Tag Archives: Seattle

Bright or Blight

There is something strange about being old enough to see fashion recycling itself. I have a degree in fashion design, so I have been finding myself acutely aware of the fact that people half my age are now wearing reissued platform sandals and overalls.

I’m thirty and despite growing up on an island a few hours from Seattle I missed grunge. I don’t remember the kids in my school having many options in terms of fashion, my high school wasn’t awash with much style diversity. A lot of us wore whatever odd second hand clothes we could come by, and even those that seemed to linger on the fringes of the social structure typically didn’t make it all the way into the realm of “goth”.

I was infatuated with punk rock and found myself seeking out skinny jeans before they became a staple. I listened heavily to the Clash as a teenager and, bored with the social norms I had grown accustomed to every day, began dying my hair in bright, new, interesting colors.

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Me at the Denver Art Museum in 2003, Photo by Michael Putlack

 

That was a lot for a small rural town to handle at the time and every day I was greeted politely by someone telling me I didn’t belong. To be fair, they usually said, “you ought to be living in the city!” but no matter how it was phrased, I knew that we agreed on something: I didn’t quite fit where I was.

Experiencing the budding effects of bipolar disorder and psychosis in my teens made it hard for me to see a place for myself among my peers and as funny as it might sound, dying my hair orange (or blue, or pink, or green) was one of the only ways I felt like I could express that. Trying to avoid how different I felt, how much I felt like I didn’t fit in only acted as fuel for my depression and a little hair dye went a long way in helping me accept those differences and realize that being myself was something worth doing.

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Living in Seattle the last ten years and working in the fashion industry in particular has meant seeing all kinds of trends come and go, both in style and in my own life. Some seasons I am happy about some cute boots and sweaters, some seasons I am happy with where I fit in the world. Other seasons everything in stores is mustard yellow (which is crap for my complexion), other seasons I find myself hating Seattle. The city has been tumultuous that way, and every March I tell myself I can’t stand anothe Seattle winter… but here I am.

I gave up the neon colored hair almost nine years ago. It was hard to keep up as a broke student and then, even working in fashion, it wasn’t something that was exactly welcomed when the economic crisis hit in 2008. Making my departure from the fashion realm didn’t pave the way for brilliantly colored hair either, there were no studies I could point to that suggested pink hair might sell more condos.

Somewhere in the interim I slipped back down into depression first, and then found myself with post traumatic stress disorder after a slough of unwelcome male attention. It seemed to be something that was all around me, coming from bosses and strangers and people I couldn’t seem to get away from. I found myself wanting to fold myself up like a tiny note and hide in a crack somewhere. I was having so many panic attacks that I had to wear sunglasses on the bus in an effort to hide the fact that I was crying most of the time.

So even when it began, when the citizens of Seattle began showing up more and more with brightly colored hair, it wasn’t something I could celebrate. I was too busy hiding to be willing to put a neon sign on my head, too busy wanting to be invisible.

That hesitation followed me for several years. I felt too afraid of the police, too afraid of anyone noticing how agitated I might be at any moment, how aggressive I might seem without realizing it, how manic I might be acting to feel like drawing attention to myself. I obliterated my wardrobe in an effort to remain unseen, packing anything noteworthy up in boxes or giving it to charity. I became an expert at blending in, even when I found myself so overcome by my symptoms of bipolar disorder, PTSD, & psychosis I was only really blending in with the rampant population of those living with mental illness on the streets in Seattle.

I told this to my therapist a few weeks ago and she seemed confused by the idea that I didn’t want to be seen, she kept asking why I would be afraid of people looking at me and if I was always afraid of attention from other people. Instead of try to explain how much anonymity has eased my anxiety about a local police force with a poor track record regarding those with mental illness and the expanse of men who have always seemed to believe that I owe them something simply for existing I revised my statement to say that so many people are dying their hair “just because” that it didn’t feel punk rock anymore.

Gross, I feel gross for saying that. At this point doing something because it is in fashion is not enough to motivate me, but not doing something just because everyone else is doing it is something I find equally disturbing. I don’t want trends or what people want or expect to play into the decisions I make about what I wear or how I look or the confidence I feel in myself. I want the freedom to look however I want, and even though chipping away at my own anxiety is what will eventually help me tear through all of that (though hypomania seems to work too) it is important to me to work toward doing what I want, regardless of any other opinion.

