Category Archives: pieces of me

Medication Frustration

This is the top drawer of my bedside table, a.k.a. the “med drawer”:

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This is where I keep the stuff that most folks organize neatly in a medicine cabinet. Mostly, it’s full of your typical and over-the-counter remedies: ibuprofen, pepto bismol, benadryl, cold medicine. It’s also where I keep my meds for anxiety, depression, and migraines. It’s a necessary, if messy, drawer. Usually, I open this drawer at night to take my daily medications without so much as a thought; it’s automatic, an action I’ve taken every night for years.

Sometimes, however, I really fucking hate opening that drawer. This week is one of those times.

I’ve been on some sort of daily medication to treat anxiety and depression pretty consistently since I was sixteen, which makes fifteen years of me opening this drawer (or its previous incarnations at my parents’ house and other apartments and dorms) every night. I’m incredibly grateful for this drawer, for the drugs in it (which have changed over the years several times–if you want to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of prozac vs. zoloft vs. lamictal vs. lexapro vs. a couple others I don’t remember at this point, I’m your gal) and for the doctors and therapists and friends and family members who have helped me get my shit together and get the help and medication I need to treat my anxiety and depression.

And yet, right now, I really hate that fucking drawer.

I hate that I have to cut my lexapro doses into little quarters as I wean off a higher “winter” dose to treat SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I hate the bitter taste of the pill residue that gets caught in my throat sometimes when I don’t cut the pills perfectly. I hate the fact that that higher dose made me incredibly drowsy in the afternoons for two months and eliminated my libido. I hate that these pills make it hard for me to lose weight and even, sometimes, to experience joy. I hate the fact that I rely, to some extent, on a pill to make myself “normal,” if there is such a thing.

I know that these feelings are valid–and likely temporary. I also know that there are alternatives to medication that I may try down the road in addition to my current therapy regimen. I also know that if I decide to try those methods and they work, that’s great. I also know that if I decide to try those methods and they don’t work, that’s okay, too, and meds will still be there and probably still be able to help me from falling into a non-functional depressive black hole.

I sincerely hope no one thinks that I’m saying meds are inherently bad or that no one should take them; I don’t think that at all. If you are feeling low, and especially if you are thinking of harming yourself, please go get help, and if a doctor or therapist thinks meds will help, consider their advice seriously. I’m also not advocating that anyone take meds if they truly feel they aren’t working for them. Basically, I’m the non-judgmental ninja over here, promise!

All I’m doing is sharing with you that, for whatever reason, this week I’m just tired of the process. I’m tired of opening that drawer. I think it’s okay to be tired sometimes. It’s okay to hate the drawer and to feel grateful for it at the same time. I hope, if you have a drawer, you know that, too.

 

 

The Thirty-First Year of the Jackie

So, it turns out that–despite the existence of alcohol and chocolate–I have made it to my thirty-first birthday. A year ago today, I was in a sort-of-impressive-sounding corporate job with a four-hour round-trip daily commute and an email addiction. I was really depressed, and so, shortly after turning thirty, I took a leave of absence which ultimately led to me quitting my job. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, with the possible exception of going into that super gross hot tub at Myrtle Beach during our senior trip in college (those flesh-eating viruses are NO JOKE).

Now, one year into this journey off the beaten high-achiever path that I’ve dutifully followed for most of my life, I’ve achieved a new milestone: being proud of myself on my birthday.

This may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it really is. Once I was legally able to drink, I stopped enjoying my birthday. Every January 5th brought on a contemplative funk during which I lamented my lack of achievement and progress during the previous year: “Some people my age are olympic medalists! Half my friends have graduate degrees! Look at that guy; he’s only twenty-three and he makes so much more money than I do! Look at that girl; she’s only twenty-five and she’s married with a baby!  What have I done? Look at how worthless I am!”

I once expressed this attitude to one of my coworkers at Google a few years back. She was a pretty cool chick and refreshingly honest, and she was baffled by my view of aging. She’d lost a close family member at a young age and birthdays inspired gratitude in her–she was always happy and relieved to make it another year. I remember nodding and chastising myself internally for not being grateful enough for my birthdays and for not having cancer or losing an arm to that Myrtle beach hot tub, and then going right back to dreading early January and berating myself.

