My APE, Part Two

My APE began a few weeks ago. While I haven’t journaled in a long time, it was so important an experience that I wrote it all down immediately afterward and it’s really still the best way to put it. So, here’s what I wrote:

 

It is 11:06 p.m. and I just had a life-changing experience. I’m going to write about it in present tense. [It seemed to deserve that.]

 

My parents are gone. It is late, but I have some energy. I decide to do some small house chores and to straighten some things up. I put something away in a folder, in the study, in the black box on my desk, and when I do I see my Fear cards. I wrote them many months back. I was so afraid. I was terrified about work (and many other things) so to try to help get over my fears I wrote on separate index cards my biggest fears. There were 8, I think. On the front was a fear. On the back was a fact (or facts) meant to prove that that fear was FALSE. It was a useful experience because it got me thinking more deeply, but they didn’t “work”—my fear didn’t lessen.

 

Fast forward to now. I am reading these fear cards and I feel…nothing. I don’t feel afraid. I don’t have that short-of-breath, churning gut, dizzy-headed feeling of dread I get when I am really anxious. Nothing. I read them and discover that now, having been working for some time, all of these fears are irrelevant. I am elated. I take out a red pen and put big “X”s over each fear and write encouraging words I actually mean below them like “IMPOSSIBLE” and “NO WAY”  and “I WIN” and “I AM STRONG.” That isn’t enough, though, so I pull over the shredder and shred them all. I sit down at the kitchen table and make a post on Facebook about how I am not afraid anymore. I log off, still thinking, and all of a sudden, it REALLY sinks in: I am not afraid anymore. Not of anything. I search myself—these big things that have terrified me for so long—am I scared of any of them? NO! And then I start crying. I cry and cry and then cry harder and then eventually it hits me: everything. All the emotions I have struggled with for so long. The fear that I’ll never be capable of being on my own and having a real career and a life separate from my disorder. The anger for being so different and so stalled. The rage for being sick at all. The bitterness for the mistakes I made when I was sick. The sadness wondering who I could have been if I never got ill—how college would have gone, if I would have studied abroad. The bitterness about gaining so much weight from my medications. All the hurt. All the pain. The loneliness when I cut myself or wanted to die. It all swirls together, all at once, flashing through my head and on fire in my heart and I just sob. I sob and I know, as I’m sobbing, that I’m crying it all out and away from me. I am letting it all go.

 

I feel so relieved. Light. Free. And then I start to laugh. Well, more like cackle like an old witch. (I hope no neighbors heard me!) And I laugh for a while, still crying—robust laughs from all the way down to my toes, up and away HAHAHAHA. And I realize—Here is it, here is the big moment, what it all comes to—EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT. I AM GOING TO BE OKAY. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO WORK OUT. I MADE IT.

 

I have never thought that and meant it since I got sick. Not. Fucking. Ever. And now? I don’t just think it: I KNOW. I know.

 

There you go, there’s my APE. Aptly named because it was truly the most amazing, profound experience I’ve had yet.

 

Since then, some things really have been different, three most notably:

 

One, I met with a total stranger, a potential client, in a place I’d never been to before, not knowing anything about her, including what she looked like, and I was not nervous. I started to feel my nerves creeping in like always, but then my APE came back to me and affirmed: I’m not afraid of anything. And just like that, my nerves went away. I was confident and clear and I got the job.

 

Two, I decided to cut down my therapy to every other month. I’ve learned so much and I really feel like whatever happens, whatever happens, I’ve GOT it. I can handle it on my own, and successfully.

 

Three, I agreed to stop taking two of my medications. I can’t possibly stress enough how big a step this is for me. Right now, I take three medications and I’ve been taking them for several years. They’ve done wonders for me, as far as I’m concerned, but my new psychiatrist has assured me that while I should definitely stay on one permanently, I can get by without the other two. Guys, my remission is that fucking good. And you know what? I actually believe her. I actually feel, for the first time ever, I don’t need all the medication I’m taking. (But some still!)

 

In general, I’ve found myself in the best of moods since my APE. Almost every day I have a moment or two where I feel boundlessly happy and so proud of myself for having gotten here. There will be more after-effects, I know. And I’m so excited to see what comes next.