You know, when the idea came up of changing my hair again I really wrestled with it. I had so many excuses not to, I didn’t want to relive the past (heck, I’d already done every color), I didn’t want to spend the money, I didn’t like the idea of people looking at me… but ultimately I had nothing to lose (well, except hair and mine grows so fast it would only be a travesty for a month or two). Without remembering the sense of peace it gave me the first time around, the confidence, the comfort, I had a hypomanic sort of upswing a few weeks ago and just let it happen.

It’s true the fashion police in my head were in an uproar (“you’re just trying to recapture your youth!” they cried furiously) but something funny happened that I didn’t expect. I didn’t revert to a past version of myself, I just found her in one of the deep recesses of my mind reading John Irving. I tapped into her sense of levity and found that I feel more like myself than I have in several years. That might sound goofy, the idea that orange hair could produce such an outcome, but I find that I’m remembering what it was like back before I felt the need to hide all the time.

Whatever I thought might happen when people looked at me, well it hasn’t. Heads haven’t exploded, I haven’t had strangers trying to talk to me every five minutes, and I haven’t been approached by dozens of creepy stalker suitors because even though my hair is different, that isn’t the key. I am different too. I am older, yes, but also wiser. It has been important for me to realize that I don’t need to hide from unwanted attention, I am strong enough and capable enough to deal with it when it comes, even if there are times I don’t feel that way.

 

 

 

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Self Identity & Mental Health – Pride Edition

Pride weekend is a pretty big deal in Seattle and while I tend to avoid events like parades (too much standing still with too many people for me to feel comfortable) I found myself on Capitol Hill twice during the celebration. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see all kinds of different people milling around smiling and laughing, and the attitudes of the multitude allowed me the briefest window where my self-consciousness could melt away.

Pride was, in a roundabout way, what led to a conversation where I was asked how important I think it is for us as human beings to be able to categorize ourselves in different ways. Even though I’ve only just started becoming familiar with the particulars of gender when it comes to self identity I couldn’t help but point out that this is a topic of conversation that comes up in regard to mental illness pretty frequently too.

In those instances the question is usually about diagnosing mental illness and if trying to fit our symptoms -which can vary widely even within an illness- into one category or another is more helpful or harmful in the long run. Even though opinions vary greatly on this topic I’ve found that the majority tend to see reaching a diagnosis as something helpful and can appreciate it as a tool to better understand their symptoms and how to live with them. For me being diagnosed with bipolar disorder felt more like a relief than anything else, even despite finding my symptoms don’t line up with the majority of those with the disorder.

In terms of self-identity I’ve always been curious as to how other people live their lives and what we have in common, but for as long as I can remember I have struggled with the idea of who I am. Trying to find commonalities has felt exhausting at times because I’ve had a hard time locking down what my values are, what I want my life to be, and who I am.

Issues of gender and sexuality have definitely played into that. Discovering that I might not be attracted to the same people my friends were was both alienating and isolating. Not being able to really understand why I feel uncomfortable when people address me differently than I imagine myself has been frustrating because being unable to explain this strange off-putting feeling to myself has meant being unable to explain it to anyone else too.

Self identity in that sense has had a huge impact on how I act, how I interact with other people, but also on my mental health. Feeling estranged from people I can relate to has often meant feeling depressed and isolated. Being unable to pinpoint and communicate where a lot of those thoughts and feelings are coming from and, even more, feeling the need to constantly explain myself has fueled a lot of the anger I have toward myself and other people.

While issues with gender and my sexuality have fueled issues like depression and low self-esteem I have found that living with mental illness itself, in my case treatment resistant bipolar disorder and anxiety, has played a huge role in keeping me from being able to pinpoint who I am and what I want out of life. Mood swings make a habit of constantly changing my motives and desires, so getting a grasp on what is underneath has often felt like digging a hole in the sand at the beach that is constantly being refilled by each wave that rolls in.

After six months of DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) I’ve got a new-found appreciation for the fact that having a real understanding of ourselves and what we want in life is how we are able to find ways to make ourselves happy and move toward our goals. What can we expect if we don’t know how to make ourselves happy? Where do we go if we’re not moving toward the lives we want?

Without categorizing our needs in other ways, like the diagnosis of mental illness, how can we expect to move toward improving our symptoms? Without understanding our needs and being able to communicate those needs in a way other people and healthcare providers can understand, how can we address them?

