envelope labeled 2020 with golden streamers and small potted plant

My Mental Health Resolutions

In December, I gave myself four goals to test before the new year rolled around. I wanted to give myself a chance to work on some (mainly) mental health resolutions without the pressure of an entire year ahead. It wasn’t wildly successful, but it wasn’t a flop, either.

These were my goals:

  1. Keep running, be able to go five miles somewhat comfortably: Done!
  2. Reestablish skincare routine: Sort of done! Currently on track, but it wasn’t a straight line.
  3. Start volunteering: Sort of done! I’m signed up to start in January.
  4. Begin relearning German: Not at all done! Yeah, nope. Didn’t even start.

Even though I didn’t check all the boxes, it felt pretty good to have a list of actionable goals. My overarching goal with all of them (except maybe relearning German) was to improve or support my mental health. In that, I think I succeeded! It was motivating to remember that I only had one month to make progress on my goals, which helped me not get complacent and stuck in bed with depression. As with any vague intention like “improve my mental health,” setting out some well-defined steps is vital. I needed to know where to start and how to do it.

2019 was really, really hard. I plummeted even further into the pit of depression than ever before and ended up hospitalized. I continued on my quest to find medications that work for me, and most of the time, I felt entirely discouraged and worthless. But, I kept going. I kept myself alive, and that was a huge accomplishment. Now, with the assistance of moderately helpful medications and much more helpful IV ketamine infusions, I feel like I’m inching my way out of my blanket burrito of sadness. To continue that progress, I’m aiming to carry on my mental health resolutions from December into the new year.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year’s Eve and a wonderful year ahead.

Anonymity and Mental Health Stigma

IMG_2405

When I started this blog, it was deliberately anonymous in an effort to avoid any mental health stigma from reaching my real life. I didn’t have my name anywhere on it and I made a conscious effort not to mention anything about my life outside the sphere of mental health. I don’t think I even told my immediate family about it until a few months in.

I liked the freedom of writing anything I wanted without overthinking it. Those fears of what will people think? were almost nonexistent because nobody knew who I was. Over time, I began sharing it with people I knew. My immediate family and friends, then my extended family, my therapist, and others involved in my treatment.

I know that putting my name on my blog doesn’t change much for you, the reader. It does, however, signify a big change for me in the context of internalized mental health stigma. I’m finally coming to terms with my diagnoses and feeling more comfortable talking and writing about them as myself, with my real name attached.

Everyone has their own reasons for keeping their online presence anonymous. My reason was rooted in shame. I was afraid that if people knew I was writing about topics like depression, self-harm, and suicidality, they would never again see me for the things that make me, me. The reality is that people I know tend to notice the things that shine through the overarching topics. They comment on my love of writing and my sense of humor before they mention the content of my posts. And when they do broach the subject of my blog, they express their happiness that I’m still working towards stability. It helps, of course, that my family and the people surrounding me are very understanding. Not everyone has that, and I’m so thankful that I do.

Anyway, there you have it. My name is Genevieve (Gen), I’m 23 years old, and I live in Colorado. I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where I studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Evolutionary Anthropology. I work from home as an editor and freelance writer (not at all related to my degree, but whatever). On my blog, I write about my diagnoses of sensory processing disorder and major depressive disorder. I like reading, making art, and being in nature. This is starting to sound like a cross between a cover letter and a dating profile, so I’m going to wrap it up.

Lumpdates is still lumpdates, but I’m pretty dang proud of myself for standing up to mental health stigma by typing the nine letters of my name into my username settings.

Wishing you curly fries,

Genevieve

A Poem About Being Tired

QUALITIES OF FATIGUE

head statue
Photo by Mika on Unsplash

My eyes are beginning to feel

Like peeled grapes, getting dry

This cannot be fixed

with one. slow. blink.

No, this requires something more

A seven-hour soak inside my orbits

Floating in dark saline dreams

Getting ready for the crack

Of eyelid curtains

And another day of dried-out vision

A Plains Poem

NOVEMBER SNOWtall, yellow grass with overgrown tire tracks and pink sunset

All summer, golden grasses swayed

Over prairie dog burrows in dry caked clay

Little sentries stood at attention

Through parched heat and months of baking sun.

 

rocky mountains under blue sky with clouds and snowy plains in front
Photos are my own

Now, November snow blankets the plains,

Flattens grasses and where it melts,

leaves golden cowlicks sticking up

at odd angles

woman wearing floral dress blocking sun with hand while walking on sand dune in desert

Mental Health and Resilience

Is it ever ok to give up? Cultures around the world are inundated with myths, lore, and tales of a protagonist overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and emerging triumphant. They’re admirable, they’re heroic, and we strive to be like them. How do they do it? It’s not that they’re unaffected by tragedy and hardship. Their secret is resilience.

