Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Musings on Exercise and Brain Function

Working out has saved my life more times than I can count. The chaos of Pride, my fiance's new job, and a full performance schedule until pretty much the end of the year caused me to lose focus on my workout routine. Day by day, I became less and less capable of functioning. More and more things started to feel overwhelming. Then one day, I was barely able to breathe without screaming. I couldn't avoid the thoughts of ending it all just to stop feeling that way, despite my seemingly contradictory existential death anxiety, which likes to creep in at random times throughout the day and night. It only took about two weeks for me to get to that point. I knew going to the gym would solve my problems almost instantly, but I was too far gone to make it alone. 

He sacrificed sleeping that night to go with me. He gave himself a migraine just to pull me out of the darkness when I couldn't do it myself. I don't know how to thank him for all the ways he shows how much he loves me. Words are never enough. 

It's day 2, and the world already seems a little less terrifying. I feel more capable of taking on new projects. I'm less afraid of failing. That's not to say that these don't represent major obstacles anymore, but working out allows me to broaden my view of the situation so that I can find ways around them. 

This is what I want to study. I want to research how something as simple as lifting weights can fundamentally alter brain chemistry, structure, and function. Particularly in people like me. I've seen these effects in others too. I've heard story after story of how physical activity has transformed the way people view themselves and the world around them, and I've been fortunate enough to be the catalyst for change in many of these situations. Knowing more about the neural mechanisms underlying these changes will provide greater insight into brain function in general, and in various populations. 

There's so much work to be done. For example, wouldn't it be interesting to compare the effects of resistance training to those of commonly prescribed antidepressants/antipsychotics, or the combination of the two? To cardiovascular training alone? In people with depression versus controls? What does the brain look like before and after resistance training? Does functional connectivity change, particularly in executive function networks? If so, can resistance training be implemented to help people with disorders affecting executive function? 

The funny part about all of this is, working out is the only thing that is going to allow me to have the functional capacity to do any of this research. A few days ago, I thought about scrapping the idea of grad school altogether. If I could barely function doing what I do now, how could I ever manage the work involved in getting a PhD and finding employment in the field? 

I'm pretty sure these ramblings will find their way into my personal/research statement, which is definitely impersonal at this stage. 

I'm starting to feel like I've got this. Who knew some lat pulldowns could be so powerful?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I got halfway across the parking lot trying to get to the gym today. I broke down crying. Then I tried an hour later, and it happened again. Even though I have my medicine again, my anxiety has been worsening for weeks. I don't know how to fix this. It hasn't ever been bad enough to do this to me on my way to the gym. That's usually the one thing that can save me from episodes like this, and now I'm not sure what to do to fix things. I can't even stop my whole body from shaking right now. I want to tell myself that it's okay to not be okay, that I should stay home tonight and try to take care of myself so that I might be able to avoid this tomorrow. But what if I can't? I know I shouldn't be thinking like that, but if you can tell me how to prevent my brain from doing what it always does, you're much better at this life thing than I am. I already feel like most people are. Maybe they're just better at hiding it than I am.

I want this to stop. I hate this. I don't even have much to say, but I needed to do something to keep myself from screaming and waking my fiance. I want to run away, but I have nowhere to go. I may try one more time tonight, but even that thought is making things worse. I've already failed twice, and I can't get it out of my head. I can't stop the physical feelings, which are just making the screaming inside my head worse. How do other people do this?

For the longest time, I had no idea that people didn't deal with these overwhelming feelings of anxiety. With constantly feeling on the edge, terrified, and overloaded. I've never NOT been this way. I understand neurotypical people about as much as they understand me.

If I can't go, things will just get worse. I know I won't be able to handle this right now, so that means they are going to. I need to figure out something to do. I don't think I'll be able to stop myself from screaming, and that's even more terrifying.

I want to keep writing, but I have nothing.

I'll never be able to overcome this. This will always be a part of me. And I feel like I'm destined to fail at everything because of it.

I'm surprised I'm even still here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Post-pride depression

Pride 2018. I'm still trying to mentally recover from the weeks of exhaustion, which were well worth it at the time and may still be. I'm just having a hard time readjusting to the real world, where I spend much of my time alone with my thoughts. I had forgotten what it was like to be able to spend time with friends every few days rather than every few months, but I had also forgotten to take care of myself during my visit to Pittsburgh, which made things more difficult after returning home. Post-pride depression is one of those phenomena that deserves further research. I keep seeing posts from friends who also seem to be struggling with mental health issues right now.

I don't know how to explain it to some people. That feeling when you know you need to do something, when you actually really want to do it, but your brain and body just refuse to let it happen. The guilt you feel when you can't do something simple for yourself then just makes it even worse. It's hard to escape the cycle, and it's even harder when you've already got to deal with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and an overwhelming desire to scream and cry for no reason. It's not easy to separate these components in the moment. Sometimes you feel it all at once. You freeze because the alternatives are much, much worse.

This is the second time I've run out of medication without being able to get a refill. I'm again trying to fight hating myself for not being able to survive three days without these pills. I'm also trying to fight hating this mental health agency, which is pretty much the only option down here. Therapy at this place hasn't been very helpful at all. Every session felt more like small talk with a stranger.

My fiance has a new job working for the government, which is all I'm allowed to know or say. The days are long for him, but they haven't changed much for me, and maybe that's contributing to my depression. It's nice to spend nights together, but I'm at a point where I feel numb most of the time that I'm not feeling down. I had a few manic moments today when I started listening to music, pacing the floors in excitement, thinking of all the things I could do for an upcoming show. It was a helpful distraction, but it was short-lived.

I'm getting more worried about grad school. About whether this is something I'm even going to be capable of doing, physically and mentally. Taking a week off for Pride means I have to push myself a little harder these next few weeks. My productivity pretty much stops after 6 hours. It's hard to believe that anyone would ever hire me given that kind of stipulation. Feeling like this is as good as it will ever get is also pretty depressing.

Then there's that whole existential death anxiety thing that invades my consciousness, often multiple times a day. It's absolutely terrifying, and sometimes it makes it hard to even get the motivation to do anything. Other times, it just paralyzes me in a way that I can't fully explain.

I just want to make it through this and feel okay again. Then I can work on feeling happy. I know what my brain is doing to me. I know why most of this is happening. But it doesn't make it any easier to handle. It doesn't make me more capable of getting out of this place.

I've been preparing to go to the gym for over an hour. But I know this is one of the few things that can help snap me out of this. I just need to be able to leave my house without crying. Even thinking about it is making it hard to breathe. I wish I had someone to go with me right now.

Breathe. It's okay. It's okay to not be okay.
Nothing worth having is ever easy.

And nothing seems to be working right now.
But I'm still going to try.