Tag Archives: mental health

What Can It Hurt?

My room is crowded with furniture and things, because I live in a small house and I enjoy being surrounded by stuff. Blankets overflow onto mountains of stuffed toys, books cascade across end tables and doll armoires, video game consoles perch on guitar cases. I have four separate wind chimes in one room, three windsocks, two kites, and a toy glider plane.

I also have terrible balance. One day, I tripped over my own pant leg–of course it wouldn’t be over any of the actual clutter, that would make sense. In the infinite stretch of time between losing my balance and actually hitting the ground, I had the presence of mind to really consider my potential landing places. I was initially headed for the doll armoire, both filled and topped with ceramics and glass.

“Not great,” I thought to myself. “What’s in reach to brace against? Window? Mm. That…is not going to hold me up. Death by broken glass sounds unpleasant.

“How about the cat bed? Not occupied by cat. Good start. Is occupied by yarn and, ah, sewing scissors. Questionable. The cover is on them, though. Probably not capable of stabbing me. Okay. Let’s do this. What’s the worst that can happen?”

So I executed a beautiful pirouette and landed on my ass in the cat bed, entirely unstabbed.

Sometimes, that’s the only real question: what can it hurt if I…?

Right now, I’m working out the logistics of quitting my day job and everything that comes after doing so. I’ve written elsewhere about what a fiasco it is. Bad boss, unhelpful coworkers, long hours without breaks, physical demands unsuitable for a body breaking down like mine.

Change scares humans, though, as a general rule. Right now, I’m trying to get past the paralysis that says, no matter how bad it is, leaving will ruin everything. That even this mess has to be better than the unknown.

There’s a game played by those managing their anxiety. Best case, worst case, most likely case. It forces your anxiety to test the logic of its assumptions.

Worst case if I leave my job? I lose my income source and can’t get anyone else to hire me. The writing doesn’t bring in enough to cover my expenses. I lose my health coverage, get substantially sicker, and rack up medical bills. I run through my (surprisingly decent) savings and can no longer help pay the bills. We stop being able to pay the mortgage, lose the property, and die of starvation in our cars in the riverbed.

(Pause to shake and whimper in a corner.)

Best case? I don’t have to answer to an incompetent who can’t do the job I’m saddled with. With my suddenly open schedule and increased rest time, my fatigue and pain improve or at least become manageable. I start spending all that time on writing. I get brave and creative because I’m not constantly on the verge of collapse. I publish frequently, get noticed, make a name for myself, and start making real money. I replace my lost income with money made doing something I love. I stop feeling like a stranger in my own house. I have the time to pursue other creative projects, and my career just keeps growing.

Most likely? I use some of that new free time to job hunt. I still write and publish more. I find another low-income job to help make ends meet. With the benefit of experience, I avoid some of the pitfalls of my current job, like working many hours off the clock. It stays just a job, kind of crappy but not actively harmful to my well being. The writing still starts to pay off, thanks to the increased attention. My career is slow and steady, and I still eventually get to quit having a day job entirely.

Okay, so, really. What can it hurt if I quit? How likely is it that going through the window is unavoidable? How much more likely is it that the worst I will face is scissors with the safety cover on? What sort of balletic moves do I need to pull off in order to minimize the fallout?

(In this metaphor, the best case scenario is one where I spontaneously sprout wings and never have to hit the ground at all. I’ve always wanted to fly. Maybe even that isn’t as unlikely as I fear.)

Implicit in all this is the answer to another question: what can it hurt if I stay and change nothing?

My body. My spirit. My future.

I’m working up the courage to jump, to brace for impact while trying to grow wings on the way down.


Exit SignThe first week of my first year at college, Friday was the only day with any classes. My parents had helped me move in on Wednesday. I had brought a bed-full of stuffed animals and an entire padlocked trunk of books, among other things from which I derived comfort. They bid me tearful goodbyes and wished me luck.

Friday afternoon, I packed a bag and walked to the bus stop; I was headed home for the weekend.

It took two buses to get to the Amtrak station, where a reserved ticket waited for me. I disembarked the first bus and, carefully referencing the route map I had printed out, confidently strode across the road to another stop. Despite never having traveled by bus before, I could do this. I was a mature and worldly college student now. In the molded plastic seat, I sat and buzzed with nervous energy.

The second bus eventually stopped at what was, I learned, the terminus of the line. We parked curbside at some diner, on a street called something cheery like Sunflower. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the Amtrak station. The driver, heartless, offered me neither explanation nor reassurance and ordered me off.

Cross the street, I learned, and you will be headed south. North is the only direction for me.