 

Just as it has been a long time since I posted, it may be a long time until I post again. But it’s for the best reason possible, so I’m O.K. with it.

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My APE (Amazing Profound Experience), Part One

I know it’s been a long-ass time since I’ve posted anything here and really that’s not altogether a bad thing because it means I’ve been doing so well I don’t have anything illness-related to break down and discuss. But I do have something I want to talk about now, and it’s going to be long, so I’m going to break it into two separate posts. Here’s the first:

 

Somewhere in the middle of the worst three years of my life, back in college, I found myself thinking this: “I wish I could have one day where my disease is such a non-issue that I actually forget I have it. Just one day when even though I’m not free, and will never be, I feel free.” At that time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get there. Well things are pretty different now, that’s for sure. I’ve been in remission for well over a year. But I’m not relaying the story of my wish because I’ve been granted it; I never really got there. The fact is, my disorder isn’t forgettable, not really. Even in my last remission, where I had days during which I felt wonderfully, deliciously normal, I couldn’t forget; maybe for parts of a day, but never a whole day. There were reminders everywhere. The same is true today. I go to therapy regularly. I go to see my psychiatrist regularly. I attend a DBT skills-building group weekly. I take my meds each morning and night. My disease is never not-present, but the magical thing about where I am now is this: I don’t care. I don’t care that I likely won’t ever have that day. Because it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I don’t need to ever have that day to be at peace.

 

I am at peace now. Genuinely. Blissfully. When I had my year-and-a-half-long remission a few years ago I reached a level of happiness I never thought I could ever reach. But that time was all about self-discovery and just relishing and lounging in every single happy moment. It felt amazing and I will cherish it always, but looking back now, there was, I have to admit, a certain flatness to it. It is to this day the happiest I have ever felt, but that was it. It was the happiest I’ve ever felt. Now, in this new remission, I feel similarly happy, but I also feel the strongest I’ve ever felt, the most successful I’ve ever felt, the proudest I’ve ever felt. Honestly, the list goes on.

 

How did I get here? It was a combination of things, including therapy and medication, but if I absolutely had to boil it down: hard fucking work. That’s where the proudest comes into play. It is really hard to stay alive when you are suicidal. I did that. It is really hard to keep trying different medications at different dosages when you’ve already tried 10 that didn’t work. I did that. It’s hard to whole-heartedly commit to therapy knowing that it’s going to be very painful as much as helpful. I did that. It’s hard to go into several more depressive episodes and make it through them. I did that. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you, yourself, have made your suffering worse and you have held yourself back just as much as your illness has. I did that. It’s hard to keep taking medication that’s helping because it’s also hurting with negative side effects. I did that. It’s hard to keep at all this work every single day in the exhausting pursuit of wellness. I did that. And once you’ve done all of that work and reached wellness, as I have, it’s hard to take all of the pain you’ve ever had, that you’ve never let go of through it all, and let it go.

 

Because that, for me, is the biggest success I have ever achieved. And I know it probably happened slowly and most of the time I wasn’t even fully aware of it, but recently I had one big moment (my Amazing Profound Experience, which I have shortened to “APE”) that brought it all home for me and made me feel, for the first time in my life, that against all odds, I may just be all right—for good.

 

PART TWO COMING SOON

How to Combat Shame: An Exercise

This is going to be a long post, but I think it’s a good one, so if you’ve got the time, please read it ‘til the end.

 

Today, I want to talk about how therapy has changed my thinking pattern in a wonderful way. Specifically, in helping me to fight against my shame.

 

The type of therapy I use is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In DBT, one of the many things I’ve learned about is primary versus secondary emotions. A primary emotion is a natural emotion every single one of us feels. There are six universal primary emotions: sadness, joy, fear, anger, disgust, and shock/surprise. Other emotions like guilt, shame, pride, and envy are not biologically inherent; they are learned and cultivated. According to science, these get ingrained in us when we are very, very young. We first begin to experience these secondary emotions when we are two years old. These secondary emotions are usually created when we feel a primary emotion and then attach all our judgments, and other harmful shit, to it.

