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The Mixture of Black and White

My shades of gray during the journey of anxiety and depression

The High and Guarded Walls

stone-wall-texture-1080x675Sometimes I wonder how I’m trapped inside these walls of prison. It turns out that I’m the one who keeps building and reinforcing the walls for the sake of security. However, the more invincible the shell is made, the more vulnerable the heart becomes.

I keep counting how much longer until I can finally become my normal self again, but all I can do is counting the days I’ve been desiring. And then, I begin to question about the definition of normality. What’s normal? How was I before? How am I now? How will I be?

It’s like roaring in the infinity of silence. It’s living in a dilemma.

Now that my bipolar disorder is in control, I don’t have manic behaviors anymore. I don’t rush around doing errands, I don’t have racing thoughts on my mind, I don’t feel like running out of time every day. It also means that my motivation and energy are gone. Sometimes I have to admit that I miss being maniac because I can be fully functioning all day and feel alive with it. All I’m left now is some depression that won’t seem to go away as I’m not ready to tear down the walls at all. I’m currently trying out Lithium to see if it helps. Adjusting medication is frustrating though. It can work wonders once and suddenly become useless.

My doctor’s once mentioned that there are open and closed systems in recovery process. Closed system is apparently my scheduled appointment and medication that probably help up to 60% of my condition. I still have to work with the 40% in open system on my own, which suggests a healthy lifestyle, a supportive circle, engaging social activities, and anything that boosts up my attitude and leads me out of the prison. The trickiest part is that I’m scared of living a life. I’m tired from the inside out. I’m stuffed with nightmares every day. My weekly routine is all about meeting my doctor and buying groceries only, and I can already fill myself with many uncomfortable feelings en route. Nothing yet seems to be able to alter the fact that I’m still holding myself back, lacking the courage to meet my best friends again, leaving home once alone without fear. Even the tiniest, simplest job can appear to be frightening or threatening to me, even though my logic tells me not. My emotions beat my logic sense and my wishes.

It’s taken more courage than I thought to be writing again even it’s only like babbling random, organized thoughts and updates to myself. It sounds foolish, but it kinda feels like I’m talking to someone as I type. Lonely, isn’t it.

I can see myself so much improved because I no longer have suicidal thoughts and plans now. The darkest times have gone. I got through them even though they keep haunting me every day, and I’m still finding a way to live calmly with those dreadful memories.

It can be a lifelong battle, but anyone can become a warrior, right?

Best,
Norelle
Late Night, 4.16.2017

 

Let’s Talk about Medication

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My current prescription on top of my eccentric collection of empty pill bags and extras since Day 1 of treatment

Ever since my first day of psychiatric therapy and prescribed medication, I’ve received so much advice that my medicines are poisoning me more than helping me. Many people have suggested that I stop taking those harmful medicines and seek psychological counseling services instead. At some point, everyone around me seems to become like a doctor who knows my medical record well. I’m not saying that the friends and family members who have advised me out of kindness are not appreciated, but I really want to stress that I know what I’m doing, and only I know how much my psychiatrist and the medicines have helped me all along. Also, it’s indeed very very frustrating to hear people asking me to stop my treatment because it is possible for me to take medication for the rest of my life with bipolar disorder.

It really has taken a long exhausting journey for me to find the best prescription so far as my condition always changes and my body reactions are very unpredictable — I’ve gone from Generalized Anxiety Disorder to Depression with many relapses to Bipolar Disorder I now. So unsurprisingly, my prescriptions have been quite diverse and ample:
– Tranquilizers (for my anxiety)
– Antidepressants (for my depression)
– Antipsychotics (used its side effect to help me fall asleep)
– Mood Stabilizers (for my bipolar highs and lows)

Each category has its wide range of brands and drugs. The most appropriate one is prescribed depending on the patient’s condition and reaction to the chemicals. I can easily name five different antidepressants that didn’t work or no longer work for me: Ixel, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Pristiq, and Mirtazapine. Honestly, I’ve never felt so ‘knowledgeable’ about medicine before trying out so many different drugs of the same family, as I’m very loyal to one single brand that works best for me whenever I’m sick. I always stick to Pepto-Bismol when I have an upset stomach and Advil when I have a fever or any pain issue. However, this practice of loyalty doesn’t work well for my mental illness.

