have the potential to go.

Finding friends can be both the easiest and most difficult task in life, and also one of the most rewarding. Every time I spread some Jif Peanut Butter and Strawberry Smuckers Jam on wheat – not white – bread, I cannot help but recall how this very sandwich opened up a world of opportunities for me in a new school, a new town, and a new community where I could grow, develop, and thrive.