 

I have a hard time with a lot of those primary emotions, but the emotion that I find is the most detrimental to me is shame. I feel shame about many, many things, but I mostly feel shame about having bipolar disorder. I know if I want to have hope of being someone who is consistently healthy, I need to work on feeling less shame.

 

Below you will find two lists. The first list is all the ways in which I feel ashamed, and the second list is statements I make that I use to combat this shame. It is an exercise I learned how to do through DBT and it has made a huge difference in my life. If you are someone who feels shame about your illness, or shame about anything else, really, I think this exercise I do will be useful for you to try.

 

Secondary Emotion: Shame

I am ashamed that I am sick.

I am ashamed because society tells me that being very emotional is dangerous and repulsive.

I am ashamed because one doctor said he didn’t believe me when I told him I was depressed.

I am ashamed when I cry because it makes me feel young and weak, and I am convinced others will see me the same way.

I am ashamed because something that I cannot remove ownership of (my brain) has turned against me and because my brain is still me, it’s really my fault I’m defective.

I am ashamed because I haven’t lived up to expectations I established for myself when I was young.

Along the same lines, I am ashamed because I can’t ever be the person I wanted to be (and, as already mentioned, it’s my fault).

I am ashamed because sometimes I use my illness to prevent myself from taking risks.

I am ashamed because I see how some things are easy for people and know that these are nearly impossible for me.

I am ashamed because I judge myself against the people I love and see that they are more successful than I am.

I am ashamed because I’ve hurt people when I was depressed and it makes me feel like I’ve been a bad person.

 

Now I will fight back against every single one of those shame statements.

 

I am ashamed that I am sick.

It is not my fault that I am sick. It is something that was always going to happen to me and I cannot control whether or not I have bipolar disorder. Being sick does not make me a bad person. Someone with a broken leg is not a bad person because they have a broken leg. It is how they cope with that broken leg that determines what kind of person they truly are.

 

I am ashamed because society tells me that being very emotional is dangerous and repulsive.

Society’s judgments are based in unrealities and outdated modes of thinking, and no one has the right to dictate how I feel about myself. Society may think that being overly emotional is wrong, but it is not wrong. It is human. It may seem strange to some people, but that doesn’t make it “bad,” just different. Recognizing that society’s feelings toward mental illness are inaccurate and inappropriate has spurred me on to fight back against stigma and change the mental illness discussion. That process has been hard and very, very rewarding.

 

I am ashamed because one doctor said he didn’t believe me when I told him I was depressed.

I was deeply hurt by that doctor because he was so invalidating, but it is because he was so invalidating that I decided to find another doctor. Eventually, I found my current doctor who understands me, advocates for me, protects me, encourages me, and makes me feel cared for.

 

I am ashamed when I cry because it makes me feel young and weak, and I am convinced others will see me the same way.

Crying is a biological reaction that is perfectly natural. Crying is an expression of emotion that motivates responses from, and creates feeling in, the people who witness it. Because crying is more visible than internal sadness, it’s easier for people to read me and see that I need help. I shouldn’t judge myself for crying because I know if I saw someone crying I would not think they were young or weak. When I allow myself to cry, I give in to my emotion and when I do that I feel both more free and more human.

 

I am ashamed because something that I cannot remove ownership of (my brain) has turned against me and because my brain is still me, it’s my fault I’m defective.

My brain is not only made up of bipolar disorder, therefore my brain is not against me. Bipolar disorder is a tiny fraction of my brain and by claiming that my brain is my disorder, I am giving it more power over me, and it’s hard enough as it is to fight it. If I can find a way to make this fight a little less difficult, it is in my best interest to do so.

 

I am ashamed because I haven’t lived up to expectations I established for myself when I was young.

and

I am ashamed because I can’t ever be the person I wanted to be (and it’s my fault).

I am not the only person who has turned out differently as an adult than they expected or wanted to be when they were young. That is not an experience unique to the mentally ill, and certainly not to me. As I have learned in therapy, first you have to stop believing “it is unfair” and “everything’s horrible” and “it shouldn’t be this way” in order to move toward acceptance. Once you accept your situation fully, you can decrease your suffering, if not your pain. Once you accept your situation fully, you are more likely to be effective in creating change. And if you can create change, you will see that it is possible for you to live a life worth living. I am not the person I wanted to be, but so what? I suspect no one is.