Psychiatric medication is all about testing, waiting, and testing again, since I don’t know whether it’ll work on me, and if it works, how long the magical effect will last. Unlike physical illness on which we can apparently see the treatment’s progress, mental illness treatment requires a lot of time to wait for the maybe slight improvement, a lot of patience to create the best combination of drugs for the most desirable result, plus a lot of tolerance of pain and a lot of willingness to hope while the illness hasn’t been cured completely.

I won’t say that my prescription is doing 100% good to me because all drugs have side effects. Friends and families might see my freaking swelling face and body only, but there’s way more than that and I’m still willing to be on medication because I know I really need it. Fatigue, drowsiness, weight gain, headache nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors are all common side effects that I might experience as well. People without mental illness often focus only on the harm of medication rather than the help of it. I’d dare to say that I couldn’t be able to have made this far without having the medicines fix the unbalanced chemicals in my brain. Although I never know when I’ll have to adjust my prescription again, I’m more than excited to see how the newly added mood stabilizer has worked wonders on me so far. It really does balance out my manic behaviors in particular my impulsive excessive spending habit, which is extremely unbelievable for a signature shopaholic person. My urge to read and write unstoppably due to the fear of having no time left has also been eased significantly.

I thought 2016 was a tough enough year, but there’re certainly more challenges to face this year. It’s only the very first month of 2017, I’m just beginning to fight bipolar disorder, with many other unexpected incidents happened lately. And I’ve already almost killed myself using a sharp piece of glass and put myself back in another depressive episode again. 2017 wouldn’t be an easy journey, but every single time I survive, I gain a little more courage.

Best,
Norelle
Early Evening, 1.12.2017

 

How Mental Illness Hijacked My 2016

 

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Sadness from Inside Out | “None of the other Emotions really understand what Sadness’s role is. Sadness would love to be more optimistic and helpful in keeping Riley happy, but she finds it so hard to be positive. Sometimes it seems like the best thing to do is just lie on the floor and have a good cry. – Disney•Pixar’s Official Character Description

These two week have been extremely fluctuating and torturing. It feels like my heart’s being stabbed over and over again. I’ve been drenched in intense depression and uncontrollable irritation, which makes me and my psychiatrist really puzzled whether there’s a possibility that I’m now bipolar, which is quite possible and really SUCKS. It’s really hard to not hate myself and think of myself as a burden especially at this particular period of time. I’m not even counting how many suicidal thoughts I’ve had already anymore because there’re way too many. Racing thoughts, suicide attempts, and the feeling of suffocation are no longer strangers to me now.

2017 is approaching. And this is crazy. I didn’t expect myself to witness this.
By the end of every year people including I’d normally say something cliché like “Oh, how time flies, and a year’s silently slipped away“; I wouldn’t say it this year, however, because 2016 didn’t slip away. It realistically passed minute after minute, day after day, with me desperately counting how many days until I meet my doctor again, counting how many pills I have to take each night, counting how much longer I’ll have to avoid seeing my loved ones, and so on.

This list can sum up my significant ‘accomplishments in 2o16 (as far as I can recall as I’m very forgetful now):
Leaving the United States.
Part-time English teaching job, soon quitted due to mental illness.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate.
First tattoo, oh yeah.
A personal blog.
A Facebook page.
Unique handmade cards to promote my page.
Initiatively talking to strangers in bookstores and elsewhere.
An unexpected new friend who is always caring and considerate, and leads me to think from different perspectives.
Swallowing ten pills at a time (sometimes I fail, though).
A great psychiatrist who fights the battle with me.
Ongoing weekly psychiatric therapy and medication.