Close to tears, I called my parents, who in turn called me a cab. I counted the minutes on my phone, urging each mile to pass faster. Still, I arrived with plenty of time for my train. (While I was not, at age eighteen, well-equipped to cope with life’s little disasters, I at least knew to schedule for them.) I reached home none the worse for wear. I would take a cab to the station the following weekend. But after that, I learned how to navigate public transportation properly. I eventually switched to Metrolink, became one of the regular Friday commuters, and learned to both love and hate the California train system.

I spent three years going home every weekend. Like a hitchhiking ghost, all I wanted was to go north by any means necessary. Like a ghost, every Monday I would be forced to reset back south at college. In year three, I started driving myself. For the final six months, I commuted from home four days a week, three to six hours depending on traffic.

I spent a lot of time on the road. I lived on the road. I learned the road by dawn light and by darkness. Audiobooks and music were entertainment, but the road was company.

Highway at NightSometimes, all I wanted was to miss my exit and keep driving north forever. Or at least until I found a place where life as I knew it ceased, until I crossed a pale red border drawn to mark where someplace better began. This was my alternative to driving off a cliff, with much the same motivation. I wanted my life to end, to change, to pass over into happiness or peace or just blessed silence at last.

I never, to the best of my or anyone else’s recollection, made any practical attempt to run away from home as a child. Escape nonetheless became an obsessive interest. I didn’t have any practical framework for running away, but I had books. They told me that if I strayed far enough from where I ought to be, I would get lost and then… Then things would be different, which would be enough. Like Alice, I would tumble down the rabbit hole.

So I wandered into the hills, deep amongst the oak trees and sagebrush. I followed animal trails barely visible to the eye. I found roads, strange and faint and never meant for humans. I thought I would find my way to Away. Away had to be better than Here.

I have a history with suicide. Even once the attempts stopped, the impulse continued to crop up periodically. And every time, it has arrived hand in hand with the desperate, irrational desire to pack a bag and run away. Eventually, I learned to recognize them both for what they were:

Because I have never believed that I had enough control to improve my circumstances, I instead believed that if I just run fast and far enough, I could start over. If I’m miserable where I am, the only possible solution is to escape.

Powerlessness. Helplessness. Hopelessness. And yet. Mixed up with a sense that something better is possible, if I become someone new in someplace strange. A gambler’s hope, perhaps. Throw a dart, toss a coin, pick a direction. Fill the tank and drive until it runs empty. Try again in the place you break down.

Right now, I have a bad job, a mystery health problem, and not enough money. Every day when I head to work, when I drive bleary-eyed back home after my shift, I feel a ghost’s hands on the wheel, trying to turn off and away from the known.

What should a person do, though, when they’re also a homebody tied to a patch of land and a family, for whom running away from home isn’t an option, or even particularly desirable? Ignoring the impulse isn’t good enough. I believe in the value of pain, of anger, to point the way. Letting them dictate your actions doesn’t work; that’s the path of tragedy. But they are guides that tell you when something isn’t right. They tell you where the damage is.

So how do I harness this sensation that makes me want to drive into the night and never come back? How do I metaphorically change the road I’m on?

The Year of the Move, Pt. 3

(Content Warning: The following post discusses mental health issues, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and actions, including experiences of such by young children. Please consider your own mental health when deciding whether or not to read on.)

Last time, I summed up death, lies, outrageous lies, and taxes, the great inevitabilities of my life. I even left you with the cheerful promise of the property selling at last, a critical step in my family’s achieving escape velocity. It is hard for me to be excited or happy about this, though. It is hard for me to be much of anything by this stage. While I coped well enough with the news of needing to sell and I weathered the Overlord’s death with a face (and perhaps a heart) of stone, by August, my nervous system has had enough. It decides to go on strike.

Cabin Fever and Other Mental Health Issues

The thing you need to understand is that I have been plagued by mental health issues since childhood. It has been complicated by a series of bad diagnoses that left me without proper help or treatment while I had health care coverage. As an adult, no longer covered under my parents’ insurance, my access to health care has been restricted to the most dire of emergencies. The idea of receiving professional help now, during my most trying time, is lovely and impossible.

As a child, I swung between highs and lows with disturbing frequency and for no clear reason. I was an active child with access to tons of outdoor space, so it was not so strange that I would run until I dropped or take death- and gravity-defying leaps from rocks and trees and horses. Less normal were the nights when I couldn’t sleep and got up to watch videos at three in the morning at age 9. I was a child raised in an all-adult world with no siblings or close neighbors for company, so it was not so strange that I would be a little odd, given to old-fashioned turns of phrase and a chronic inability to relate well with my peers. Less normal were the listless days when I could not bear the thought of getting out of bed or the episodes of selective mutism or the overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation.