I can understand how categorizing the elements in our lives can seem limiting to some people, but throughout history mass communication has been based on shared common knowledge. That might come from our language, or our understanding of science and theories at the time, or things we’ve learned from our friends and family (among others). Being able to communicate what we need in a way that other people can understand is a huge part of being able to be successful in both feeling acceptance from other people and moving toward what we want, and while sometimes that communication comes at the price of having to simplify things to help people understand, the understanding and acceptance is the ultimate goal.

Granted, there are big differences between something like identifying gender identity or sexual preference, and identifying a mental illness. I think it is important to remind people that our sexual preference and gender identity are inherent to who we are and to express those things comes from a lot of personal reflection and understanding of ourselves.

Conversely, most people in the mental health camp consider mental illness to be just that, an illness. I would be remiss if I didn’t say there aren’t people that disagree, but to most the symptoms of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, among others, are things that are keeping us from being happy and living the lives we want to.

If you consider it though, identifying mental illness is one way we are all able to be true to ourselves and to act in a way that will bring us a better understanding of ourselves and how to move toward living the lives we want. We seek treatment to try to get back to the sense of self we understand and feel that we have lost.

What is the expression and self discovery that comes with coming out, or expressing a change in gender identity but an act in the same direction? Taking steps to understand and communicate our identity is another way in which people can reaffirm their sense of self and actively move toward finding happiness and living the lives they want to live.

In both situations we fight to protect our sense of self and our identities, and though it might initially feel like an act of self-preservation both the LGBTQ and mental health communities know the value of protecting our inner-self and see that being true to ourselves, whatever that means for us, will make us happier in the long run.

I know that I’ve felt the effects of ignoring my most inner sense of self, and that whether that came from hiding who I truly felt I was or denying myself help from the constant attack on it that came with my mental illness I like to think that each day I know myself a little better. I understand myself a little better. I can keep moving in the direction of supporting who I am and what I want because I know that I am the only person who can do that for myself –and I deserve it.

Big Change Bringing Optimism; 10 Years in Seattle

Today is my ten year anniversary of the day I moved to Seattle to go to art school.

The funny thing is that moving here was never something I aspired to, in fact I thought the city was dirty and full of all kinds of sad and frightening things. Frankly, I really just think I got lucky when my depressive stint in a cold house in the middle of the woods on an island was interrupted by a phone call from the school with an open invitation to come down.

I already had been to college once and dropped out after a mixed/manic episode and I was already familiar with the burden of student loans. Still, the offer was too tempting to resist, and swapping the dark and quiet island for loud, bright city streets also meant swapping my depression for hypomania.

The sudden shift in my emotional state taught me a few things, even though it was something I really didn’t understand at the time. Learning that the excitement and insomnia that came with being in new places made me feel quite spectacular, and that my depression could temporarily be outrun led to a lot of attempts to shift gears and outrun that depression in later years. Unfortunately no matter where I ran, it always managed to catch up with me.

The biggest thing I remember about this day ten years ago was laying in bed awake trying to sleep while the streetlight poured in and the fire station only three blocks away emitted what seemed to be a constant siren. It felt like the epitome of the opposite of where I had come from and it took several sleepless days for me to become tired enough to sleep through it.

This change, though not one I expected, coming to me with all its sense of newness and opportunity, produced a two year period of almost uninterrupted hypomania (with the exceptions of a few mixed and manic nights), something I have not experienced since. While I’ve learned that trying to outrun depression is something that acts as a temporary fix for a more permanent problem I face, knowing that opportunities for growth are something that can help me rise above it (even just temporarily) has been wildly invaluable.

And the city? A big portion of the original area downtown where I moved has been gentrified, and the run-down convenience stores and bars have been replaced with shiny new condos and rustic taprooms. A lot of the homeless population has moved on to other parts of the city, replaced by people who work in technology often having more money than they know what to do with. Sometimes it is strange to me to think of the way the neighborhood used to be with fondness and find myself feeling like the distrust I have for this shiny new version trumps any negative feelings I had about the dirtiness and sadness of the way things used to be. At least before I felt like the city was being real and honest, instead of trying to hide the unfortunate business of homelessness and those of us who still live from paycheck to paycheck.

The reality is that the city I moved to ten years ago has become an entirely different city, and while I feel lucky to have lived there in a time where it was a place I really did feel at home, it has changed as much as I have.