This year, however, is different. When it comes to traditional measures of success, this year certainly hasn’t touched most of those that preceded it. I can’t say that I work at a fancy company. I can’t say my salary is XYZ bucks per week. I can’t talk about awards or kudos or performance scores at work, or drop the name of any executives I work with.

What I can say, however, and what I’m proud of, is that I’ve had the most new experiences in the past year of my life than in the previous eight put together. These experiences ranged from good to bad to everything in between, but they made me think (and blog) about myself and the world deeply, and in different ways than I have before.

I experienced the joy of realizing that I could write, and write well(ish), and write enough words and sentences and paragraphs to make a whole book-type document that people might want to read. I experienced the excitement of getting an agent, and the subsequent anxiety and boredom of submitting to publishers.

I experienced the love of my family, and the grief of saying goodbye to a family member, albeit a furry one. I also experienced the excitement of welcoming a new love into my life, though this created drama with my old love, which was iced coffee (sorry bae).

I experienced the stress and exhilaration of travel, from people-watching the crazy costume-clad nerds of San Diego Comic Con to getting knocked up by food in Florence and trudging through the rain in Paris in super ugly shoes and seeing Britney dance way worse than when I saw her on tour when I was sixteen.

I witnessed two amazing couples get married on opposite-ish sides of the country and cried my eyes out both times because I AM A SAP, OK?

I experienced breakdowns and bad nights, and discovered new coping mechanisms to pick myself up when I fall or when the world seems too much to handle.

In short, I experienced life, and I had the time to really take it in, as opposed to watching it all pass me by. And, for the first time since I was a little kid, I’m proud of myself for that fact alone. I’m proud of myself for trying to live well, and I’m grateful to all those people (both IRL and on this blog) who have come along on the journey with me this year.

So, here’s to the thirty-first year of the Jackie! May the thirty-second be just as interesting, and may you still be interested enough to tune in and read about it once in a while 🙂

Love,

The Birthday Girl

 

 

I’m sad…are you mad at me? (Subtitle: how ‘Inside Out’ hit me in the feels)

*Spoiler Alert* Plot details from Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out abound below, so don’t read unless you have seen the movie or don’t care about being spoiled.

Guys, I saw Inside Out this weekend and it might be one of my favorite movies of all time – and not just because it hit me right in the gut, emotionally – it’s also funny, visually stunning, and features some remarkable vocal performances.  But from a personal standpoint, if you’ve been reading this blog for the past few weeks, you know I’ve been posting about different pieces of me and how I manage them (or how they sometimes manage me).  There’s my Personal Demon, who likes to yell at me for, well, everything.  There’s Awesome Girl, the confident piece of me that I’m trying to recapture from my childhood, bit by bit.  And then there’s The Blob, who makes anxiety his special purview.  I developed these images and classifications for the different pieces of myself in therapy, and they’ve been a tremendous help as I work through my (many) issues, so you can imagine a film that uses characters to personify the primary emotions in a little girl’s head would strike a chord with me.

The story revolves around the anthropomorphized emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear who reside in the “Headquarters” of a ten-year-old little girl’s (Riley) head.  When Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, the subsequent upheaval in her life (any San Fran resident can attest to this – crappy, overpriced housing and broccoli-covered pizza are indeed two of our less endearing aspects as a city), causing Joy (who has been the HBIC most of Riley’s life) to get lost in the deeper parts of Riley’s brain, along with Sadness.  As they make their way back to headquarters and Riley slips into a numb depression as the result of Anger, Disgust, and Fear’s well-intentioned but misguided attempts to right the ship, Joy comes to the stunning realization that she is not what Riley needs to adjust to her new life – she needs Sadness.  When they make it back to Headquarters and Sadness allows Riley to cry and tell her parents, who have always referred to her as their “Happy Girl”, how she’s really feeling, the truly heartbreaking moment comes.  After revealing with tears in her eyes that she misses her old home, her friends, and her school, she asks her parents: “Are you mad?”

