What Ifs of Work

It’s been my goal for some time now to start a career in freelance editing. I love editing just as much as I love writing, and I’m good at it. I believe working independently will give me the best chance of success, since I will be able to set my own hours and be selective with which projects I take on.


I’ve been “getting ready” for work for a long time now. When I started out, I made a list of all the things I need to do before I start actively searching for work. There are 16 items; I’m on number 6. I’m no mathematician (har, har), but I know I’m not making much progress.


Part of the problem is the major setback I had that started in the summer and lasted for many months. During my setback, I didn’t feel strong enough to keep working toward my career goals. I was barely holding on. I had to hunker down and focus all of my attention on getting well. Putting aside my goals seemed very necessary. But now I’m better and I’m not moving forward as I should.


My therapist talked to me about this and voiced some concerns. She suggested that I am avoiding work when I should be diving in. When she first said this, I didn’t take it very well. I got defensive and upset. But I know she has a good point. I don’t feel ready to take some of the big leaps she’s proposed, but I can admit that yes, I am avoiding working. How come?


I have many fears surrounding work, many “what if” questions that plague me. For example, what if no one will want to hire me because I have zero work experience? Totally reasonable fear, right? Or how about this: what if I’m not nearly as good at editing as I think I am? Also reasonable—professional editing is new for me.


But here’s the big “what if,” the one that fills me with fear the most: What if I start working, then have another episode that forces me to quit? Partly this fear has to do with my responsibility as an editor—I would feel terrible if I had to drop someone’s project suddenly. But what the fear really comes down to is the hopelessness I feel when I have the following thought: I have no idea how to have a career when I also have bipolar disorder.


How can I maintain steady work when my illness is so totally unpredictable? Even if I get on a stable streak that lasts longer than a year and a half, something can always happen to tip the scales. That something could even be work—a particularly stressful job could easily provoke an episode. After all, I’ve had dark, down days that were sparked by simply a lack of sleep.


I’ve yet to figure out how to juggle bipolar disorder and day-to-day responsibilities. To date, every time I’ve had a depressive episode I’ve been almost completely non-functional. I shut down. Right now, I’m in a situation where if I have to shut down, I can, and it won’t totally fuck up my life to do so. But that won’t always be the case. I won’t always have the safety nets I do now. And if I want to “make it” as an editor, if I want to have a steady and fulfilling career, I will have to learn how to manage my bipolar disorder better. I don’t have any stellar ideas about how to do that yet, so don’t ask. All I can say for now is: I’m working on it (har, har).


Me & Weed

I first got sick on my 19th birthday. Yes, I can be that specific. Here’s what happened: On my birthday (in June), my college roommate talked me into getting high with her. I had only smoked weed once before and I hated it—I had an out-of-body experience that terrified me—but she was insistent and because it was my birthday, I didn’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud.


I can’t tell you now how much I smoked because I don’t remember. What I DO remember was that, once I was high, I was convinced I was going to die. (This is not, altogether, remarkable for a rare smoker. From what I’ve read, it’s a pretty common delusion.) I had a very intense headache and I thought my head was going to explode. Each throb of my headache was like a clock’s tick counting down to the inevitable. I can’t stress the following enough: I didn’t think I was going to die; I knew it. Again, not atypical. But here’s where things got kooky: eventually, the high wore off; my sense of impending death did not. That lingered. For months. It escalated into panic attacks. My fears branched out to include death by car accident, death by rape and murder, death by terrorists, even. I cracked. BIG TIME. And after trying to hide it all summer, without success, I went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with OCD. The OCD diagnosis didn’t stick—while I certainly had obsessive thoughts, I definitely did NOT have any compulsions. Additionally, my anxiety quickly morphed into mania. As I went along, it was clear that what I really had was bipolar disorder.


In some ways, I was doomed to have it from the start: a close family member has bipolar disorder and many other family members deal with depression and anxiety. Bipolar disorder was always there, scribbled on my genes and waiting for a spark. And I think that spark was marijuana.


I don’t have hard data to back this theory up, although more studies are being done on the link between marijuana and bipolar disorder. Here’s what I’ve found so far:


According to a case report entitled “Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features,” it is hypothesized that “cannabis use may precipitate psychosis in individuals who are predisposed to acquiring a psychotic disorder.” Nothing is definitive; while one study found that “cannabis use can lead to earlier initial onset,” that was based on frequent marijuana use. Obviously, I wasn’t a frequent user of marijuana. So I can’t say, without a doubt, that smoking weed that day kicked off my bipolar disorder, but I believe that’s what happened.


I don’t blame marijuana for my bipolar disorder. That shit was coming for me, one way or another. But I do think that my bipolar disorder waited for something to kick it in gear and needed that something for it to start. If I hadn’t smoked weed that day, what would have been the trigger? If I hadn’t smoked weed that day, would I have gone a little bit longer without having bipolar disorder? That time, in retrospect, would be precious to me. I’ve no way of knowing, but sometimes it nags at me.