 

I am ashamed because sometimes I use my illness to prevent myself from taking risks.

The first step toward changing ineffective behavior is to acknowledge its ineffectiveness. As long as I am using my illness to keep myself from taking risks, I am missing out on opportunities that could be really beneficial to me. I can’t fail if I don’t try, but if I don’t try, I won’t get anywhere. My long term goal is to live a full, if small, life and I can’t reach my long term goal if I choose only to act on my short term goal to protect myself from failure.

 

I am ashamed because I see how some things are easy for people and know that these are nearly impossible for me.

There are tasks others who don’t have mental illness can do that are much harder for me. But, conversely, there are things I do better than those who don’t have mental illness. Because of my disorder, I am more empathetic and very in touch with the emotions of those around me. This allows me to connect more deeply with the people I love. My disorder has also fueled some of my writing and my writing means everything to me.

 

I am ashamed because I judge myself against the people I love and see that they are more successful than I am.

It is not fair to myself or to other people to pass judgment on how successful I and they are. By saying that they are more successful than I am, I am invalidating the struggles they have. I don’t want to hurt anyone else ever and it is hurtful to determine for them what their lives are like and how they feel about them. Instead of focusing on how unsuccessful I perceive myself to be, I should channel that shame and harness its potency to stimulate a different emotion that is more motivating and more healthy, like the drive to excel.

 

I am ashamed because I’ve hurt people when I was really depressed and it makes me feel like I’ve been a bad person.

I have made mistakes in my life, as we all have, and many of them did happen when I was most sick. Being sick has sometimes made it hard for me to make the right choices, and I have hurt people because of that. However, all of the people I have hurt I have apologized to and tried to make amends with. Beyond that, I can use my actions to show these people that I have grown and developed into a better version of myself. In working to prove to these people that I’ve changed, I prove to myself I’ve changed. I cannot take back the things I have done, but desperately wishing I could clouds my judgments and makes it harder for me to be gentle with myself. I am less likely to heal from the pain surrounding my regrets if I cannot be gentle with myself. If I cannot be gentle with myself, I’m less likely to be gentle to, and forgive, others.

 

Pretty deep, right?

 

One of my therapy group facilitators said once that feeling shame is an indication that your brain is trying to make you believe something untrue. So, if you struggle with shame and find that shame makes you think and feel things that you know are really hurtful and not likely to be totally accurate, I suggest you write down all your shame statements, and then try to create counter arguments to fight against each of those statements. It has done wonders for me.

The Redundancy of Death

About five months ago one of my very dearest, very closest friends died suddenly. I don’t feel like I can write a blog post about that, though I might in the future. No, what I want to talk about is a feeling I had back in the day when I was at my very worst, a horrible sense full of despair that ultimately helped keep me alive. I want to write about this feeling because I think there may be folks out there who can relate.

 

I want to preface by saying that I am not currently suicidal nor in any danger of self-harm. I’m doing quite well, actually.

 

After my friend died, I started writing him a letter. I wrote to him about everything I was thinking and feeling (the first part of it is over 30 pages long). A couple of weeks after he died I wrote this:

 

I cried so hard. I was thinking about it later and I realized that the only other time in my life I cried harder was when I was really depressed in college and I had the realization that killing myself was redundant because I couldn’t be more dead than I already was. I remember it clearly: I was in my house and I ran outside. It was really early in the morning. I crumpled on the lawn in the grass and dirt and I was hunched over with my face in the earth and I was crying so hard that snot and saliva were just pouring out and into the ground.