This is where I lost it.  I didn’t stop crying the rest of the film, and am tearing up a bit as I type this.  If you’ve ever suffered from depression, I’m betting you leaked a few tears at this scene, too.

The worst parts of depression are the fear and guilt that accompany your sadness – the fear that people will be mad at you for feeling down, for hating yourself, for wanting to hurt yourself, and the guilt that you shouldn’t feel this way, that you are wrong, that you should just be able to snap out of it and not bother anyone else with your feelings.  So what do you do?  You try to go numb.  You block everything out, because it’s better, you figure, to have no emotions at all than to experience (or even worse, show) your sadness.  If you show it, people might be mad.

Here’s the thing, though, that I’ve discovered after years of therapy and self-exploration: people are almost never mad that you’re sad.  They might be sad that you’re sad, or worried, and that might lead them to say or do the “wrong” thing, but they aren’t mad at you.  People who love you – your friends, family, significant others – they will never be “mad” at you for showing how you really feel, even if how you really feel isn’t filled with joy and gratitude for the glories of life and the universe.  And if they are angry because you are sad, then there is something really, really wrong with them – not with you.  I’ve learned this through my family, who’ve supported me through years of depression and suicidal bouts.  I’ve learned this from my wonderful friends, who love me and are nice to me even when I lose my shit in a bar over a work email and actually, physically, hit myself in the head (0/10 would not recommend this strategy).  I’ve learned this from the internet, where people have responded to me writing about real emotions on this blog over the past few weeks with empathy and friendship and humor.

Of course, the tough thing about depression (and being human) is that you can never learn life’s key lessons too many times – your confidence in them waxes and wanes depending on the circumstances and your brain chemistry.  So for me, the moment in the film when Riley’s parents tell her that of course they’re not mad, and then share their own sadness at leaving their new home, hit me right in the feels (as they say on the interwebz).  With this scene, Inside Out validated a truth that should be obvious but that many people (those who suffer from mental illness, especially) struggle with recognizing every day: you cannot have joy without sadness, and you are not wrong for being sad.  Sadness is human, sadness is healthy, and sadness is a part of you.  Denying it, pushing it down into the depths of your brain and soul, will only hurt you in the end.  When you cry, you’re showing other people that sadness, and that’s ok, too – crying is healthy and can often lead to you getting help you need, whether it’s with a major depression, huge life stressors, or a tough breakup.

To that end, I want to share the drawing of my own “Sadness” character, who I drew about a month ago.

Hello, I shop at Hot Topic
Hello, I shop at Hot Topic

I still struggle with this character – honestly, I’ve probably worked with her the least.  But Emo Jackie (lol) is just as important to me as Phyllis Smith’s (fantastic performance btw) Sadness is to Riley.  She has an important job to do, and Inside Out was a beautiful and wonderful reminder of that fact.

Go see it if you haven’t already, and remember that your sadness, whatever he or she looks like, is a part of you.  Treat that part with love.

How I leave my apartment when I am scared

Sometimes, when you are an anxious person, you go through periods where it is difficult to leave the house because you are afraid of really weird and/or unlikely stuff.  When you’re an anxious AND depressed person, it’s doubly fun, because sometimes you can’t leave the house because you’re afraid of really weird and/or unlikely stuff, and sometimes you can’t leave the house because you’re too sad and tired to get out of bed and have maybe forgotten how to shower.  It’s good to have variety, I guess?

Today is one of those hard-to-leave-the-house-because-I’m-afraid-of-weird-and/or-unlikely-stuff days.  Here is a short list of some of the things I am anxious about that may happen if I leave my apartment:

