I often describe my depression as predominately physical. When I’m depressed, I do have feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt, as well as an inability to convince myself that anything has meaning. These feelings are painful, but I am often able to compartmentalize them if I am occupied with a task or otherwise engaged with The World Outside Of Myself. Interaction with other people is ideal, as I’m an extrovert in the literal sense and find being around others energizing. I like talking to most people.
If I can’t get myself out of my apartment, sometimes I can keep myself busy with mindless, pleasant activities. Depression fucks with cognitive functioning, and I lose my ability to concentrate. Reading anything that isn’t either very light or very familiar is difficult. Crafts are great because they don’t remind me that my brain is broken. I Studied Fine Art via art school (and also an arts high school) and never thought I would do crafts as an adult until I went to The Renfrew Center (New York IOP). The DIY kids in Seattle didn’t like me because I wore kind of expensive clothes and also a lot of them didn’t understand that an eating disorder is The Most Fatal Psychological Illness, not submission to White Male Corporate Oppression (hey kool thing). They also generally disliked white cis females who weren’t fat and wore makeup. I made zines with my friends Rose and Joe in high school, but both generally avoided social situations, and when I dragged Rose to any DIY stuff they liked her only slightly more than they liked me. Their problems with her were identical to their problem with me, but she had dyed black hair and was more goth than I was (she will get me for writing that but secretly love it).
I’d either refused to do art therapy or been a pain and made Jokes About Art In The Form Of Art everywhere I’d been for treatment other than Renfrew. Because I liked the IOP so much (which I might not have admitted while I was there), I gave in to things like beading after realizing how much of an asshole I was being by refusing to participate. Renfrew was, in general, the place where I realized that I wasn’t a total victim, even though it was genetically impossible for me not to be Seriously Mentally Ill and even though recovering from an eating disorder is really difficult and relapse is common. I was traumatizing and hurting people, and it took me literally ten years with an ED to realize this. During and after Renfrew, I started doing crafts at home. I did basically every available kit from the toy store by my psychiatrist’s office on Park. Nothing I was making was Real Art*, and that was why it worked as a self-soothing technique. I wasn’t judging myself or trying to bullshit people with Stupid One-Note Conceptual Comedy Made Of Stuff From Blick. I was still too concerned with how others perceived my appearance to have beauty be fun rather than compulsive, but I snapped the fuck out of that shortly after and got to start enjoying cosmetics.
Sometimes I can’t get out of bed to get the beads or whatever. This is what I mean about my depression being physical. I feel a constant, almost flulike fatigue. I can sleep 20 hours a day. My appetite all but vanishes. My muscles ache, my head is constantly pounding, and I have GI problems so serious that I actually went in to get a colonoscopy and endoscopy while I was still in college. The doctor told me that, surprise, it was psychological. There was real irritation, but it was likely caused by stress. When I’m depressed, my motor skills and reaction time slow. I become a different person in my body. Depression is actually a disease, and it is painful physically as well as psychically.
First of all, I find vocal anti-psychiatry folks unbearably painful, because it is so fucking clear to me that I have a real disease. My meds, when they’re working, relieve my physical symptoms more than anything else. This allows me to get out of bed and do the things I’ve learned make me feel better. I don’t have any side effects from my SNRI, but I do have breakthrough symptoms at times. Of course, it is much better to suffer sometimes than it is to suffer constantly. I’ve been talking to a girl who reads my blog and has a mood disorder with psychotic symptoms. Since going on her meds, she has been doing wonderfully and is free of any symptoms. Her meds work. Not everyone needs to take meds, and the same meds effect differently people differently. Some people are fine with just talk therapy. Some find physical activity relieves their symptoms. Medical marijuana (which I don’t consider a med because it’s natural and also legally ambiguous here in the US, even in states where there’s a dispensary on every block). I wish that I could believe in God, because faith seems to help a lot of people.
I need all of it. I need pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, physical activity (I don’t use the word exercise because I move informally and only when my body tells me it feels like moving, unless Sophie needs to piss), and the potentially silly-seeming shit that I guess is basically DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). Oh, and I need my dog, because she gives me a sense of purpose and, no matter how useless I feel, I know I am keeping a living thing alive and happy. If I really can’t get out, one of our awesome friends takes her to the park or on a long walk.
I need a lot of therapy, actually, and later this morning I have my intake at an IOP program for depression and anxiety (there will also be patients with EDs and addiction, but I won’t be in the ED and addiction groups). I’m going to be in therapy every day for the amount of time that most people spend at work. This is my new job.
I’m really nervous. I could barely sleep last night, and I am a major oversleeper. Intakes are really hard, and so is being new to a group, even if you’re an extrovert. I’ve been up since six, and I have been Calming The Fuck Down via beading. My friend Rafa’s girlfriend, without asking for anything in return, brought me a huge bag of craft kits from Michael’s a few days ago. It sort of restored my faith in humanity, and I have a crazy number of beads now, including letter beads (the kind rave kids make “candy” out of, if there are still rave kids).
I am desperately afraid of earnesty. Maybe it’s a generational thing in part, but I’m also afraid of the vulnerability and Not Seeming Cool. My instinct is to make a bracelet that says SATAN or THUG LIFE or BENZO QUEEN. The thing is, though, I’m a dick if I show up at treatment wearing a bracelet like that, they’ll probably ask me take it off, and I’m going to have to be earnest I want to get better.
I actually had to google “positive words”. It was a funny list of affirmations that included the words “easy”, “famous”, “popular”, and “rich”. Words like this helped me generate a bunch of jokey ideas no better than SATAN (not earnest, and not really that funny, either). I eventually decided to make a bracelet that said LOVED. I feel embarrassed even typing that. But that’s what gave me freedom from the selfishness of my eating disorder (and what prevents me from killing myself): being loved, even if it’s only by my dog and my own mother (which is how I feel sometimes, even though I know it isn’t true). The bracelet definitely isn’t high fashion, but it’s a reminder that I DO have coping skills and a reason to stick around (even if it’s often just so I don’t further traumatize my mom).
I know this post isn’t funny, so the least I can do is work some beauty tips into it.
Most mental health professionals make a few notes about your appearance during a private session. These notes function to give information about your functionality. Do you appear well-nourished? Clean? Appropriately dressed? I’ve got well-nourished down (over a year 100% weight restored and a fucking CHAMPION), but I can definitely avoid the shower and neglect my laundry when I’m doing poorly. I know there’s no reason to care, but I’m extremely conscious of the fact that someone is making note on whether or not I look clean and well dressed. Hence, I showered this morning! I also carefully gave myself a toned-down version of my Kewpie look, with thinner eyeliner and sort of tidy hair, and painted my nails coral (predictable but great for gingers).
Focusing on my beauty routine definitely calmed me down, because I was completely focused on my appearance. This can be healthy as a way of Not Freaking Out. Friends have told me painting their nails can even prevent them from self-harming. If your beauty routine feels compulsive or like an obligation, it’s probably not healthy. That’s why beauty and fashion are so fun for me now. I don’t feel like I have to look a certain way, or like I have to wear makeup at all. I don’t care if my clothing is “flattering”, which is mainstream media code for “slimming”. I do it because it makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, and that is the whole fucking goal here.
Wish me luck!
*Could be contested but I already went to art school once and can’t have this conversation even one more time.