Monday, September 29, 2014

On Mental Health

Almost one month ago, I was taken to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, ultimately for attempting to slice my own arm open, which would have occurred if not for the timely interruption made by my boyfriend. But there were other reasons that needed to happen anyway. I was non-functional in almost every aspect of my life, and my meltdowns were getting longer, scarier, and more violent, and they would leave me more drained than ever before. I had gone so long without knowing what it felt like to have a "good" day--or even a decent--one that I just didn't see the point in fighting with myself anymore.

I think one of the biggest realizations I have made in these past three weeks is that I am not fighting with myself; I am fighting for myself.

I've written every single day since coming home, and I had written eleven out of the thirteen days I spent as a patient on Floor 13. I wrote enough in those 13 days to fill almost 100 pages.

This weekend was not good. I had meltdowns each one of the last four days or so. I remember falling back into saying that none of it mattered last night. I wanted to run away and let something horrible happen to me. I wanted it to end. The meltdown would subside for a few minutes at a time as we practiced various techniques, but it would always come back just as intensely as before. Two to three hours of that is exhausting. It is understandable that I felt like a failure. (Notice how I am not saying that I believe it, but I am acknowledging that it is what I felt at the time, and that a reasonable person might come to a similar conclusion in those circumstances.)

I've had a bad couple of days, and we are still learning why. We might have made some progress today.

I had been getting on the bus, attending partial for six hours a day, getting on another bus, and then spending two hours in the gym before getting on another bus or walking/getting a ride home. Then I would end up having meltdowns or shutting down around 6:30 or 7:00 each night. The pattern became clear this afternoon when I started to notice that feeling of losing control of my mind, body, and environment. I made the choice to come home after attending the program to give myself a break from social interaction and even social presence. It's almost 7:00 now, and even though I felt the stress building and needed to lie here with my face in a pillow for about fifteen minutes, I am not anywhere near as overstimulated or overwhelmed as I have been at this time for the past week or so. My plan is to walk or get the bus to the gym at the time I had been going before, which is 8:30 or 9:00 pm. I am going to experiment with this to see if it affects my meltdowns in anyway.

Having to chart my own behaviors, even if it is just duration for now, is still very strange to me. But it keeps me honest about the progress I've been making. Having the schedule and checklist has helped me avoid the anxiety that comes with trying to decide what to do and when to do it, decreasing my overall level of anxiety so that triggering events are more manageable. The goal seems to be to create an optimally functioning version of me, however imperfect he may be, so that I have the capacity to handle my obstacles, regulate my emotions, and function as an independent adult in society. This is a long term goal in many ways. Right now, the goal is to make it there and be present each moment of the program.

The goal is to observe, describe, and understand.
Without judgment.

Having written about mindfulness for so long, I find it funny that--now confronted with working the philosophy into every facet of my being--I am having an extremely difficult time. But people are working with me, and they are also working to understand me. I haven't seen her in a few days, but I met a girl in my group that also has Asperger's, though she was only very recently diagnosed. Knowing that and being able to talk with her about things that no one else in the room really understood helped me feel much more comfortable, even on days when she wasn't there. I just needed that initial welcoming feeling, and it didn't come from the typical gestures offered by our society. It came from simply knowing there was someone else like me going through the same thing, sitting right next to me.

One important thing I have finally stopped is allowing myself to write when I am in a cycle of negative thoughts. I have learned to put the pen down or close the computer. I come back to writing when I am in a space that is more neutral. Writing down negative, irrational, or catastrophising thoughts only serves to make them more concrete. It strengthens them, and I no longer desire to give strength to the negativity by which I have sworn for so many years. That doesn't mean I'm doing that well with it at the moment, but I am working on it.

I am working. And it really is like working every minute of the day. But hopefully, in time, it'll be like riding a bike, and I will never have to revisit those dark moments as the person I was when I lived them.

I want things in life, though I don't know how to get them. One of the hardest things for me to do is be 100 percent present. My brain runs in so many different directions at the same time, and this is hardly something I can control. I don't have one train of thought. I have at least seven, it seems. Sometimes it feels as if I am watching seven TVs in my head and still trying to pay attention to the world around me. Even if one of those TVs can be turned off, it's not like I can access them all at the same time. I feel like it'd be like playing Wac-a-Mole. But maybe there are skills I have not learned yet. Maybe this is something I actually can handle. (Again, as you can see, staying in the present is hard.)

My boyfriend has been helping me identify patterns, try new distress tolerance/distraction techniques, and he has even been writing quite detailed descriptions of my meltdowns when they do occur. That last one gets me every time. It's one thing to see it written about a seven-year-old boy who can't speak. It's entirely different to see that those words are referring to YOU. I've just never been able to put myself into the other person's shoes enough to actually visualize how my behavior appears to others. Having a partner so dedicated to helping you be the best you can be is absolutely incredible. I would not be able to do this without him.

I am beginning to be more comfortable asserting myself when I need something, though this is by no means predictable. While I sometimes feel that I am moving backwards, I know that adjusting to so many new things--especially new ways of thinking and approaching situations--will cause things to get worse before they get better in many ways. I am accepting of this. Change can be painful, and pain is not necessarily good or bad. Pain is just pain.

Nothing worth having is ever easy. And my life must be worth having if I am working this damn hard to make sure that it can be better.