  • I forget my keys and get locked out of my apartment.  The locksmith is unavailable and I have to spend the rest of my life living with all the other homeless people in Golden Gate Park while my landlord jacks up the rent on my place to over three grand a month and lets it to a family of four who just feel lucky to afford anything in the city.
  • I step in dog poop and have to throw away my good flats.
  • There is a sudden tsunami and I drown and die.
  • There is a huge earthquake and a building falls on me OR a fissure opens up in the earth and I fall in and I die.
  • I get hit by a car and lose a limb(s) and/or die.
  • I have to go to the bathroom but I am somewhere where there is no bathroom and I am uncomfortable because I really have to pee but can’t (this is a very real fear and happens a lot because I keep myself well-hydrated so I don’t die of dehydration in case I am ever trapped somewhere without water and also because it helps with digestion).
  • There is a man outside my apartment laughing to himself while urinating on a tree and I have to walk past him while he catcalls me (this one is gross and happens about 1x per week because San Francisco).
  • I go all the way to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription because Walgreens texted me and said it was ready.  I get there, and it is not ready, and I have to wait at the pharmacy for twenty minutes during which time I run into someone I know and have to make small talk (this is scary and very possible due to unreliability of Walgreens).
  • I run into one of my neighbors in the lobby and have to make small talk (this one is the most terrifying because it is the most likely due to living in apartment building with actual other humans).

Some of these fears, as you see, are more likely to come to pass and are more dire than others, but my mind manages to rotate through all of them at such a pace that they all seem equally plausible and horrifying.  These fears live in a part of my brain ruled by The Blob.  The Blob is grey and always vaguely anxious and looks, coincidentally, like one of the ghosts from Pac-man:

Boo!
Boo!

The Blob is very well-meaning: he (or it?) just wants me to be prepared for any and all contingencies.  Unfortunately, when he’s in top form, his preferred form of preparation is for me to stay in the apartment and never leave.  This is not feasible, and so, on days like today, I have to use all the tools in my arsenal to get him to chill out.  Despite his constant yammering in my head since I woke up, I have managed to leave my apartment TWICE already and am planning to go out a third time – for a social engagement, no less, with, like, three other people!  What’s more, I’m meeting them in a restaurant that I have NEVER BEEN TO BEFORE, which is sort of a huge deal because new restaurants usually have Ebola (I’m pretty sure that’s science).

So how do I do it?  I’m not a superhero, and I have ZERO judgment for people who don’t manage to do it (there are days when I can’t, myself), but here are some coping strategies I have adopted throughout the years that help:

  • Medication – this is less a coping strategy than a preventive measure.  A lexapro & lamictal a day keep The Blob at bay!
  • Breathing – I breathe really slowly and just think about my breathing and nothing else until I can get up from my bed, put on shoes and a bra (and clothes) and leave the apartment.
  • Disaster-proofing my purse – people joke that I carry around a pharmacy in my purse…and I basically do.  Other than the usual keys, wallet, phone, I have nearly all stomach and headache remedies in my bag in a plastic pouch at all times.  The extra weight is worth the peace of mind.
  • Planning – going to a new place to eat?  I Google my route, menu options, and Uber ride prices as well as weather conditions (thanks, San Francisco micro-climates!).
  • Focus on the likely good outcome – this one is the most important.  Because of The Blob, I’ve often missed out on meeting people, going places, or experiencing things that could make my life a lot better/happier/more fun because I was too busy hiding in my apartment due to anxiety.  If I think instead about what GOOD could come out of whatever I’m leaving the apartment to do, my anxiety becomes that much more manageable.  For instance, tonight when I meet some friends from my old job for dinner, I can tell myself that not only will I most likely NOT get Ebola, I will also get to catch up with people who are awesome, hear all the juicy gossip since I left, and enjoy some delicious food at a place that has FOUR STARS on Yelp!

The best part of my coping strategies is that their effects are cumulative – the more often I manage to overcome The Blob and get out of the house, the (usually) more positive examples I have of good outcomes to look back on the next time I’m dealing with general or social anxiety!  Don’t get me wrong: I’ll always be something of a homebody, but on days like today I’m proud of myself for taking the leap…and leaving my apartment.  Anyone else have good coping strategies to share?  I’m always looking for more!