 

In this part of the letter I am referring to a particularly bad night in a chain of bad nights that had been building for years. During this bad night, I cut myself for the first time (I only cut myself on one other occasion). I was desperate for any relief I could get. I didn’t know much about cutting as a practice, but I knew it was “supposed” to make you feel better by giving yourself a sense of power and control, and/or forcing you to feel something other than soul-shattering misery. I had been depressed for a long time before I tried cutting. I didn’t expect to ever have the desire to try it, but one night, in a daze, I found myself walking down the staircase into the bathroom, grabbing my razor, bringing it upstairs, and taking out the blade. The whole time I was doing it I felt detached. When I pulled the blade out and got ready to break open my skin I was momentarily surprised to be holding it. I pushed onward and made maybe 10 cuts on my left inner forearm. I watched the little red blood-beads pop up and burst along the edges of the wounds, and did I feel relief? Nope. Did I feel a sense of power or control? Nope. Did I feel a rush from experiencing a different kind of pain? Super nope. In fact, I felt nothing at all. It didn’t hurt. I tried cutting deeper because I thought I wasn’t going deep enough, but it still didn’t hurt. I felt nothing. And that’s when I realized: I was dead.

 

I had been feeling suicidal up until this blackest-of-black bad night. I had managed to hold off by reminding myself that if I went through with it, I would rip holes in the people who loved me that would never close. I would be responsible for killing a part of them, too. I longed for death anyway, but then, after I felt nothing from cutting myself, I realized suicide was no longer an option.

 

As I wrote in the letter to my friend, I ran outside, sobbing and shaking, and collapsed on the lawn in front of my house. It felt like the worst kind of goodbye. I felt I was losing the most essential part of myself: my very personhood. And I knew, with as much certainty as one can have, that it would never come back.

 

First came the shock, then the second revelation about suicide. Suicide takes a certain amount of will; you need drive to make a plan and then carry it through, and I lost my will altogether. I was now beyond the hope of suicide. It settled onto my shoulders: death was pointless; redundant. How can you kill something that’s already dead? You can’t. So I completely gave up. Thus ended my desire to kill myself, and thus began the worst time of my life. Luckily for me, I did eventually get out of it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that’s a story for another time.

 

I have tried to explain this sense of deadness to other people. I want to know if anyone else ever felt the same way. (If you can relate, and feel comfortable commenting, please say so!) I did tell one person about this feeling I had and he looked at me like I was (more) insane. He said it made no sense to him. I concede: it barely makes sense to me. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain it.

 

I can say this: while it was the most terrible pain I’ve ever been in, it kept me alive, and I’m glad to be here. I didn’t know then that I would make it. I had no idea I would ever be happy. I didn’t imagine I would live more than a few years. But make it I did, which proves, at least for me, that wellness is possible. And because I know it is possible, I will spend the rest of my life striving for it.

Reshuffle

I hate to tell you that I’ve been pretty depressed.

 

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. I’ve been pushing myself as hard as I can to continue with my normal routine, albeit scaled back. I have to say, there is a particular kind of misery in forcing yourself to do something that you ordinarily love, but to hate it, to hate every fucking second of it so completely and force yourself to keep doing it anyway, because doing it is better than not doing it. It sucks, seriously. My broken brain is ruining my favorite things and because I am forcing myself to keep doing these things even as they are being ruined, I feel like an active participant in their demises.

 

I have been pushing myself to do things I would do if I were at my best, like editing and writing and work planning and little fun things, too, like cooking and baking, but godDAMN this is so tiring!! I am pushing and pushing all day and by the end of the day, just give me a shitty romantic comedy that I can zone out on, one after another, until I drop into sleep as quickly as possible because I’m totally exhausted. It’s what I do when I’m depressed: I stay up later and later, staying awake in the hopes that when I finally turn the light out and pull the sheets up I will be so tired I won’t be able to feel sad for even a second before I fall asleep. The space between waking and sleep is oh so painful. And if I fight and fight all day, of COURSE I can’t fight as hard at night! It’s the same reason why I’m not getting the exercise I should. It’s getting cooler at night now; it’s perfect walking weather in the evening but give me a fucking BREAK I’ve been working my ass off all day! It’s all been on the inside, so no one else sees just how hard it is to keep going, but trust me. Hardest thing to do. Just to keep going.

