Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Progress Made

Today is an important day. As I realized it was looming closer, I actually started to feel nervous. It's a new world I've entered, and I honestly wasn't sure what it would be like to meet this life milestone. Would there be a parade? Cake? Party hats? Some enlightened epiphany followed by an overly verbose explanation of my new-found paradigm?

Today, I have been self-harm free for one year

And it was just a day.

And that's beautiful. My mental health is still a struggle. Without access to medication and treatment, currently, it is still something to contend with every day. Just like a regular year I've lost friends, and gained friends. I've had relationship and family struggles. I've faced excitement, disappointment, anxiety, fear, and every other rush of negative emotions I'd had to contend with before.

But I did it without caving in.

There were times I came close. It's still an addiction of sorts, and I won't try to lie and say some days I couldn't look at something potentially harmful without licking my lips at just the suggestion of what I could do to myself with it. I legitimately missed hurting myself some days, and it was much worse on the bad days, when my head was so loud that nothing could cut through the noise, because hurting myself had always made everything so quiet for me. I hated that feeling good was so reliant on making myself hurt, but I did my best to fight the urge every time it came. There were times I came very close to giving in, and setting myself back into a spiral I'm sure would have been pretty dangerous.

I made it though, and it's the longest stretch I've gone without hurting myself in about 9 years. The longest stretch since I started self-harming when I was in my teens, actually. I'm pretty damn proud of myself, even though some days it feels less like it was for me. It wouldn't be entirely fair to just sit here, patting myself on the back though. A lot of people helped, and on the bad days they helped more than any kind of stubborn determination I had. I couldn't have done this alone, and that's the whole point: I didn't have to do it alone.

I flirted with a lot of negative thoughts this past year, sometimes diving into a darkness that I'd nearly forgotten existed until I was fighting my way through the murk and muck of my own brain's illogical self-destruction. There were people who were directly involved, offering me comfort and engaging me in conversations (and arguments) when my brain couldn't accept things. There were people who were just generally pleasant on bad days, when faking it got really hard. Maybe they don't realize it, but those are the most important days, because it renews a lot of the positivity you have directed towards your fellow human beings. There were a lot of people who had no vested interest of my well-being who were involved in maintaining it, and that's what I would like to talk about. Yeah, I'm excited and proud and happy and shocked that I did this for myself, and I'm hoping for another year of success, but as a lot of people who struggles with their mental health understand, every step forward is notable progress, and so I'll be happy with one day at a time. To all of the people who were there, even briefly, thank you. To everyone who kept me from drowning when I didn't have the energy to keep swimming, thank you. To all those who loved and love me through these times; thank you. To all the people who just had normal human interaction with me, and didn't know how much letting me feel like a real person helped keep me safe; thank you.

Overcoming a harmful facet of your mental health isn't easy, and there are plenty of people out there struggling with things like self-harm and eating disorders and even just social fallout from their mental health issues. I can't speak to those except to urge them to continue fighting the good fight for themselves, and to be proud of every step forward, and not ashamed of any steps backwards. It isn't easy, and I admire everyone who struggles with it and keeps going, every day.

I want to focus on the things that helped me through, in hopes that others will be able to find something benign which fits their personal process, and to help loved ones of someone struggling with similar issues be an active part of the process.

Finding a process that works for you is important. By process, I mean a way of working through the bad stuff in your head. It may be trial and error based, and it definitely is a daunting task. The hardest part is adapting a harmful process. For the longest time, hurting myself was the basis of my emotional processing of bad mental health days. I would internalize everything, and then I would hurt myself. It was very unhealthy, but over time I began incorporating healthy outlets into my emotional processing. For me, my process was always very personal. I wasn't comfortable including other people in it, and even now it's a struggle. It requires a level of trust and safety which can be hard to establish when you suffer with depression. It takes a lot to admit to someone that you're not okay, even someone you trust. I suppose that a balance is important, though, because those other people may not always be available. It's slow, ad difficult, but being able to think through the worst of it helps to alleviate the length of bad days. For me, it involved a lot near-meditative focus on things like my breathing or something independent of the stress, just to get my mind to stop being so awful.

Finding alternate outlets is good too. For me, I was fortunate enough to have two very successful creative outlets which allowed me to manage myself in a healthy way. For me, it was writing and music. As you can see, I've blogged quite a bit this past year, compared to the year before, and written a lot of shitty poetry and stupid rants. I even participated in (and finished a short novel for!) National Novel Writing Month. The other creative outlet was music. It has been, from very early on, one of the best positive outlets I've found for dodging these mental health bullets. I can play for hours, and get lost in it, and it's probably the most beautiful, wonderful feeling in the world. Even basic instrument maintenance and work is a form of relief. If you'll pardon the cliche, music saved my life. For other people, these other outlets may be working out, painting, cooking, games, whatever. Something with some form of immersion which can distract and ultimately release some reward pathway chemicals. Finding these outlets, and cultivating them, is super important. Some days it may be hard to get motivated or interested, but they really make a huge difference.