These words can sum up how fucked up I’ve been feeling all the time throughout 2016:
Insomnia.
Nightmares.
Fatigue.
Hyper.
Sharp Pain.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Depression.
Agitated Depression.
Worsening Depression.
Relapses.
Bipolar.
Fear.
Guilt.
Avoidance.
Uncertainty.
Disguise, etc.

I really understand that everything I possess now including that intangible air is a blessing. I know that there’re numerous people whose sufferings are way beyond mine, whose lives are way worse than mine, but I must confess that, I’ve never suffered like this before in my entire life, and I’m feeling very very weak and vulnerable. 2016 has been a freaking painful year, so I’d never simply say it’s just gone and gone because there’s too much to remember for a lifetime. I’m blessed to be still alive because I could have long killed myself six months ago, but I’m incredibly in pain pretty much most of the time every single day. The more I tell myself to pull myself together, the more easily I’d worsen the whole situation, but sometimes I just can’t help it.

When I’m feeling OKAY, I’d always try my best to stay positive. I wouldn’t look back at this 2016 focusing on the Sadness side only, but I’ll NEVER exclude Sadness in my life. Although depression sucks and tortures me to a point that DEATH’s been a real temptation for many times, maybe my dear friends are right, maybe my doctor is right, that my presence can be a blessing to the others. 

Let me share one of my favorite quotes that gives me slight encouragement when I’m lost:
Do not go where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’d be willing to scream ‘FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU MENTAL ILLNESS!’ for a million times, but I’m not willing to let this demon called mental illness take away my life so damn easily. Perhaps waking up feeling painful every day should represent that I’m still alive, paving my own trail little by little even if I cannot walk and have to crawl someday.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, to whoever has said even just one supportive word or shown a tiny act of kindness to me. I’m learning to become a kinder, tougher, and better person as I fight the battle and strive to stay alive each moment. By the way, I’m sending sincere blessings to you and wishing you a fruitful new year with happiness and health ahead.

Very Early Morning,
With Much Love,
Norelle
12.27.2016

 

How Many Happy Birthdays Can You Have?

 

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a unique birthday card on the withered blue rose petals in a glass box, along with other wilting flowers in the vases

Some days are better; some days are worse.
You must accept and confront this truth.

 

“Agitated Depression”.
What? What is that? So this is the reason why I’m having mixed feelings of extreme depression and extreme irritation at the same time, and my brain is forever spinning huh. The answer is YES.

I’d been testing out a new antidepressant called Pristiq for almost a month because the “miracle pill” Effexor no longer worked as effectively as in the previous months. However over the past weeks, my personality, emotions, reactions, and behaviors have changed dramatically:
I have had many mood swings.
I have avoided speaking with my closest friends and family.
I have started a blog.
I have opened a Facebook page.
I have sent private messages to all of my friends on Facebook that I’ve been blocked from sending new messages for three times.
I have made many different postcards to promote my Facebook page.
I have initiatively started numerous conversations with strangers at the bookstore asking if they’d be interested in checking out my sharing on fighting mental illness.
I have been chatting with strangers actively and carefreely.

Since I was way overly energetic (on the outside ONLY) and productive (forever writing posts, reading books, and watching videos) while on Pristiq, my heart and mind were really exhausted to a point that racing thoughts reappeared and reappeared. But every time the word suicide came into my ears, something must always happen and make me burst into tears uncontrollably, and most importantly, pull me back to this reality aka hell.

My doctor and I are still unsure whether if my sudden changes are due to the strong effects of Pristiq, or that my depression has been worsened and evolved a little bit to Hypomania. I don’t quite understand this term either, but I’m sure this is NOT good. Anyway, I don’t like Pristiq and am painfully trying out another new antidepressant now.