 

So, tonight it was around 3 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep and I decided to speed the process up by taking a Benadryl. (I try not to do that often because I don’t want it to become habit.) Then I decided to sit in a warm, relaxing bath (mostly because I haven’t showered in four days; sorry, but I couldn’t care less about my personal hygiene at a time like this). I am sitting in the bath and what do you know, that black space exists here, too! I am soaking and my mind twists. This rusted hook in my head goes plunging and dredges up all this old nasty shit—every bad thing I’ve ever done, everything I’ve regretted or felt guilty for, all the times I failed, all the people I let down—over and over, this sick display and there I am again, in fighting mode. So I fight. I cry and can’t breathe but I try to take deep breaths; I try to yell STOP to my stupid brain to shut the fuck up. I fight and fight and then this hammering thought screams to the forefront: I don’t want my life.

 

I’m NOT saying I’m suicidal; let’s just get that out of the way. But: I don’t want my life. I’m tired guys. I’m so damn tired of pushing myself with all that I’ve got to do a few very normal things and even then not doing enough. I’m tired of feeling unhappy. I’m tired just by weighing up all the bad days I’ve had in my life and thinking about all the bad days to come at some time or another. I don’t like my life at all right now, and I’d like to trade it in, thank you very much. I know, I know—everyone’s got problems, right? Everyone has struggles! Who am I to think mine are any worse? But wouldn’t it be kind of refreshing to deal with an entirely new set of problems? Recharge your brain by facing foreign challenges?

 

Everyone says you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt. That the truly happy people are happy because they don’t bitch and moan about that hand, they simply do the best they can with it. That’s great and all but oh god wouldn’t it be nice to once, just ONCE, re-fucking-shuffle??

The Gremlin Speaks

There is a voice in my head that spits bile into my brain and tells me horrible things; she calls me names like pathetic, worthless, hideous. My therapist refers to this voice as The Gremlin.

 

I’m sure all of you have little gremlins of your own; it is not unique to mental illness to have a negative voice in your head that beats you up. I wouldn’t try to say that my gremlin is any worse than yours, but she did make a pretty spectacular showing last night and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to share what she said.

 

If you read my last post you know that I’m getting into the dating world again. I had a first date with a guy I really like. (So far) he seems kind and like a genuinely “good” guy. I had a great time with him and was hoping he would call me to schedule another date; he did yesterday afternoon.

 

Later, last night, my gremlin appeared and started whispering poisonous things to me.

 

My gremlin told me that this nice, good guy shouldn’t have to deal with me and my crazy. This nice, good guy doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined as my life has been ruined.

 

I have seen how my illness has drastically altered the lives of my parents and, according to my gremlin, I’ve done enough damage to other people.

 

My gremlin says I should stay single forever. I should protect nice, good guys from me. I should suffer this disorder alone.

 

My gremlin insists that even if I get close enough to this guy to tell him about my bipolar disorder, it’s impossible that he’d want to stay with me. My gremlin speaks for him: “You’re insane and I don’t want to see you anymore.”

 

My gremlin is a nasty old bitch. I picture her as tiny, with a hunched back. She has green scaly skin and fat warts on her nose. She has no hair, except for huge tufts coming out of her lumpy ears. She certainly doesn’t look very trustworthy. Why should I listen to her?

 

I tell myself I won’t listen to her. I had the urge to call off my date without explaining myself and I didn’t call it off. I am keeping this date and damnit, I will go on it.

 

I can fight the gremlin. I can yell back at her to shut the fuck up. I can counterbalance everything she tells me using a skill in DBT called “checking the facts.” I can prove her wrong.

 

However, I cannot kill her. She will always be there, cackling and spitting in the corner. I wish I could banish her permanently, but she’s here to stay. The best I can hope for is that the longer I fight her, the weaker and quieter she gets. Here’s hoping.

Dating is Crazy (and so am I!)

I am dating again. I am both excited and terrified to be dating again. I’m excited because this feels like the right time. I’m very content as a single person, but now I want a partner and am ready for him, so I joined a dating website. Saying I have not had the best of luck with online dating is a major understatement, but I refuse to sink into cynicism and despair: “Maybe, just MAYBE this time will be good!”