I really don't know how to spin this. There are so many issues I want to touch on: depression and self-harm, seeking help, thanking allies and supporters of those suffering with mental health issues, pointing out stigma... so many ways I could take this, and honestly, I don't have a lot of energy to keep writing. So, let's leave it at this. To everyone who helps anyone dealing with any mental health issues, you are appreciated. To anyone who struggles with their mental health, please reach out. Please, take the steps to keep yourself healthy and safe. To everyone, I say: the stigma against mental health still stands as a barrier to the conversation, but it's a conversation we all have to have. Please, speak out and make your voice heard.

Here's to one more day, one more month, one more year, and an eventual lifetime of safety.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Transience, revisited

I want to acknowledge interactions as useful and pertinent on almost every scale. I want to support the conceptualization of small or transient interactions still mattering. I want to express that a short, sincere friendship is worthwhile and meaningful even in brevity.

I want to, but sometimes it just doesn't feel right. 

It's from an emotional place, talking about the growing distance between yourself and people you love and care for. Of course you have to acknowledge the growing difference in goals and aspirations, and just general life circumstances. Things change. People change too. Life happens, and it's something we have to get used to. It takes two to maintain the connection, and when one party stops caring, the dance is over.

But doesn't it just suck, sometimes? You see it as a personal failure. The time can't help but feel wasted and you can't help but feel worthless. You can make overtures all you want, to try to maintain the connectivity, but at some level it's just grasping at shadows and everyone knows it. Even the most amicable of separations leaves you looking for someone to blame, somewhere along the line. You want to be upset, just a little. You want to ask questions. You maybe even want someone to blame.

I know this all sounds a bit selfish, and I don't care. I've written about transience with the certainty of someone trying to convince themselves it doesn't feel like shit. Well, it does feel like shit, to see someone you cared for and trusted slowly fade out of your life in spite of any efforts to bridge the growing gap. It's bewildering, sometimes, and infuriating, and it can be hard not to take personally. You try to avoid assigning blame, to them or yourself, but it feels like you should. Are you a shitty friend? Are they a shitty friend? Who severed the ties? Does it matter? Not really, but we have to ask. 

We want to externalize our closure, and get some sort of answer. That's just human nature. We want answers, and we want the people responsible for our feelings to feel like they owe us some sort of response.Tough shit, though. That's a terrible way to find any kind of peace. We want to eternalize our closure, and ask all sorts of questions: What did we do wrong? Where did the friendship become null? And the simple answer lies in the inherent selfishness of all relationships: one party ceased to get a beneficial outcome from the situation. They lost incentive to be there, to be available, to generally just give a single shit. I get that, and so does everyone else, because I think we've all been on both sides. It's easier to be the one severing ties, though, because there is less aftermath.

I'm frustrated right now, with trying to put these jumble thoughts into a structure that is cohesive and coherent and doesn't let too much of the irrational bits soak through. I want to wish these people the best, and thank them, but it seems somehow very much like it would be taken the wrong way. I just truly wish them the best, and am extremely thankful for what they gave when they could. It never sounds like that, or seems that simple, but if it kept the bottle or the knife out of my hands, it was a  big fucking deal, and there are a lot of circumstances I couldn't have managed as gracefully with people who were there, then, and who aren't available now. It's hard to balance that gratefulness with that knee-jerk reaction to be resentful. It's hard to gracefully reach for something and realize it isn't there anymore without wanting to cast blame somewhere.

The thing is, it isn't about blame at all. It isn't about not caring. I get that. I don't want to write about this under the filter of my mental health either, because I feel like that's a different discussion entirely.

Enjoy it while it lasts, folks. Take the moments you get with the people you care for, and just let yourself bask in it, no matter how temporary it is, or what changes may come. You won't meet a majority of the people in this world. Out of the people you do, most will be irrelevant or harmful. Of the good ones, most will be transient. The rest will be the people you develop a lifelong rapport with. Those last two groups are the most important to focus on. They're the ones that help make it easy to see through the layers of bullshit to get at the beautiful, worthwhile bits underneath.

To those people, I want to say thank you, for all that you've done and for all that some of you continue to do. I appreciate the shoulders to lean on, and helping hands, and the lights that kept me out of the deepest of the darkness. You're appreciated.