The concept of resilience can be difficult to pinpoint, but I think this quote by Janna Cachola encapsulates what I think of as the essence of resilience.

“Resilience is not about being able to bounce back like nothing has happened. Resilience is your consistent resistance to give up.”

Resilience does not mean that you’re the same after your ordeal as you were before; we’re constantly changing. It means that even in the darkest of times, we either wait for it to pass, or we work to change our reality. These are both demonstrations of resilience- sometimes you just have to hunker down and hold on. But no matter what, we refuse to give up.

TW: This section discusses suicide

September 10th is International Suicide Awareness Day. In the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be resilient in the context of mental health.  Cultivating resilience is one way to help us resist hopelessness and feelings of helplessness. It puts the power back in our hands. It says “I can get through this, no matter what.” This line of thinking is in no way a judgment on those who have died by suicide. It’s simply an attempt to continue a conversation started by researchers, therapists, and people fighting mental illnesses every day.

I’m no stranger to the importance of resilience in mental health. I’ve thought about suicide in such detail and for so long, sometimes it seems like an acceptable option. At the same time, the part of me that values hard work and persistence is appalled that I would consider giving up. It’s a dangerous balance that I need to monitor carefully in order to remain safe. Resilience doesn’t mean that you have to do it on your own. Rely on the people who care about you and all of your other resources. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. As the saying goes, you’ve survived every single bad day so far- that’s a damn good track record.

– Love, your brain

 

“i was not born with roses
in my chest
to be afraid of thorns.i was born to
bloom
in spite of them.”
― Vinati Bhola, Udaari

watercolor painting of woman's putting hands on face with eyes closed and dark background

The Lithium Slumber

There is no sleep like the sleep of parched eyelids and lithium limbs. Even before you swallow your nightly dose, your breathing deepens, your spine curves forward. Your thoughts retreat to a distant rumble, as if your brain is hosting a party to which you weren’t invited. Perhaps you’re already asleep. Maybe. Did you ever wake up? Maybe not.

In the morning, you place more pills on your tongue and let them be carried down with the water your kidneys are begging for. Today, you tell yourself, no more sleepI have things to do. But then it’s only been three hours since you rose this morning, and you find yourself sitting heavy on your bed, quickly slipping into the horizontal. No! No more sleep. You drag yourself from your cozy nest and plod to a less comfortable seat.

Yesterday, you slept for four and a half hours in the afternoon, and at that point, is it even called a nap? That’s just second bedtime in your book. And so today, like all the other days, you vow no more sleep. But your bed has its own gravity just for you, and before long, you’re crawling in; a perfect cove, with blanket waves and a pillow beach. Through the open window, you can almost taste the breeze, laden with lithium salt.

Love,

Your brain


I should be clear. I’ve been plagued by suicidal thoughts for three years, sometimes worse than others. Taking a high dose of lithium has given me, by far, the most dramatic positive result of any medication I’ve taken in my adult life.

I don’t want this post to be just another internet story about how terrible a particular psychiatric medicine was for someone. Those reviews are usually written by the people who had the worst side effects and the least benefit; after all, they’re the most motivated to write a review. Every medication has benefits and drawbacks. Scrolling through pages and pages of negative experiences paints a picture that doesn’t capture the thousands of people whose lives are vastly improved by that medicine.

It’s not perfect, and I still have bad days. It’s also a possibility that these sleep marathons are partly a symptom of my depression or the combination of meds I take that can make you drowsy. While I hope that lithium is not a medication I have to take long-term, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that taking it has probably saved my life.

Be well,

lumpdates

Two Black Dogs

A short drive up a dirt road after a long drive up a canyon, there is a cabin in the woods. Inside, there is a sleeping dog–wearing her coat of all-black fur, resting on her side, one upright ear has flopped over. She has sniffed every inch of this cabin since we arrived yesterday afternoon. Her job complete for now, she allows herself a brief intermission to do what puppies do– nap soundly and sweetly.

I am sitting in an armchair near the sleeping dog. I came to the cabin for a short reprieve, to escape the relentless tide of life’s obligations. Most of them, I left behind. But one, I can’t seem to shake. A black dog followed me up here, and not the one at my feet. It goes where I go, does what I do. It can be menacing and imposing, or familiar and safe. This black dog is of my brain’s own creation–made from worry and sadness and guilt. I didn’t do it on purpose; rather, it was set in motion before I knew of its existence. It came from faulty neurotransmitters, genetic predispositions, and the fickle imaginings of chance.