 

This is also the right time because I really have my shit together. I’ve got a very healthy mindset; I engage in healthy practices; I’m taking great steps toward my career goals—in other words, I’m a catch! I think I would make a great partner to the right person. Of course that all depends on the one GIANT INESCAPABLE BLARING HORN OF A QUESTION: Can he deal with my bipolar?

 

I am terrified to be dating again because of this question. I agonize over that question and the various what ifs that come along with it.

 

Here’s one: What if my date asks me point blank why I am living with my parents? (If you don’t know, though I think you could guess, the reason is I had a really major breakdown [well, several over a couple of years] and as such am unable to work and support myself. My parents extremely generously took me in and now we’ve got a pretty happy, healthy communion going on.)

 

What if I try to answer him with at least some honesty? Even if I soften the blows of “major” and “breakdown,” he might want to follow up with a direct question about just what exactly happened that made me have to live with my parents. What if I don’t want to lie? I might feel compelled to reveal my disorder, which I ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY DO NOT WANT TO DO. Not for a while, anyway.

 

If I say nothing at all, or say “You know, it’s pretty personal. I’d rather not talk about it just yet” would he find that mysterious, alluring, and not necessarily a red flag, or would he be worried by what that could mean? To him, it could mean any number of things. (I murdered someone and I’m in hiding at my parents’ house! Katie is not even my real name! They’re not really my parents!) He would then have to sit, wait, and ruminate about that until I was ready to tell him—assuming he stuck around that long. What if I finally tell him and the news is worse than he imagined?

 

What if the news is not worse than he imagined and he is totally okay with it, in fact so okay with it, that he completely doesn’t understand the severity of my condition? (This has happened to me before. Afterall, I really have my shit together. If you don’t know me well, you might be lulled into a false sense of security in my sanity.)

 

Now, all those what ifs cover only one facet of my nervousness. The big what if questions multiply and branch out all over the place, like a giant tree of fucked-up-ness. For example, in addition to being anxious about revealing my disorder, I’m also incredibly nervous about my appearance.

 

One particular antidepressant I took for many years, Abilify, did some major damage in weight gain. Weight gain is its most common side effect, in fact. When I started taking Abilify, the shitty-ness of weight gain was dwarfed by the hope that this drug would help stop me from being suicidal. It did help. A lot. But it also helped me gain weight. Now, to be fair, I haven’t always had the best eating habits, and until recently I haven’t gotten regular exercise, but my doctor believes that the major cause of my weight gain was the Abilify. Eventually, I got to a point where my doctor felt it was safe to switch Abilify out for a different drug to keep my weight gain from getting worse.

 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit something embarrassing in the hopes that this might help/inspire someone somewhere someday: at my highest I weighed 192 pounds. I was almost 200 pounds! Holy shit! Keep in mind that at my heaviest in college I was under 140.

 

After the Abilify was out of my system completely, I lost some weight, and then when I started dieting and doing Cto5K I lost some more. Right now I’m between 168 and 172. So big improvement, but I’m still overweight and very self-conscious about my body. I’m afraid my lack of self-confidence will come across on a date and that can’t be sexy.

 

Having bipolar disorder drastically changed my identity and enforced many limitations on me. In college, right after I got sick, I was constantly butting my head against those limitations because I couldn’t accept that my life would be forever different. I tried to keep doing the things I was doing before I got sick and kept dropping the ball and failing miserably. And that completely shot my self-esteem. I have made great strides since then in regaining some confidence in my capabilities, but I am not quite the confident, forward, driven, proud person I used to be.

 

Long, long, long, story short, I have many reasons to be anxious about dating. Honestly, I could go on further about all the little paranoid what if questions that keep worming themselves into my brain, even as my mind attempts to combat them with phrases like “Just wait and see,” “Don’t have any expectations,” and “The right person will accept and support you the way you are.” My mini mantras are helpful, but right now the ratio of anxious thoughts to positive affirmations is depressing. All I can do is push forward and hold on to the one mantra that has helped me more than any other: “I can stand it.” Even if this whole experience is awful, I can stand it. Even if I am rejected and it lowers my confidence more, I can stand it. If the first date I have tonight is so horrible I burst into tears and have to flee the scene, I can stand it.

 

Wish me luck!