I haven’t written about depression or anxiety in a while. I’ve been a bit stymied, to be frank, about the fact that I have an audience. Originally, I started writing this blog primarily as an outlet, a way to direct my depression and anxiety so that it had somewhere to go, rather than staying bottled up. I was in a bad place last summer, just felt like I was spewing my mental guts all over the sidewalk, and the blog was a way of at least spewing in a contained place. (Ew?)
And then something weird happened: I got readers. And somehow spewing my mental guts all over a bunch of kind lovely internet people is harder than spewing my mental guts all over the big internet black hole. And in tandem with getting a readership, I started slowly working my way out of the bad place I’d been in. I had started feeling like I wasn’t an I anymore, I was wasn’t a complete being, I didn’t have control over anything and I was incoherent, even to myself, but the very act of writing this blog helped me out of that. It helped me find a voice. And it helped me realize that I have a voice that other people, for whatever reason, actually listen to.
I’m choking up as I write this. Sometimes writing a blog is hard: people like it, and I start worrying that the next thing I write isn’t going to be good and people will stop liking it; or people don’t like it, and I think that maybe the next thing I write will make them change their minds. And yet. I think the more I write, the more I want to keep writing. Those of you who comment and/or send emails give me so much to think about, you inspire me so much, and the voice I thought I didn’t have is shaping and strengthening and I’m so grateful to all of you who read and all of you who write your own blogs for being a part of that.
Writing isn’t the only thing that’s helped me feel stronger, though. I have a village of people and a mental crater full of tools that help me cope. When I got an email from a reader a few days ago who was curious about what’s been going on with me mental-health-wise since I last talked about going off Prozac a few months ago, I realized I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while. Because this shit is real. Yes, I love talking about gender politics and femme-ininity and love and sex. It’s a lot of what goes on in my life, and it’s a great deal of what I think about every day. But it’s not the whole story. I’m like a tapestry, finely woven so you can only see the individual threads if you look up close, and most people just see the pretty picture, but I’m made up of millions of threads and so many different colors… femme is one thread, queer is a thread, San Francisco is a thread. My love of philosophizing and politicizing and being radical progressive: all threads. Mi’lady is a thread.
…and my history of sexual assault is a thread. My tendency towards co-dependency. My anxiety – a vibrant colored thread. My control-freak ways, my insecurity, my inability to be vulnerable, my difficulty accepting criticism. Those are all threads that were easier to write about and try to untangle when I was writing to (what I thought was) a black hole internet. Harder to write about when it feels more public.
But if anything, the fact that it’s more public now means it’s more important to write about it. For one thing, it’s good for me; it helps me unweave that one glaring thread I mentioned, my inability to be vulnerable. I can practice being vulnerable on my own fucking blog, for crying out loud. It’s a great place to practice vulnerability especially, in fact – because I can shut my computer when it’s getting hard. I can delete comments, ignore emails, I can be the boss of the space and control my level of comfort. And I also think it’s important to write about because it’s not just my truth, it’s a truth that belongs to so many of us, and I know how much it means to me to have solidarity, and maybe if I write truthfully I can help other people feel like they have company. Even if I’m in the Internet.
So. I’m not taking any medication at the moment. My intention, when I stopped taking Prozac, was to switch to Wellbutrin, but then I switched insurance providers and one thing leading to another means I haven’t actually seen a new psychiatrist yet. I may, eventually, but I’m not sure: as someone with a history of fainting/seizing, Wellbutrin is cautioned against, and the others (like Prozac) have these damn sexual side effects. So for now, I’m employing an army of strategies to see if I can get on without medication. But if it appears I can’t, you’d better believe I will go back to a psychiatrist in a heartbeat. Taking Prozac made me feel like I was going to be okay. It helped me believe that I had options, and that it wasn’t my fault. That medication was my lifeline, and I will never ever be one of those people who says you should try everything else first, that psychiatric meds are just a bandaid, that people who take psychiatric meds are just avoiding the real problem. Not. True. It’s a personal choice, of course, and if you choose not to take medication, awesome, I hope you figure out what works for you. And if you do choose to take medication, power to you, I hope you find the one that does the trick.
So, that army of strategies. I’ll share a few of them, the ones that work particularly well for me, both in general and specifically to deal with isolated situations.
1) I see a therapist. He’s gay, he’s really smart, and he specializes in coping with anxiety, trauma, and feeling out of control. He’s working with me on figuring out ways to work with my various trip-ups, rather than against them, and most of all on being forgiving to myself and parenting my own inner child to help heal past wounds.
2) I have a some somatic tricks, meditation-type techniques, that help me find my mental ground in situations (such as extreme anxiety) where I feel like I’m losing control. These include the stuff in this post, as well things like:
* finding my pulse, and counting my heartbeats
* closing my eyes, lying down if possible or at the very least sit, and greet every body part with gratitude or soothing (I know this sounds silly, but it helps me remember I’m whole, I’m human, I’m all here, for example: *wiggle my toes* “hi, toes, thanks for sticking with me”; or *inhale with my belly* “don’t worry, belly, you’ll be okay”), or if I can’t bring myself to greet my body parts, at the very least touch them and notice them and breathe into them
3) Sometimes motion is what I really need, because moving my body helps me get the emotions moving too. I’m not talking about exercise (though of course, that’s recommended for combatting depression), but about any type of motion. Shaking it all out. Taking a walk. Putting on Beyonce and dancing to it.
5) Setting small goals, goals that are achievable, and then achieving them. This helps me out of my depression (helps me feel like I have more agency, like I’m not stuck) and my anxiety (by giving me something concrete to achieve, so that I’m not overwhelmed by something massive and, thus, anxiety-provoking). Example as applied to graduate school applications: small goal would be “write to undergrad professor to ask for recommendation.” Or, “register for GRE and order GRE prep book.”
6) Having a plan for what to do if I start feeling anxious. For example, I have some social anxiety, and if I’m out with large crowds and loud music, I can easily feel overwhelmed, distressed, and then panic. So, setting a plan for dealing with that particular situation, as well as an alternative plan in case it’s not working out, really helps me a lot. Example: “When I go in, first I’m going to get a drink. Then I’m going to find one person I know to have a one-on-one conversation with to ease me into the situation.” And if it doesn’t work out, if I still start getting anxiety? Alternative plan: “I’ve also really been wanting to practice my burlesque moves, so if I’m not having fun, I’m going to go do that.” That helps me know that I have options, so no situation can get the better of me.
So, this is where I am right now. Coping with my various threads, finding ways of pulling out the garish ones, but also being okay with the knowledge that my picture is far from perfect, but that’s what makes it beautiful.
Phew, congratulations if you’ve made it through to the end. Have any of your own coping or strengthening tactics to share?