At any rate, there is a dream of the next place, wherever it is. I don’t know how long it will be before fate comes knocking and I find myself terrified by how dark and quiet it is while I am trying to sleep.

In the meantime, thank you Seattle for 10 years.

Catching Up; The SSDI Denial

At this point, more than one curious person has asked me about my attempt in applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and to be totally honest, it is something I have been trying to write about for a few months now.

I received my denial letter a couple months ago (I submit my application in December 2012) and after all the time that has passed I was overjoyed to receive this denial letter.

The reason I was overjoyed to be denied was because my path through the application process was neither easy or uplifting, to say the least!

My first hurdle was working with a team of lawyers who told me appear and act a certain way. They strongly suggested I give up this blog completely, which I was very uncomfortable with. On one hand, I wanted to win, but I truly believe (as do my family, friends, and doctors) that anyone who understands my symptoms and has seen me interact with others would not doubt my claim that I am unable to hold a full time job. It was important to me through this whole process to hold onto that and to be ok if things didn’t work out (because I had been honest the whole time), but it was very difficult to feel manipulation and pressure by my lawyers who were advising me to do things that would undermine many of the things that keep me afloat enough to survive (blogging, therapy, spending time with other people, etc).

The second hurdle was the judge I was assigned for my hearing back in February 2014. Apparently different judges who are making the decision regarding SSDI claims have different political affiliations, different beliefs about the way SSDI should be structured, and different viewpoints on the topic of mental illness (among other things). I was told my judge was the toughest in the county and to expect that I had a chance of about zero. While I expected that walking in, what I didn’t expect was the way the judge treated me in the hearing.

On one hand I could understand that it was the last hearing of the week on a Friday afternoon, and that maybe he’d had a bad cup of coffee earlier or was anxious to get home… but I was not prepared to be verbally abused in the courtroom. For the next couple months I became psychotic, trapped in my mind where this judge was constantly attacking me. I was so distraught that I consented to try Seroquel again.

The third hurdle was a full investigation of me, as prompted by the judge and federal government. The investigation happened when I was (naturally) experiencing a hypomanic period, seemingly corroborating the theory that the judge had that I was attempting to commit SSDI fraud. Detectives posed as Seattle Police officers to gain entry to my apartment where my fear of the SPD kept me from mentioning anything regarding my own mental health -again seemingly corroborating the theory that I was faking it.

When I received a copy of their report in the mail (along with notations of voice recordings, notes from being tailed for a week, and copies of blog entries I had made that were taken out of context) I began to nosedive into a second psychotic tailspin. The men who were agents for the government had spoken to my landlord, neighbors, even people in a weaving group I had no longer been part of for over a year -all about my mental health. The paranoia became overwhelming, and I could no longer feel comfortable in my apartment knowing that space had been violated… so we moved.

It might not seem like such a surprise now that I was hospitalized around Halloween last year. I could hardly even talk to my grandmother on the telephone for fear that they were listening to me, let alone send emails or write in this blog. My lawyers told me not to talk about it, so I relied heavily on Corey (my boyfriend), my therapist, and my psychiatrist. I provided my healthcare team with copies of the paperwork I had been sent about what happened and they were both horrified and flabbergasted, but ultimately they had proof that I was telling the truth and could corroborate that the situation had triggered the symptoms I was having.

The final hurdle was a second hearing, scheduled to address the findings of the undercover investigation against me. Initially the hearing was scheduled to take place the same week as my birthday in November 2014 but was cancelled by the judge and rescheduled for April 2015 (the same week as Corey & my anniversary… lame!).

For many months it had been clear I wasn’t going to win, I just wanted the inquiries and fear to end. Honestly I expected the judge to berate me further in the hearing, but to my astonishment he was much more polite (my lawyer said that was likely because of the documentation of his actions directly leading to my most recent hospitalization in my file). After the back and forth with my lawyer he simply looked at me and said my file was inconclusive because of how inconsistent everything was, from the notes from my healthcare team, to my work history, to the report from the detectives, etc.

This was the one small window I was waiting for. For the first time I was able to do what I do best; relate my symptoms and experience with someone else in a way they can understand. I told the judge that inconsistency is the very nature of my disability… that I can be simultaneously the best and worst employee you’ve ever had, and that it feels impossible to remain consistent when I might have strong feelings of joy one minute and intense feelings of despair or fear the next. Most of my employers have considered having an unreliable employee worse than a mediocre one, so that inconsistency has been a huge hurdle in trying to remain employed.

