Fixation Without Representation

As I went through my belongings in preparation of moving the last two weeks I found a letter that confirmed my suspicion. It was something of an intervention letter from my best friend in high school expressing her concern (and rightly so) for my apparent fixation and total inability to focus on the present -one of the symptoms that contributed greatly to my subsequent (first) psychiatric hospitalization.

The irony was that as I read the letter, I was experiencing a mixed/depressive episode (something my psychiatrist has nicknamed the “three quarters” episode comprised of three quarters depression and one quarter mania) with very similar symptoms as that first big episode.

I can’t claim to be an expert on the human brain or the human heart, or even to know much about which of my symptoms “lend themselves” to which diagnoses… what I can say is that in the realm of what I experience, fixation has been a big problem for me and has greatly contributed to some of the most torturous episodes I’ve ever experienced.

So bipolar, OCD, anxiety… it all feels irrelevant. When my mind and my emotions are one train on one track it seems futile to try to categorize the details. All I know is that the train is headed one way; toward self annihilation.

The fixation issue seems to come about most often when I find myself under a particular amount of scrutiny or rejection. While there are times someone might say,

“You’re being irrational and fixating on things,”

I can usually gladly follow the logic around how the person arrived at that conclusion. Being able to understand where that person is coming from, I can say, “why yes, I am doing those things. Thank you.”

The trouble starts when I am being insulted (and perhaps finding out about it later) or people seem to be going out of their way to attack me (or manipulate me) and I can’t find the logic in it.

An example I can throw out is from the first time this really took place, when my ex-boyfriend was stringing me along while dating another girl. His actions and words did not match whatsoever, and all I wanted, all I longed for, was to understand why.

My mind begins to obsess over every little detail. Every contradictory or accusational thing that has been said echoes over, and over, and over again in my mind, and the only course of action I can seem to take is to argue and plea my case against them.

This month I received some extremely bizarre (and untrue) accusations about myself that left me in the same position. Why would my ex-therapist (among others) act so nice to my face, and then write such bizarre accusations about me in her files? Why would the people I am trusting (the situation involved several others I’m not at liberty to disclose at this point) go out of their way to screw with me? How does attacking someone having a decidedly hard time help anyone?

The voices of all of these people banded together in my mind and took turns bashing me. Every second of every day it was all I could think about, and it was all I could do to argue with each voice, to try to contradict it, to try to stand up for myself… knowing my efforts were truly fruitless and that the voices wouldn’t listen, and even if they did, the relinquishment of their manipulation would only take place in my head (and not in real life).

This is a big part of the reason I couldn’t blog about anything. Every time I tried to write a blog post, I could only get one or two sentences in before the pleading would spill out of my head through my fingers into the computer. I was desperate to focus on something, anything else, but this was one situation where writing only fed the beast. I tried at one point just to write a personal piece about what I was thinking, the arguments, and what was happening. I stepped away from the computer seven hours later and still felt I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg.

Through all of this obsessing, I was angry. I was depressed. I couldn’t sleep because it was all I could think about. In a matter of days I was whittled down to a sharp point, extremely reactive to everyone and everything around me.

If the topic of suicidality in our culture is taboo, the topic of homicidality is taboo to the 10th degree. I realize this, but honestly the issue of homicidality is also one that will send me straight to the hospital much more quickly than most lingering thoughts of suicide will. It is something I have to deal with, and in these sorts of situations (mixed episode, feeling like my back is up against the wall, feeling like I am being attacked from all angles -including from within my own head) I become extremely concerned for the safety of the people around me. When I have spent all of my energy talking back to these angry, accusational voices… I don’t have much energy left to funnel toward self-control.

In a sense, I got lucky. Having that “three quarters” episode meant that I only really spent 1/4 of my time in raging attack mode, and these outrageously angry moments came at me in waves book-ended by the other 3/4 of my time in severe, suicidal depression. If those rage waves would have been any closer together (or longer in duration) I would have opted for hospitalization without question. As it was, I was on the fence… and only because I was supposed to move in a matter of days.

Personally, I think the sort of rapid cycling I experience makes hospitalization a difficult prospect because my mood can change several times just in the time it takes for the intake procedures. At the same time, when it cycles and I am in an impatient unit I quickly get the boot, which doesn’t help because it can quickly cycle back into a dangerous place (within minutes, hours) of being discharged. I’ve experienced a lot of frustration around this phenomenon and because of this it isn’t unusual for me to feel more upset upon leaving than I did when I checked in.

Through all of this, my psychiatrist has really been one person I feel that I can trust. He suggested I go home and wait it out, and I spent the vast majority of my time confined to the apartment until the rage waves subsided and switched exclusively to depression (minus the insomnia).

The end result felt a little counter-intuitive, because what ultimately seemed to help me move past the fixation (and I say that but it still comes and goes) was not talking about it. Not writing about it.

I mean, I tried those things at first (talking about it and writing about it) because those are two things that have always helped me feel a sense of relief in the past about things that were making me anxious. What I experienced this time around though was that talking about the situation with my therapist (for example) only led to his voice contributing to the ones in my head. Every time I was talking about it, I was thinking about the situation more and more, which left me stuck in that “thought loop”.

Writing was equally as fruitless. I tried as hard as I could to outline an argument for myself, to make sense of the pieces I had, and it only left me with new questions to fixate upon. Every word was like a dagger, and seeing them all clumped together gave them more momentum.

Apart from my medical support team, I only told three people what actually happened. I avoided everyone else (for fear they would ask about my current state) until I felt comfortable allowing one or two people to try to draw me into their world of the present. Funny anecdotes about their jobs, or their cats, or whatever. Tiny tidbits to focus on besides me.

Those tidbits made up a gateway, and the moment I fell through the other side was the first shower I took in the new apartment. I was messing with the shower-head spray mechanism and accidentally turned the spray into a high-powered water gun that hit me in the chest and almost knocked me over. The sheer impact and surprise of the situation made me laugh out loud uncontrollably (imagining myself and Kramer with his industrial power shower head)… and for the first time in weeks I breathed a sigh of relief.

Ultimately I’m still not ready to talk about the incident that triggered this whole fiasco (I don’t want to re-start the fixating thought-loop), and though I’ve had a day or two where I’ve been able to come up for air, I’ve noticed some of the mixed symptoms returning in the last 24 hours. Luckily I have an appointment with my psychiatrist this afternoon and an entire blank canvas of an apartment full of possibilities.

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3 responses to “Fixation Without Representation

  1. Thank goodness for compassionate knowledgeable psychiatrists and most of all to black market Yugoslavian elephant shower heads. Had to WikiSein that tidbit to get the details accurate. My memory recalled that the showerheads were for elephants, not that they were imported from Yugoslavia. Newman was very resourceful in his finds. I wish you the best in coping with your mixed episode.

  2. Can’t press “like” on this one, but I’m glad you were able to break the cycle. I’ve found myself in that fixation mindset a time or two and it’s horribly unpleasant.

  3. Oh my god. Fixation. I do that. Reading this account just now helped me identify that I fixate. Specifically, when people ignore me. I get obsessed and can’t break free, of the thought loop that you talk about. Thank you for writing this and helping me see that in myself! I have no idea if it will help, the next time I end up fixating on something, but at least I can recognize if for what it is, instead of just accusing myself of being irrational and crazy.

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