The black dog at my feet jolts awake– a noise on the stairs. It is only the cabin creaking, so she returns to her slumber. We both settle into the peaceful sounds of the woods. A duck laughs on the pond. Swallows swoop and chirp over the water, plucking mosquitos from the sky. A gurgling brook feeds the pond, and its sound is a balm to a worn-out mind. But a balm cannot evict a the black dog of depression. It howls its objection, then herds me back to bed, nipping my heels with fatigue and foggy thoughts. As I sink into sleep, I know that soon, my other black dog will come to wake me. She will breathe on my face and wag her tail. She will tell me that it’s time to get up, time to go out, time to take in the sounds and smells of this short reprieve in the woods.

Two Poems, One Year Apart

I. 2018

How long can I hold my breath

in this murky, underwater state?

 

Life moves in slow motion.

Here, strange fish glide past-

feathers mark them as birds

in a different world.

There, tall grass sways

in the current.

 

My lungs are screaming-

-breathe in

-breathe in

it’s only air.

 

II. 2019

Finally-

my head above water,

I begin to swim

towards shore.

 

I get fatigued-

my body’s heavy,

still waterlogged,

and yet-

 

Clear air

and sunshine-

kiss my face

each day.


mountains

I was recently flipping through a journal and came across the first poem. I remember writing it. I was sitting on a bench outside, feeling utterly defeated by depression. I had gone for a walk on a trail I’d paced a hundred times, but felt foreign on the path and in my own body. Everything heavy, I sat on a bench and looked numbly at the world around me. All the parts of being outside that I love the most- the sun, the animals, the plants- seemed wrong. The sunlight was flat, the grasses moved unnaturally, and the birds seemed oblivious to my presence- as if I had already faded away.

These days, I still walk the same trail. Sometimes it feels like a chore, and sometimes it feels just right. I listen to the meadowlarks sing and the prairie dogs yip, and moving forward is easy. One foot in front of the other, I let the motion of my legs carry me without a thought. Other days, the weight of depression demands my attention. When that happens, and I’m overwhelmed by the sense that I shouldn’t be here- I shouldn’t be anywhere- all I can do is breathe, and wait for another good day.

Love,

Your brain

Overcoming Depression’s Inertia

It seems that every stage of depression recovery comes with its own tortuous fear.

I’m depressed, and I’m afraid I’ll feel like this forever.

I’m depressed and can see recovery in the distance, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle it. What if I don’t even know who I am anymore?

I’m less depressed, and I’m afraid that if I give myself a break, everything will fall apart again. 

I feel good, but I’m afraid that my depression will come back at any time.

earth turning

I’m less depressed, and I’m getting out of the house and going for runs and doing yoga and going for hikes and doing the shopping and talking to neighbors and making appointments and I’m terrified. I’m terrified that if I stop even for a second, everything will fall apart. I’ll be right back where I started, in the deep nothingness of depression.

I wish it were easy to maintain balance; add a sprinkle of joy on this side, toss in a handful of rationality over here. But entropy won’t allow it, and neither will the laws of inertia. If an object at rest stays at rest, I must keep moving.

Except- there are outside forces acting on this object. I cannot keep moving indefinitely. Eventually, I must rest. Then, when I’ve replenished my energy, I’ll move again, each time becoming more and more balanced.

Love,

Your brain

There is Always a Choice

TW: self-harm and suicide

I wrote this in my hospital journal towards the end of my stay. A few days ago, I published a post about self-compassion. The two seem to go together, in my mind.

drawing of landscape with tree and river and words about self-compassionThere is always a choice. Two therapists have told me this independently. It took a little while for the meaning to sink in after the first therapist said it. I had gone a few weeks without self-harm at that point, and I still felt utterly controlled by it. The question of whether to do it or not didn’t seem like a choice; it seemed like an inevitability. Over time, the less trapped by it I felt, and the more sense that statement made. Although the choice of whether to self-harm might have been stacked in favor of doing it, the choice to take steps to change that was still mine.

I relapsed and eventually ended up here, in the hospital. On the surface, I’m likely to view all of that as a failure. However, I didn’t make the wrong choice. I experienced the symptoms of wanting to self-harm and having suicidal thoughts. I made the choice to be honest and to go to the hospital. I’m making choices every day to participate in groups and to work towards stability.

Was cutting a choice? Yes, but it’s about more than that. It’s about larger choices. When my disorder makes resisting those urges and thoughts too difficult, agency over my life as a whole is still mine. I can decide to work towards taking back control in all areas, however slowly I have to do that. It’s about the choices I make to be honest with my loved ones, to go to therapy, and to take my medication, that will affect my recovery from an illness that makes me want to hurt myself, that makes me want to disappear, that tells me that I don’t matter.

I do matter. I choose to work towards self-love.

There is always a choice.

Love,

Your brain