OKAY. Why is this post related to Happy Birthdays anyway?
I’ve recently read a book called《有人因你活著而幸福嗎?》, in English the title means ‘if there’s anyone blessed because of your presence/ you being alive’. One of my favorite chapters is about imagining that you’re now dead and write your own obituary. By thinking about how you’d want people to remember you and write about your obituary, you’ll find your own lost-yet-desired meaning and right path in life. I wish people’ll describe me as “a kind-hearted girl who spends her life enlightening and inspiring others” when I die someday. Another favorite of mine in the book is about aging. We’re all aging right NOW. Time never stops. Nothing on earth can make it cease. We’re all losing a little bit of our lives every moment we breathe, every moment we laugh, every moment we cry. So, how many more moments can we be able to truly experience the feeling of being alive? How many more birthdays can we celebrate? If we wish we’d pass away without regrets gracefully one day, then we must first face and contemplate death before it comes. What’s more, no one actually knows how much time he/she’s left with. Every year we blow off the candle on the birthday cake, we’ve already lost or hopefully well-spent a year in the whole life, we’ve already missed the wild opportunity of being curious and adventurous which should be done earlier. Death isn’t scary; not being prepared for it is. Since anything can happen all in a sudden, we all should be prepared to live our lives to the fullest.

I’ve found myself really into buying flowers lately. I love seeing them bloom and blossom so so much. But unfortunately they all eventually will wilt and wither, just like all of us. We really don’t know how many numbers we can cross out on this birthday card. That’s why we should seize the moments to bloom and blossom while we still can.

Yes I’m really fatigued, but many kind people consider my babbled words inspirational. How unbelievable and sarcastic that the person who inspires others with positive energy is a person full of negativity. I’m in huge pain, and I really really want to give up. But at the same time, I still want to write down as many thoughtful words as possible while I can still barely keep holding on and on.

Best,
Norelle
Around Midnight, 12.12.2016

Through My Un-filtered Eyes

 

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same tattoo, different filters

I’ve never thought I’d have gotten a tattoo, but I did;
I got my first tattoo on 10.27.2016, completely spontaneously.
Looking at it now, I’m still mesmerized.

There’s one famous tattoo place located right next to my apartment building which I never noticed, and one day I just walked in and asked if I’d get a tattoo right away.

This past October, my 23th birthday month was one of the most painful periods to remember in this journey. One night I scratched my wrist madly with a pair of (unfortunately rough) scissors as if I lost my mind and cautiously planned on taking all of my antidepressants and sleeping pills at once in my second suicide attempt out of four so far. I decided to kill myself. The whole suicidal thought was actually only triggered by a ‘casual’ conversation with my mom, who always speaks about silly things and comments unintentionally. I couldn’t stop crying, feeling suffocated with a sharp pain in the chest, and kept hearing the voice “I must kill myself, I must kill myself…” in my head. Otherwise I didn’t think I’d have that courage and impulse to go by myself and bare the pain and stigma of getting a tattoo earlier in October. At that time I didn’t even think about how to explain to my family about me having a tattoo later because traditionally most Chinese parents tend to think of individuals with tattoos as gangsters, or at least indecent people. I just did it. Anyway, I’m glad I made it, with no single regret but a little pride. I still can see the light scars left on my left wrist now but with a beautiful tattoo alongside.

“What does your tattoo mean?” probably everyone around me has asked this question. It was all inspired by Project Semicolon which i found on Facebook accidentally. It is “a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire” accordingly.

A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.

You are the author and the sentence is your life.” – Project Semicolon

Not gonna lie as a huge word and grammar lover, the idea of tattooing a punctuation makes the whole act even cooler. I also love that the semicolon is followed by a heartbeat ending with a heart shape, which represents that your heart’s still beating, and you’re still alive continuing your story wholeheartedly. This is my own interpretation of my own tattoo.

From time to time I can’t help thinking that I’ve changed too much and am no longer myself anymore. I’ve found myself much less fond of watching beauty videos on YouTube and dramas but reading different kinds of books. I’ve been more into ‘sophisticated’ conversations than ‘stupid’ daily chitchats. I’ve been taking things real seriously. I didn’t realize that I had’t smiled and laughed from within for so long until an old best family-friend of mine described me as a girl who smiles a lot.

I cannot believe that I started conversations with complete strangers in the bookstore and hand-passed my handmade cards to them just to promote my personal blog these two days. How brave was that. It doesn’t sound like what I’d normally dare to do.

