From my personal blog: Now That I'm Fifty: A Brief Series of Unknown Length. Entry #2 Mental Illness Awareness Week and the Pressure I put on Myself to Prove I’m Capable, and Now I’m Exhausted
In Honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week: It wouldn’t make sense if I wrote it in time
Trigger warning: suicide ideation, self-harm, bad words
I just told my husband I wrote my memoirs in my head while in the shower. I was standing in the shower thinking, wishing something could record my thoughts. In my mind, I wrote it all, word for word. An in-depth, full-of-drama memoir with lots of emotion, ups and downs, complete sentences, and perfect grammar. My words were ideal; they would have drawn the reader right in and perfectly expressed my thoughts and feelings. But, unfortunately, I will never be able to replicate it now, all because I don’t have a thought recorder.
When I am overwhelmed, my mind races. I struggle to contain my thoughts, and my mind can go from one end of things to the other faster than I can keep up. I don’t mind it racing in ways that write fictional memoirs. But I do mind when it ruminates and punishes me for everything I’ve done wrong throughout my life, finding ways I screwed up things I’ve done right. The cruelty my mind speaks to me when I am deep in an episode is the worst anyone has ever spoken to me.
Only I pay the price, and only I am to blame for allowing it to happen.
Then, in those times, like this time, I scrutinize myself constantly. Finally, I will convince myself that it is unacceptable to lose the ability to control my thoughts. As a result, my symptoms become intense. I become irritable; I stay in my head, staying up all night, forgetting things, being mad at myself, unable to connect, wanting to withdraw, and finding fault in everything and everyone, mainly myself.
Then my eating gets messed up, and I feel dehydrated constantly. I vomit, I get headaches, and my chronic pain flairs up, So finally, I convince myself I am no good, never was, and am just making a fool of myself day in and day out, inevitably feeling like a fraud because I am doing the very opposite of what I say; “talk about mental health” does not mean yell at yourself in your head all day.
Hence, I’m exhausted.
This is how my brain operates 24/7 on days leading up to times like this when I find myself smack dab in a mixed episode. Ugh, it pisses me off. I finally admit that I feel terrible and know I am not myself; a learned skill on its own. But I also feel like I can’t stop it; my Illness tries very hard to convince me of that, and it’s difficult not to listen to the words in your own head.
It’s a cycle I want to get out of, but I get stuck in a loop; it hurts my mind and body, becoming physically and emotionally debilitating. The more help I need, the more I forget I need help.
But I know I have come a long way, and everyone can get better. I know it. It was just about a decade ago that these cycles dictated my behavior.
One of the reasons I named my company “Doublesolid” was because, during a major episode, I found myself running away from the house where I lived with my husband and two boys. I had nothing but a backpack full of mismatched socks and was wearing flip-flops in the dark, in the rain, while walking down the middle of the road- on the Doublesolid, hoping a car would not see me and it would all be over.
I never wanted to die, but I always wanted my mind to shut up, and this was the only way I could find to make it stop. It tortured me, and I wasn’t healthy enough to find other ways to handle those feelings. My oldest was struggling with his father's death, and I couldn’t help him; his pain became my fault, and I internalized it all, knowing if I had done something different, he wouldn’t be hurting. But I can’t make choices for other people; I don't have that type of influence, nor does anyone. But I took responsibility anyway.
I would do anything to shut my brain up. Anything. And I found lots of bad behaviors to bury those feelings. Lots of them.
I have learned healthy coping skills since and don’t fall into that behavior anymore (not that I don’t think about them). And because of that, I also named my business “Doublesolid.” For years I was a runner, reclaiming my power by pushing myself physically, proving to myself I could do anything I set my mind to, and I did. during those early morning runs, i would find myself on a beautiful and quiet New England road running right down that middle. I reclaimed myself. I was doing something positive for myself and stepping on top of what I had once hoped would be my escape.
And now, I do everything I can to walk the middle metaphorically, and just like that, I have found a way to walk the “Doublesolid safely.” But that doesn't mean without excruciating pain- like right now.
I told my husband this weekend I had to call my Doctor and let them know I wasn’t doing well mentally. But I then explained I didn’t want to because if I told them I was not doing well, they’d be disappointed in me. Or maybe I’d get the same reaction I did last time when I needed support, “your illness is long-term; we don’t have the staff to support you long-term.” Well, now it’s Tuesday. So guess who hasn’t called their Doctor yet?
Sidenote, I no longer have the Doctor who put me through the “we can’t help you because you require. long-term psychiatric care, good luck” mumbo-jumbo. Instead, I have a Psychiatrist available to me whom I respect immensely and a therapist who hasn’t left my side for over a decade. But if I don’t have confidence in myself, it’s hard to have faith in anything else.
I often wonder if I have some fucked up dependence on my self-loathing. If I self-loathe, I wouldn’t be hurt when someone tells me I am nothing but a disappointment. Why? Because that will inevitably happen as it always has. So, I cope with it by staying ahead by degrading myself daily. This way, I’m never surprised, my heart never drops, and I am never disappointed because I’m used to it.