He looked admittedly thoughtful and said he would reconsider the evidence. This, if nothing else, helped me shake off the fear and paranoia that had accumulated the past couple years. It was the first opportunity I had to defend myself and my life and my reason for applying, and even if I was denied benefits at that point I was simply happy to be rid of the specter that had been haunting me.

Several months later I received my denial. I am happy because it means I am free. I am no longer worried that the government is watching me (though who knows), and though I might not be able to take care of myself financially, I do have, however briefly, (heh) my sanity.

Typically I pride myself on being open about my life and my emotions, and I genuinely went into this SSDI application situation with the intention of writing about it every step of the way. The whole experience was much different than I expected, despite knowing I would be at a disadvantage because of my age and my disability being a mental disability as opposed to a physical one.

While not having benefits means I am in a difficult spot financially, I have proven the last five years that there are many organizations willing to help support those with mental illness who do not make the applicants sing and dance, or trigger extreme worsening of their symptoms before they are willing to help. While the point of this post isn’t to shake my fist at the government or attempt to bring shame on those involved, I can’t help but question this system after I have experienced it firsthand.

Of course, this comes with my usual reminder that this was a situation that happened to me. While I have heard many accounts of people in my local support groups achieving SSDI benefits, I haven’t heard many stories like mine… and though I don’t know if they’re out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if people aren’t completely terrified to share them (I sure was!). This is not the inevitable end of every SSDI application, just one, and to me it seems like one worth pondering.

Ultimately, being under the scrutiny of the federal government was one of the least fun adventures I’ve ever had in my life…

I’ve never been so happy to be denied something before!

I do not intend to reapply any time in the immediate future because, well, I can’t without some kind of proof of my symptoms worsening, for one. Even if I could reapply immediately I don’t think I would, based on how emotionally and mentally overwhelming the whole experience was. I really need some room to breathe in the mental health department, and I have always had the outlook that I do much better when I am poor and slightly more content than when I opt to trade financial stability for increased emotional instability.

The last two years involved the longest periods of psychosis I have ever experienced, so thank you to my friends and family and anyone who was even the least bit supportive in that period (well, and ever). Sometimes it has felt easy for me to believe in the power of the judicial system and “justice” in America, but realistically it is the sense of community in the people that rally around me that have done the most to help keep me going.

So, no SSDI? Ok. I still consider myself to be one very lucky girl!

Investigating ECT

Yesterday I had a consultation with a local ECT specialist.

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is generally considered a last resort treatment for people in severe manic or depressive states whose symptoms have not responded to medication. The procedure works by producing a controlled seizure in an anesthetized patient by means of a low controlled electric current passed through the brain.

I can probably guess what you’re thinking at this point, and yes… it is a serious procedure. Though this form of treatment has undergone significant improvements since its early usage it is still highly stigmatized, even by many of those within the mental health community. At the same time, it is one of the few “proven” (i.e. studied) treatment options for people who experience severe symptoms that do not respond to medications (like mine).

I also feel inclined to note that I have not made any solid decisions regarding this form of treatment yet and I still consider myself to be in the investigative phase.

Thus the consultation.

Frankly, I am not sure why I was so nervous heading into my appointment. I knew I wasn’t headed toward receiving ECT yesterday and I have generally reached the point in my  life where I don’t let doctors boss me around anymore. Still… I guess I was worried that, like most doctors, this one might try to shove his agenda down my throat without letting me make an important decision like this on my own.

Turns out I was completely off base, and the man I met with (a psychiatrist who I believe I may have encountered while hospitalized in 2011, though it is hard to remember) was extremely straightforward with me and seemed genuinely empathetic to my situation. Those two qualities are ones that I look for in particular from my healthcare providers, and after talking with him for 45 minutes to an hour I was convinced that if I were to receive ECT treatment he is someone who would genuinely do his best to help me. That was a breath of fresh air, let me tell you!

He told me the treatments would be 2-3 times a week for 6-12 treatments (depending on how I responded) and though the procedure only takes 20-30 minutes, the anesthesia would require me to spend about three and a half hours at the hospital. He performs the procedure in an outpatient setting, which is what I would prefer. My regular psychiatrist gave me the option of speaking to someone at a hospital much closer to where I live but they would require me to be inpatient during the entire course of the treatment which sounds, frankly, like a huge bummer to me.