Am I still me with all these changes?
But one of my best friends reminded me that everyone of us is changing every day, and my personality might be shaped a little differently now due to what I’ve been going through. So I guess I’ve grown to become a stronger, maturer, and experienced person.

One of the biggest changes/ realizations is that I’m getting rid of the ‘filters’ in my eyes. By filters I mean stigma, discrimination, indifference, disrespect, and so on. I was once a person with no knowledge of mental health and would associate mental illness with rude labels like weird, dangerous, insane, which was apparently inappropriate and was only reflecting how ignorant, self-centered, and uncaring about others I was.

But now I’m learning to become a kinder person because somewhere deep in my heart has an strong eager for others’ kindness and understanding as I’m fighting the battle, and I finally feel the pain and disappointment of not being understood. I’m learning to put myself into other’s shoes before acting anything that would possibly hurt others.

Thank you so much to ICE music hk, a street music band I encountered en route to home tonight. Your passion for music has truly inspired me. And now an even crazier idea has popped up. I’m thinking about setting up a small area on the street side giving free books together with my handmade cards. I have piles of re-read books and old books that I’ll no longer read. So why not make a second-hand book stall? I also do keep extra copies of my most favorite books as I’m wishing and waiting to share them with the ‘right people’. I guess this is how butterfly effect works. I was inspired by other’s music and then now I wish to inspire others. I might be a small and unimportant person compared to the whole universe, but I do believe that if I do one good act that inspires one single person, that butterfly effect can already be passed on and on. 

It’s true that most of the people with depression including I tend to have suicidal thoughts at times. I’m so extremely hypersensitive that even the tiniest thing can steal my consciousness and drag me into the forever sinking black hole. I think I’ve truly experienced death from the moment I decided to kill myself, the moment I no longer found myself feeling alive, the moment I only wanted to escape. But what I want to stress is that, even though I still don’t feel happiness, I still don’t have a job, I still don’t want to exist, I’m seriously treating every day as if I’m dying tomorrow, to a point that I think 24 hours a day is NOT enough despite my poor and little sleep, contradictorily I have passion in finding meaning in life, I desperately eager to help people learn about the importance of mental health, I wish to make people understand how the world of mental illness really is without making presumptions.

I’m still depressed.
I still don’t have enough self-compassion.
But I do have passion for life.

Let’s take off the filtered glasses and view the world from another better perspective.

Note: Please also CHECK OUT and LIKE my Facebook page if you’re interested in more of my other sharing. Thank you.

Best,
Norelle
Nearly Dawn, 12.8.2016

Kindness Does Work Magic

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This post is dedicated to every single person who’s supported me, especially to this whoever person named Hello who has left a beautiful comment on this blog. Came home exhausted, receiving such a long and warm comment has completely made my day. Thank you very much, Hello.

I’m genuinely more than moved by all the kind and supportive words I’ve received from many unexpected/ unknown people ever since I started my blog and then the Facebook page.

Everything’s happened so fast that I myself cannot even believe it.

I’m still struggling with that freaking mental illness in me, but I’ll always remember and treasure these beautiful words which lift me up a little no matter what.

I’d say ‘thank you’ sincerely for a million times.

How Living with Anxiety and Depression Feels

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arousal spectrum of sleep and wakefulness (photograph credit: Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology by Stephen Mm Stahl)

I’m not a professional in this aspect at all and find this whole arousal concept complicated to understand. But I do know that I’m always shifting in between hypervigilant/insomnia and cognitive dysfunction (overstimulation) because my doctor said so, and that explains why I’m always having recallable intense nightmares and why I’m so hypersensitive about the surroundings. My treatments are assisting me to shift back to the middle so that I can deal with everyday activities normally.

I probably should have been in panic/fear for times too as I couldn’t handle sudden happenings like having a waitress spill a tiny removable stain on my coat at all but crying in the public the night before my sister’s wedding, and that immediate made me determine that I couldn’t possibly make it to her big day due to all the unpredictable interactions. I also remember rushing off the bus at least 45 minutes/20 stops earlier than I should because too many people were getting on the bus. I felt completely suffocated and couldn’t help escaping from the area as soon as possible.