What kind of mumbo-jumbo crap is that? It directly contradicts what I try to relay through my business and advocacy; why? Cuz’ who would want anyone to feel that way? When we share, we feel less alone. More people connect to this than you imagine, but right now, I can say that and still believe irrationally that I’m doing it all for nothing.
How do I know people connect to this? They’ve told me. Why can’t I believe them? Because my mind is overwhelmed, overworked, stressed, and pretty confident that I am making a fool of myself every minute I open my mouth. I know this is a disservice to all who have shared their mental health challenges with me; it’s not because everyone else is fake; it’s because no matter what I do, I feel I am. And then I feel bad for that, too.
I was standing in the living room Friday night amidst piles of merchandise that needed to be sorted, bagged, tagged, and lollygagged for our final rehearsal. I had 25 people coming to the last model meeting. I was making them a homemade dinner as a thank-you for all of their hard work.
Instead of being organized, systematic, and productive, I was pushing things around, the time ticking by with me unable to make my mind tell my hands what to do.
What followed was me constantly yelling at myself silently for not being able to function, being unable to be productive in record time, and ending up not hearing my son talk as he shared about his day. I couldn’t hear anything over my internal self-hatred speeches. My head almost exploded. At least, that is what it felt like. My blood felt like ice water on fire, and I lost all connection to my identity. I was stuck in a loop and pissed that I was there.
I still had to cook a sauce, one vegetarian and one with meatballs. So I had to make the meatballs too. This (obviously) was not going to work, or so I believed.
I started operating on pure exhaustion from beating myself up hour after hour from awake until bed. Staying up late to beat myself up more and now experiencing insomnia because that’s my natural trajectory. Or am I telling myself and fulfilling some fort of prophecy here? My negative self-talk is brutal. I can find fault in my fault. It’s the biggest asshole I have ever been in contact with, and I’ve been in touch with a shit ton of them. And yes, every part of that pun is intended.
I slept a bit and got up the following day, forgetting the NAMI Walk. I thought it was on Sunday. I had missed a Dr. appointment the week before and thought yesterday was Sunday (these are some of my red flags). So, I decided to start cooking after breakfast, put on relaxing music, shut everything else out and take my time. I wanted to put love into that meal. I couldn’t do that if I were stressed. I was excited to have the models and my committee over, to cook for them, and show them my appreciation, yet I knew if I had thrown it together, it would have tasted that way.
If I can stop, collect myself, and show love to others, why, in the blaze of glory, can I not stop and show it to myself? Well, the answer is simple. But, I choose not to; cuz’ in these moments, in these episodes, I know I’m not worth it.
There are over 20 models walking the runway at LIFE LIFE LOUD. And they’re doing this on a volunteer basis. I’ve known some but just met others for the first time. Everyone brings their abilities, passion, and uniqueness to this, something I created (ironically, in my head, standing in the shower thinking). And here it is, coming to fruition. So, why am I not enjoying watching it all come together?
Well, the answer, again, is simple. I choose not to. I’m not worth it, and telling myself I am not worth it saves me from feeling that heartbreak when someone else tells me the same. So I may as well get ahead of it. If it all falls apart, I already know what it feels like. To solidify this, I play over memories that still pain me today; the horrible things people have said to me, done to me, and what I have done to myself.
But, that night, seeing the LIVE LIFE LOUD models come in with their hair just so, their make-up perfect, their shoes, their excitement, the conversations between those who were once strangers; from different places, with different lifestyles, all laughing together, sharing a meal, was simply breathtaking. I felt joy. Real joy.
I took their photos, and it moved me. Fighting back the tears at times, I felt so proud of them, honored that they trusted me with their photograph. I don’t take that lightly at all. Someday I’ll let those tears just roll; probably Sunday.
They all looked incredible in their outfits; their faces literally glowed. It was very emotional and beautiful to witness. I hope I never, ever forget any of it. I’m so proud of them, inspired by them, and honored to have each of them in my life.
I won’t let these amazing people down, but I’m struggling. Nothing will stop me from completing what I had envisioned, which so many have supported financially with their time, effort, and heart. I won’t let down the models, my friends (committee), the entertainers, or the ticket holders. But I’m petrified this will all blow up in my face, and I’ll be made a fool, so I may as well just get ahead of it and feel like that now. Wow, do you see how these circular thoughts go? My typing can barely keep up, and I type so fast flames come out of my fingertips.
This show isn’t just a show. I’m putting my soul out there for people to see, feel, and hopefully connect to. I know the world we live in is judgmental and cruel. But I hope that by bringing together a diverse group for the exact incredible cause, more of us will realize that our struggles are similar regardless of our differences. Then, by experiencing that, more people will feel less alone because they have seen it with their own eyes; that’s beautiful.