I was surprised when he told me flat out;

“There will be nausea. There will be headaches. There will be body aches… but those are all things we can treat when they happen.”

No “might-be”s or “possibility of” side effects talk from him, which I also really appreciated. He has been doing this work for a long time, so he knows the routine and had no need to beat around the bush.

When the topic of memory loss came up, he said, somewhat forlorn, that that is not something that can be treated when it occurs and short term memory loss (being able to remember things from years ago but not what happened twenty minutes go) is pretty prevalent for people who have received ECT, but the memory loss he has seen has improved and dissipated within one month to six weeks after the treatment.

Obviously that is the big-scary when it comes to ECT (for me anyway) but again, I appreciated that he was up front about it.

One thing he told me that I didn’t know about previously was that ECT performed on bipolar patients for a depressive state can (rarely) trigger mania.

He said that for his depressed bipolar patients the procedure had a 70% success rate of reducing depression, however there is also a 40% relapse rate within 2-6 months after the procedure (which may require patients to undergo “maintenance” ECT sessions once a month or every few weeks).

Walking away from the appointment, my biggest concern was that he told me I could not be taking Lithium while having ECT (something I never heard before), and though the 1200 mg of lithium I am on is having no positive effects for me anyway, I am a little nervous about coming off of it because I had a hell of a time reaching my current dosage. With the prevalent side effects I experience, it isn’t uncommon for me to experience side effects when reducing or coming off a medication (in addition to going up or starting one).

After looking into the lithium/ECT issues when I got home it seems that research about mixing the two has not been completely straightforward (some studies have shown it works out fine, others have had big problems) but it appears that if lithium is something that even could cause a problem I certainly wouldn’t want to risk it.

Basically, my goal with this consultation was to speak with an ECT specialist and see if this is something he would recommend for me. Honestly when he heard I had already tried 14 medications with no luck (and some doctors refer for ECT after only 3 medications not working) he told me that while he considers me to be a good candidate for the procedure he wants to give me plenty of time and resources to help me think about it.

I told him flat out that even though I have been experiencing several months of worsening depression at this point, I consider ECT to be something of a last resort. It is important to me to learn what I can about it now, because if my depressive symptoms start getting worse (and trust me, they aren’t particularly hunky-dory now) I know I can enter into a place where I would trade my soul to the devil for one small moment of relief. There are definitely situations I can foresee where ECT will be on the table as an option, but I don’t want to leave that decision to a moment where my only deciding factors are based on desperation and not reason.

His response was not what I expected.

“Well, I really hope your depression lifts before then.”

As it stands now, he is scheduling three weeks out, which is a significantly shorter wait time than I expected honestly. That might increase once winter comes on, but knowing that I have ECT as an option with a relatively short wait time (at least, for mental health services in the Pacific Northwest) gives me a bit of solace.

Of course, I got home and had more questions… but he gave me his phone number and said I can (and should) call and ask him any more questions I can think of.

Despite the terror I felt walking in, I left the appointment feeling slightly optimistic. I am in no rush to make any decisions, and I am proud of myself for exploring this before the depression turns my brain into oatmeal.

Or, at least, overcooked oatmeal.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Relief!

As a child, summer was always a time to celebrate. After all, there was no school, no homework, and (if I was lucky) no real responsibility in sight. Unfortunately as an adult, my feelings about summer have changed dramatically.

The funny thing is, I know that in winter I’m complaining about Seattle winter. Dark days, the constant drizzle, and experiencing days, weeks, and even months sometimes without seeing that big yellow orb in the sky.

But now, as an adult, I am finding summer to be equally as challenging. While I admit it feels quite odd to feel so depressed when the sun is shining, the issue I have is with temperature.

Living in a cold corner of the country, we get excited when things warm up at the beginning of summer to about 65 degrees. By 70-75 degrees, people are sporting bikinis. The typical home in the Pacific Northwest however has not been built for true heat, so when things start getting into the 80’s and even the not-so-lucky 90’s there is a distinct lack of air conditioning that makes these temperatures more livable in other parts of America.

With that in mind, that is part of the reason I have been somewhat absent in the blogosphere through the middle part of this week. In addition to the knuckle-dragging depression I’ve been having, my medications (which seem to constantly warn me not to get “too hot”) make it even more difficult for me to cool down. Once I get warm, I can’t seem to cool off again very easily.