Well, only two hours to go until I leave for dinner!  Time to go pack my purse, get some work done, and research the temperature at 8 pm tonight in the Mission 🙂

So I quit my job ten days ago, and this is my new apartment…

My new sexy home
My new sexy home

Just kidding, my actual apartment is a Toyota Sienna, which is much classier and gets better gas mileage.*

Seriously, though, as I wrote in a post last week, I have this personal demon (WITH RIPPED ABS UGHH) who lives in my head who was being louder and meaner to me than usual because I decided to quit my job.  Part of the demon’s argument against this action was that I would immediately become super poor and end up living, quite literally, in a van down by the river.  It is a small victory over him that ten days into my unemployment adventure, I have not been evicted AND I received a bunch of amazing encouragement from friends, family, and random internet people on my last post.  I expected most people to react to: “Hey, I quit my job and I’m trying to write a book!” with this expression:

Oh my god, I hate millennials.
Oh my god, I hate millennials.

Instead, I received tons of emails, messages, and in person comments that all pretty much boiled down to “Good for you!  God, I wish I could quit my job, too.  Jobs are terrible.  Hmm, maybe I should play the lottery.  Hold on, brb, I have to run to the convenience store.  But yeah, you’re great, SCREW THE MAN!  What’s your lucky number, again?”  I wish you all good luck with those lottery tickets, by the way, and hereby stake a claim to 10% of all winnings.

Seriously, this week has been a pretty incredible high, which means, of course, that I’m likely going to come crashing down to earth sometime in the next five to ten days.  It’s how the demon in my brain works (thanks, mental illness!).  To prevent this, I’m trying to cultivate another part of myself that I drew with my therapist’s guidance (IT REALLY DOES WORK).  She looks like this:

I'm awesome.
I’m awesome.

This is another younger part of me (who apparently was a big fan of knee socks and had reddish hair?  Whatever), but unlike my personal demon, she is confident and does not. Give. A. Shit. About. Anything.  I drew her after my mother told me, for the thousandth time, that I was a super happy, not-depressed, confident child before puberty (pro tip: contrary to what society would like you to think, getting boobs in the fourth grade does NOT lead to increased self-esteem), at which time the shit really hit the fan.

Now, it’s totally natural for things to go down the toilet once you hit puberty – your body is weird, your hormones are out of control, and since this is happening to everyone in your school at approximately the same time, your social life becomes an insane CW-style soap-opera complete with sexual harassment and illicit substance use.  For me, though, puberty also marked the onset of what has been a lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety.  Almost all vestiges of confidence that I had in my abilities, my appearance, even my intelligence disappeared almost overnight.  I struggled through by focusing on getting 100% on every test, winning every award I could, getting into a top college, getting the best job, blah blah blah.  Ironically, it’s only now when I’m finally jumping off the high-achiever train that I’m starting to remember Awesome Girl.  She’s the girl who used to play rec basketball every winter and loved it, despite never making a basket in four years.  She’s the girl who spent every Thanksgiving break pretending to be the captain of the Mayflower and ordering her little brother and cousins around the basement, telling them to swab the decks, raise the sails, and keep an eye out for Plymouth Rock.  She’s the girl who wore leggings and a giant jumper with a Disney Princess on it to school and thought, “I AM a princess, and you better fucking believe it.”

Of course, this girl didn’t have any bills to pay and had no true understanding of the Middle East quagmire (to be fair, who does?).  It’s easy to be the queen of the world when the world is your home, your parents, your brother, and your little group of friends.  I’m not aiming to be the queen of the world, but I do want to recapture a bit of the essence of what made Awesome Girl so awesome – she was less prone to worry, and more likely to celebrate.  She’s the complete antithesis of the demon, and it’s my goal this week to remember and celebrate her a little bit every day.  If you’re reading this, I hope you can take a minute to remember a time when you felt on top of the world – it might not have been when you were a child, and it might be hard to remember it at all, but it’s worth the effort to try.

Now, I’m going to go write another thousand words of my book BECAUSE I AM AWESOME, BITCHES.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I don’t know whether or not the Toyota Sienna is classier or gets better gas mileage than any other van on the market.  Chrysler, please don’t sue me.  Toyota: if you think your van IS better than others on the market, I’m happy to do a test drive and write a post all about it.  For a price.  My price is one million American dollars.  It’s a worthwhile investment, I promise.