All that awesome stuff, yet that night after dinner, after looking around at all the faces smiling, wearing clothing with designs I created through my experiences, pain, and love, I came home happy. And as I told my husband how amazing it was, I searched my brain, reliving the entire experience I loved to find all the ways I screwed up.
I think, “this one is mad at me because of this.” I believe “that one doesn’t want to do this because I did that.” At one point, I told him a friend I’ve been extremely close to for years hates me because they don’t like how I act and wish I didn’t include their child because I’m not a good role model”. Wow, girl. Sit down.
I drove myself into the worst panic attack I have ever had, convinced I was dying, alone, in my shower. I could not breathe. My heart was across the room, and I was angry and scared, making my symptoms worse. I didn’t want to go out like that. I wanted to complete this show. I didn’t want people to be sad, mad, or to feel that they had to put the show on without me. But would they?
I mean, a lot of people I know aren’t even attending. They must see me for what I am; a fraud. It doesn’t matter how many have supported me in being LOUD about mental health because right now, I’m here, trying to use my challenges to help others, and instead of being a part of that with me, they’re busy. And I’m left feeling like they never really supported me. Wait, what do you mean? I’m not everyone’s first thought? I’m not everyone’s priority? Girl, sit down and collect yourself.
I know it’s selfish and ridiculous to think, but what if I can’t hold back my Illness from consuming me and I don’t make it to my goal of seeing 94 years old (that’s my goal)? Would they even come to my funeral?
This thought process comes from my irrational mind and means nothing and everything in the same breath. It is ludicrous, but my mind believes it, so it takes over, trumps any positive thought, and I am on the shower floor knowing my life has been all for not. Plus, who cares if someone doesn’t like or approve of me? Who needs that?
The answer is, apparently, me. How shameful to need such validation. And so I’m mad at myself for feeling that way because I know better. I don’t do for others, so they do for me. And I surely don’t expect others to take from themselves to give me anything. But in moments like this, that is precisely what I think and feel.
As you can imagine, with thoughts like this taking up space, I struggle to manage my time while desperately trying not to give in to my Illness. But with only days away from the most significant thing I have done thus far, I’m all over the place chasing a tail that doesn’t belong to me because it’s shiny.
Even in my despair and confusion, I know I must put my health first. But, to do that, I must be honest with myself and stay the course.
Todo this, I will back up quietly and hand the baton to the next person ready to advocate in the public eye while supporting and cheering them on the entire way. Based on my mental health decline since I began planning this, I have decided it is my last big fundraiser. My last performance.
I will spend the time it frees up to practice finding joy, allowing joy in my life, and not putting anything ahead of my health. If I don’t, even with the quantity of life I’m hoping for, I will not have the quality of life to make it worthwhile.
Plus, I’m not good for anyone if I am not good for myself.
I will continue to share my designs, donate to charity, and support my community in ways that do not drive my stress so I can prove to myself I am capable, all the while doing more damage to myself than not. I may have terrible thoughts about myself sometimes, and I may have people in my life who believe these things, too. But by focusing on those few, I take away from those who have supported me every step, want me to succeed, helped me get there, and love me unconditionally, and that’s not fair.
I’m closing this out with these last thoughts.
You are reading the words of a woman experiencing a Bipolar episode who hates herself most of the time but gets the fuck up anyway.
You are reading the words of a woman struggling with crippling anxiety, which is still going to post this despite the fear of you, the reader, thinking she’s “crazy” and will try not to delete it once she posts it, hoping no one read it, but she can’t promise anything.
You are reading the words of a woman who knows in her heart she is not the only one experiencing some or all of these things because she wants you to know you’re not alone.
You are reading the words of a woman who does not want your sympathy. She offers compassion and empathy but believes she doesn’t deserve it, so don’t bother. Other people need support more than she does.
You are also reading the words of a woman who doesn’t like when she refers to herself in the third person.
But most importantly, know regardless of your challenges, no matter what you have faced or will face, your potential is limitless. Never let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.
Look, I can’t simply tell my symptoms of Bipolar Disorder to go away, just like someone with any other illness they’d like to wish away.
But now that I’m fifty, I realize the only way to do better is to do better, and part of doing better is knowing when it’s time to make a significant change.
That change begins, for this woman, now. And I’ll showcase it all on October 16th. All my mistakes, passion, pain, experiences, embarrassments, strength, and struggle will be displayed to inspire others to refuse to be stifled and degraded based on their illness, even by their own mind.
I will do this for all those who walked this walk before me and those finding themselves in deep suffering now. For all of those we have lost and all of those, we can save by speaking our truths, talking about mental health, and leading by example.
And, of course, this event’s proceeds will benefit NAMI NH (National Alliance on. Mental Illness), so others can access the resources, advocacy, and education they desperately need to better support and understand themselves.
And the day after, I will take a long nap looking forward to turning my focus on allowing myself to do better- by being better -for myself.