In the end, there is only so much time I can spend in a cold shower, or hanging out in an air conditioned grocery store before people start getting concerned. Even with windows opened strategically and every fan we own pointed right at me I was still averaging a body temperature of 100-101 degrees, and while the internet seemed happy to suggest I “sip a cool drink” I really wasn’t kidding anyone… the heat this week left me miserable.

Usually I can tolerate a pretty significant amount of misery before becoming agitated, but after three nights of waking up every thirty minutes due to the heat I was overjoyed to see some big, grey, poofy clouds this morning. I’m hoping a little cool air can help with my irritability and give me a chance to take a nap because frankly… I’m exhausted and I am well approaching the snapping point. I can’t really imagine how this lack of sleep has not triggered mania this week, maybe that is a sign of the tight grip depression has on me at this point? I don’t know.

I know in four or five months I’ll be eating my own words and I will be desperate for a little sunshine, but at this point, at the close of summer, I feel happy to hand over the keys of summer in exchange for the cold, grey, relatively stable weather of the rainy season.

Moving; Looking at Life in Hindsight

This Friday I thought I would start by leaving you with some good news; after a very lengthy application process and some big hiccups we’ve been approved for the apartment we wanted!

Living in Seattle has involved a lot of moving for me. Since moving here in 2006 I’ve moved 8 times, and the last three years at our current place is the longest stretch I’ve gone in one place since moving away from home at age 18.

When I got to the city I was moving around so much I didn’t accumulate much (in terms of stuff) but having been staying put the last 3 years has meant diving into a much more intense packing process. Beyond the usual stuff I’ve gleaned (boxes and boxes of fabric, more rik-rak ribbon than any one person rightfully needs) I have also accumulated an extraordinary amount of paper goods.

Part of the anxiety I have involves keeping pieces of paper that I deem “important”. Apparently… this means everything. Like, a doodle I did of a dog, or our light bill from the 8th month we lived here. Looking back while packing, I can see clear periods where I attempted to clean some of this up and then slumped back into depression, leaving behind piles representing particular periods of time scattered throughout the apartment.

Most of the papers I’ve gone through in the last week have been repetitive. SSDI paperwork. DSHS paperwork. Insurance (or lack-thereof) paperwork. Yes, important at the time, but now a year or more later… useless.

Every so often I strike gold and find something useful.

“Oh good, I’m glad I really DID put a forbearance on my student loans!”

Because… who knows at this point. I can’t remember a whole lot!

In one of the piles I hit the equivalent of a gold nugget; the workbook I filled out during my last hospitalization in 2011. 

I leafed through it knowing I had scribbled crap down in there right before being released because I had found out filling out the pages was required rather late in the game. One loose page fell out though, and this one looked genuine. It said:

Positive Momentum

1.) On the left side of the page, identify which one of these areas you are struggling with the most and write it out. (Think about why you came in the door).

(I didn’t have the left side of the page, but what I wrote seemed pretty self explanatory.)

“Wearing the mask – I don’t normally express my feelings in a daily setting.”

2.) Ask yourself how you might be able to think about or do things differently to get some kind of positive momentum going for yourself?

“I would like to see a talk therapist again and continue gradually letting my boyfriend in.”

***

A few days ago when I read that, bells and whistles went off in my head, particularly the response to question one. Frankly, even though my symptoms have gotten noticeably worse since then (overall) I feel eons better after dropping the act, “the mask”, and allowing myself to show real emotion (even if it is out of proportion at times) instead of trying to keep it contained internally or just in journals.

I was happy to see that the response to question two is one that I have followed through on. Not only do I have a therapist (which has helped me continue to express those feelings from question one) but I have talked a lot to Corey about the things I am dealing with and he is usually the first to help me brainstorm a workable solution (even if that solution is to do nothing).

Sometimes it can be hard for me to look back, I normally don’t allow myself to read my own journals because I find them triggering and my blog posts are structured much more differently than my everyday sort of casual, emotional writing. It can be hard to know if things have really gotten any better, but this one piece of paper (found in thousands) was a nice reminder that I have moved forward and by continuing to do the things I’ve set out to do, I am continuing to help myself.

In a stressful situation, it is amazing how finding a needle in a haystack has helped bolster my confidence about getting things done and moving on to something different. After all, this single page is a real reminder of how different can be great.