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

 

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

My Diagnosis Began with…

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a drawing of myself in cap and gown in front of Royce Hall, UCLA (doodle back in May 2016 as a means of self-healing)

I used to be extremely afraid of sleeping on my own when I was young, and I’d always crawl into my mom’s bed when she’s sound asleep. I could recall seeing many doppelgängers of my grandfather (still strong and healthy now) in the apartment I lived when I was like 6 or 7 in a repetitive nightmare. I was so frightened that all the monsters in my nightmares were real and could come catch me.

When I was a teen, I still hadn’t overcome the fear of sleeping alone completely, but I managed to listen to the radio or chat with my night-owl friends until I couldn’t help shutting my eyes. However the monsters would still visit me from time to time, especially during exam periods. I remember crashing into an infinitely giant wall of tofu (yes, tofu) in a pitch-black space alone, and was awakened shivering and almost crying from an afternoon nap after having Chinese listening and Math exams.

When I was in college, my fear of sleeping remained, with an addition of more frequent and intense nightmares. One night I couldn’t escape from seeing a doppelgänger of myself attempting to kill me with a knife in a dream within similar dreams while being consciously awake. In other words, I surreally felt the pain and shock of being killed by another self with a poker face. Ever since then even the thought of sleeping itself was a complete nightmare, and I decided to seek professional help.

I had my first therapy at the counseling and psychological services center on campus on May 12, 2015, followed by another two appointments within the same month. I also found a psychologist who speaks Cantonese in the end of May, the day my friends and I had group graduation photoshoot. All of the professionals diagnosed me with anxiety and sleep disorders, highly possibly caused by my childhood memories, the upcoming graduation, and the unknown future after college. Will I get a job? Will I be able to remain in the States or have to move back home unwillingly? What’s ahead on my path? How will my life become after college? However back then I didn’t realize that having insomnia and nightmares consistently is a real problem, and I somehow stopped having therapy soon after graduation. I managed to take doses of Melatonin and drink neuroSLEEP to get myself off to bed directly and effectively. It did work like magic AT FIRST. I found this pre-sleep behavior somewhat became an addiction because I wouldn’t go to bed without having either of them, even when it didn’t make me sleep anymore a couple months later.

Sleeping has always been a luxury to me. I have experienced sleeping for 15 minutes ONLY and went to work. I also have experienced not sleeping at all for 70 hours and going out running errands numbly. I just cannot sleep. Even when I do sleep in reality, I wake up in the dream world. So I never quite consider myself capable of sleeping normally.

I decided to visit a professional almost a year later because my anxiety symptoms were affecting me so much that my long post-study-abroad-college life was gradually hijacked. I could hardly get up at 6 in the morning for work because I couldn’t sleep and was still crying helplessly at 5. I feared that my anxiety came back again; to be accurate, it’s never gone away. I was so exhausted and desperate that I put aside my teaching job irresponsibly, made numerous phone calls while still on the bed in the morning in the hope of finding a same-day appointment urgently. Not surprisingly I failed many times because all visits must be made by appointment only. But luckily in one of the calls the nurse said that she could make time for me in the afternoon on the day, and I immediately rushed to the clinic and met my psychiatrist, Dr. L for the first time.

She is a beautiful and friendly lady whose voice can already make you calm. During the first visit, I was so nervous and stuttered to describe my feelings toward not sleeping well and having terrifying nightmares all the time, and explain my physical symptoms like endless headache and diarrhea. I was soon diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. At first I was only on a small amount of medication treating anxiety. But as months went by, many depression symptoms appeared and the addition of Depression to my medical record horrified me.

My depression is partly genetic and mostly environmental. By environmental I’m referring to my surrounding family members and relatives, friends, things to do, and places to go. My parents especially my father didn’t quite believe or accept that I’m mentally ill in the beginning. Their actions of telling me I’m totally spoiled to be not working and making excuses for my ‘so-called anxiety,’ and financially stopped supporting my medical fees had worsened the whole situation, tremendously. They didn’t see how desperate I wanted to get back my own life too. And that was when my depression began to grow significantly. But thanks to my sister’s understanding and her long and constant explanations to the family over the months, they’re now barely accepting it and coping with me. But I’m strongly unsure whether they’ll put me in that kind of situation again.Words are very powerful weapons; they come out from one’s mouth quickly, easily, and perhaps mindlessly, and the bloody truth is what’s been said cannot be erased. What’s happened during my journey can hardly be forgotten. Everything counts in my world, fortunately yet unfortunately.

Every support is sincerely appreciated. But almost all of my family’s and friends’ reactions only reflect that they have no understanding of what’s going on and knowledge of mental illness. Sayings like “you don’t look sick at all,” “oh god you look so fat and swelling now,” “pull yourself together,” “I’ve been worse than you,” “go volunteer and realize how lucky and grateful you already are,” or “your medication is only poisoning you” disappoint and hurt me; they’re like verbal attacks. Not knowing since when exactly then, I’ve been having numerous avoidance behaviors; it’s like locking all of your feelings and building walls and walls of self-protection.

To make it short, my depression is unstable despite the huge amount of prescription that even my doctor doesn’t want to increase anymore, and I’ve had three well-planned suicide attempts and countless uncontrollable racing thoughts to a point that my doctor suggested I’d be hospitalized (This suggestion still freaks me out and will do forever I believe). Anyway, I promised my doctor I’ll try my best to stay alive and embrace self-compassion. I’m now battling day after day, and being alive for each more day is already so rewarding. However when the demons do show up, I feel like waiting to be executed willingly with open arms. My anxiety is now OKAY, but I’m still avoiding meeting people and going out on my own unless necessary. I couldn’t even pull myself together for once and attend my sister’s big wedding day. My sleeping problem will probably never be solved forever. Nightmares are always here with me even during a very short nap, and I’d recall 3-5 dreams or nightmares each morning when I wake up. And headache and diarrhea won’t seem to go away. I still cannot sleep. I’m beyond exhausted, but I’m hyper-functioning all the time.

Having experienced all these, I’m now a strong believer that anything is possible, just as everything is unpredictable. I’ll never say that I must win this time because nothing can ever be guaranteed. But I’m not giving up. I’m still here, still jobless, still anxious and depressed, and yes I’m still blogging (Yay! which I consider a self-unemployed job).

Do what you want now, for you’ll never know whether you’ll have the chance to do it later.

Thank you very much.

Best,
Norelle
Late Afternoon 11.28.2016