Anxiety makes you worry about everything all the time.
Depression makes you uninterested in everything as you’re trapped in the black hole and can’t see anything; there’s no glimpse of hope.

The combination of two sucks. It’s like pulling a string very hard from both ends, and there I’m, I’m the string being pulled. My life is constantly in between two extremes, being concerned about everything versus not giving shit to everything. This really makes me nuts.

All of my senses are highly on guard unintentionally, which ironically always reminds me of one of the best classic and soothing songs, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong:

I’d gaze at the moving clouds in the sky (missing the clear blue sky and perfect weather back in LA and wondering if it’ll rain here later, hopefully not because raining can easily make me gloomy), the looks of the strangers’ passing by (wondering how they’ve been today, why do they look so unhappy? why are they all facing downward to their cellphones?, where they’re going now, or even, if they’re judging me secretly), and the bright billboards and fancy window displays everywhere (wondering who and why he/she designed in this way, and if there’s any specific meaning behind each of them).

I spontaneously played a ‘game’ with a few different friends on counting the sounds we heard from one point to another. Most of them could recall about 5 or 6 sounds as they generally categorized them, but I could count like 60 different sounds:

I’d hear the accelerating tick-tick sounds from the many traffic lights, travelers’ suitcases rolling fast on the uneven street, the children’s and babies’ screams and cries that make me anxious the most, How sarcastic that I used to swear that I must have at least 4 babies! and people’s clop-clop sounds as they all walk differently (some walk quickly, some walk slowly, some tread heavily and irregularly as if they’re drunk or really mad) For many times I’ve been completely shocked by a sudden loud noise when I’m concentrated at something.

I’d avoid going to crowded places because every inch of my skin is hypersensitive too, and I don’t want to have any body contact with anyone or anything unexpected. It’s really unpleasant to be squeezed with strangers in an enclosed area such as a lift. However, quiet places are mostly no fun. There’re no nice shopping malls or restaurants that open late enough that I’d make it willingly. If I really want to go shopping or treat my stomach, I must bare the pressure or better have someone in company.

The most comfortable place in the world is restroom. Whenever I feel anxious and suffocated, I’d always go to the restroom in the bookstore; this combination doesn’t suck. I’ve once sit on the toilet for half an hour just to let myself calm down.

I can’t tell whether having anxiety or depression predominant feels better because none of them makes you feel good at all.

However, from my own experience, I might have to admit that depression is ‘better’ because at least I can figure a way out……,which is suicide (this isn’t the right solution at all, I know, I always know). Depression makes me feel numb and non-human. I don’t feel that intense anxiety which tingles all over my body painfully. I don’t feel alive. I’m only a breathing thing. The only thing I’d think of, or the only voice I can hear is — “Stop being a burden and making your friends and family exhausted looking after this useless and worthless piece of you just because you’re weak and selfish! Everyone’s better off living without you!” This message is so strong and ‘directional’ that I feel right to follow (again, I know it isn’t right).

How does it feel in short?
– Forever tension headaches
– Feeling of suffocation
– Irritable bowel
– Forever restless sleeps
– Intense nightmares
– Extremely dried and sore eyes due to poor sleep
– Intolerance of most of the possible sounds
– Feelings of helplessness, hopefulness, and loneliness while you’re not ‘alone’
– Unpredictable emotions due to unpredictable happenings
– Anxiety accelerating from 0 to 100 within a minute
– Self-hatred pretty much most of the time
The list can go on and on…

And yet, no matter how exhausted I’m feeling at this moment, my head is non-stop processing thousands of thoughts, and I’m always hyper-functionally reading, writing, doing housework even at 3AM while everyone’s sleeping. I truly wish there’s a button on the back of my head, and I can just click it and have one peaceful sleep.

Note: Please also check out my new Facebook page and LIKE the page if you’re interested in reading more of my stories and other Facebook shares. Thank you.

Best,
Norelle
Early Evening 12.1.2016

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