For further reading: 

Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features: A Case Report


Cannabis Consumption Might Make You Bipolar

A Review of the Relationship Between Cannabis Use and Affective Disorders


Guilt & Gratitude

On any given day I have a laundry list of things I feel guilty about. Some items come and go, but there are a few constants. There are three biggies in particular that aren’t going anywhere.


I always feel guilty about how much time, attention, and emotional energy I take from my parents, and how little my siblings get of the leftovers. (I should mention that I have brought this up with both of my sisters and they have insisted that a: while it is true that they get less attention than I do, they feel they don’t need it as much and b: they would never feel any resentment toward me.)


I also always feel guilty that my parents have spent, and will spend, a LOT of their money on me. Even with the extremely helpful federal aid I receive, I can’t always cover my expenses, especially given the number of doctor visits I attend monthly. Now that I have that aid, I am able to take less money from my parents, but I still feel terrible that I take any. I also feel ashamed that I still take their money at my age. This summer I will be turning 30. I can tell you that I never imagined how indebted I would be to my parents as a 30-year-old. I never had a clear picture of where I’d be at this stage of my life, but I assumed that I’d be supporting myself. That has never been the case. I have never been able to support myself and boy howdy do I feel guilty about that. Not only have my parents been endlessly generous to support me financially, they’ve set things up so they’ll be able to continue to support me even after they pass away.


I feel guilty that my parents cannot travel as much as they might because I do not do well without them for any length of time. I am not good spending time on my own for any longer than about a week. I am an introvert to the core—I often need time to be alone to recharge my batteries or just to enjoy solitude, but I can only revel in that as long as I know there are people nearby. (Writing that makes me feel bad for being so greedy—I want it all! I want time to myself to read or write or listen to music, but I want my family close by, ready for as soon as I need them. That greediness is something I can add to my guilty list.) The fact is, I do need my parents with me, and they know it. They don’t feel comfortable being away from me for too long. They feel that way because of all the near-disasters I’ve had when they were gone. The last killer depressive episode I had caused them to cut their vacation short to come home, suddenly, when I was falling apart. Now, I know that they’re not upset they had to come home early—they wanted to, to take care of me—but that doesn’t take away the fact that they lost part of their vacation. Since then, they haven’t had to cut their time short on other vacations, but they’ve come damn close. Over the summer, when they were away, they touched base with me constantly, worrying about me and ready to drop everything to be by my side if need be. Over the years we’ve learned, as a family, that they cannot take long vacations, even if they want to. It’s just not a good idea.

Recently, I talked to my mom as she was trying to make plans for their summer travel. There are a lot of options—lots of people to see, lots of places to potentially visit—and my mom is taking time to sort them out. One of the big factors she will have to take into account is my illness. I hate that! Mom says that with all the different options, they could be traveling for as many as four months, only they won’t, they can’t, because of me. I told my mom that I’d been feeling stronger (true) and that I did well the last time they went away (also true) so maybe I could make it, but I know that’s false. Yes, I did well the last time I was on my own, but that was for one week. Even if I keep improving and gain back confidence that I can count on myself to stay stable, I can’t make it four months. That’s just not possible. My parents know this, too. And they will make adjustments, as they do now, so they won’t leave me alone for that long. Again, they’re not mad about that, and I feel certain that they, too, could never resent me for being ill, but this is one other aspect of their life that has changed, possibly irrevocably. Of course that makes me feel guilty!

But I’m not writing this post to lament or bemoan; I’m writing this post to share what I’ve learned about guilt.

Guilt can be a healthy emotion: when you feel bad about something you’ve done wrong, you can use that as fuel to make better choices. But guilt is not always healthy. The guilt I feel, on a daily basis, is pretty useless. This guilt is a toxin. This guilt makes my guts lurch. This guilt is like an ugly blotch of black ink that bleeds across a crisp, white page.

I can’t make my guilt just disappear—believe me, I’ve tried. However, I don’t have to just feel guilty. IN ADDITION to feeling guilty, I can feel grateful.

First comes acceptance: Yes, it blows that I need all of this extra support, but I need this extra support. There’s just no way around it. I have to be realistic about myself and my situation—I cannot do this alone. Once I accept that, I can swallow my pride, say “Thank you,” and be grateful. Like this:

I feel like a drain on my parents, but I know how lucky I am that they are the type of parents that would do anything to care for me, and I’m grateful for that. I worry that my siblings will resent me, but I’m lucky they don’t, and grateful that they love me so much. I wish I wouldn’t cost my parents another penny, but I’m lucky that they can afford to help me financially, and I am eternally grateful for their support.