At age 10, I was sent to a specialist for testing. My teacher thought I might have ADD. This was when ADD was first becoming the very popular diagnosis for any child who didn’t fit well in the conventional school system. I was told I had a mild case of it, the supposed cause of my inability to concentrate on school work. My mother refused to have me medicated, however, for which I remain grateful. No one, you see, had bothered to ask me WHY I couldn’t concentrate. I might have told someone about the crushing depression that made it impossible to care about something so trivial as math or history. I might have told them about the fevered mania that made me desperate to work on my own writing and inventing to the exclusion of all else. I was ten, though, and no one asked and I didn’t know this wasn’t what life was supposed to feel like.

Two years later, I made my first suicidal gesture. Three more years after that and I would make my most serious suicide attempt, which involved an unpleasant quantity of pills. The year after that, I would carve up and burn bits of myself as my new and marginally less hazardous coping mechanism. I have had days when I could barely get out of bed and days when I could not stop working even if I wanted to, even if my body ached and my brain buzzed and my hands shook.

Since that specialist in fourth grade, I have never been formally diagnosed with anything. (I suspect, and others agree, that I may have Bipolar II, the less-manic, more-depressed sibling of Bipolar Disorder.) I have never been medicated. I was, briefly, made to see a family councilor. Though talk of suicide had landed me in her office, she was more interested in policing my teenage use of misogynistic slang than discussing why I had lost the will to live. I was terrified I would be institutionalized and refused to open up to anyone but my close friends, who could not fix me. I became an expert at hiding wounds and I learned to wear a jacket even in the California summer to hide the scars.

I tell you all of this only to give context to what I will say next: Before 2013 started, I was doing well and I knew how to manage my symptoms on my own and I thought I had seen what rock bottom was for me.

I was wrong about that last one.

I did pretty okay through July. Hell, I released my first self-published collection in mid-August. Knowing the more vicious tendencies of my brain chemistry, I anticipated a mood crash following the weeks of frenetic work leading up to the release. Considering my high hopes, disappointment seemed inevitable.

What I actually got was about three weeks of being physically incapable of doing anything but lying in my parents’ bed, dozing and reading and sleeping and crying and sleeping some more. My chest felt tight all the time and strange fevers swept over my skin. I lost my appetite and that was a first for me. I could barely leave the house and the idea of leaving the property terrified me. When the first offer on the property came in and the conflict with the Hive Mind got more heated, my symptoms got worse. I woke up short of breath and with chest pain every morning and that wake-up came earlier every day as I became less able to sleep peacefully. My tendency towards nightmares ramped up into terrors.

I started experiencing dry heaving and vomiting every morning. I couldn’t keep food down until noon, at best. Sometimes I did not eat until evening. I could get out of bed at this point, at least, so I helped with packing and storing all our belongings on an empty stomach. I lost ten pounds in two weeks and twenty in a month. None of my clothing fit right any more. I hyperventilated on occasion, particularly when in the midst of processing paperwork into and out of the computer for the Scapegoat or when listening to her phone conversations with lawyers and agents. I would spend whole days unable to speak without stuttering, as anxiety locked up my words, and there were days when I could not speak at all.

In more romanticized ages, this all would have been called a nervous breakdown and, if I came from money, I might have been sent to live at a country estate for a rest cure. I already lived on the country estate, I had no money, and the work never stopped coming. I shook and stuttered and gasped my way though the rest of August, though September, through November. Always, I looked toward the possibility of selling the property and seeing some relief. Always, I found that each step forward brought more paperwork to get into the computer without access to a working scanner, more phone calls I couldn’t bear to hear even one side of, more nasty messages from the Hive Mind.

I moved boxes and I processed paperwork and I kept up the day-to-day chores of running a ranch that did not belong to me. I did it on an empty stomach and I did it when I could not get through a sentence without gagging on my anxiety and, finally, I did it when my body simply ran out of energy for panic or sadness or anger or any other emotion. My new anxiety disorder ran on a cycle and I longed for the days when I had maxed out on panic and could only move robotically through my tasks without the ability to be upset by anything that happened.

I thought by sixteen that I had seen the darkest desperation and the most toxic rage and the emptiest numbness I could reach. I thought I had left contemplation of suicide behind me. I thought I knew what a bad day was. I was wrong about all of it.

I became certain that the crushing weight of my sadness and my physical deterioration would kill me before anything improved. At last, though, in the first week of December, escrow closed. I received the money I was owed on that loan to the Overlord. The Scapegoat received her inherited portion of the sale proceeds. Between the two of us, we had all the money we would be able to spend on buying a new place. (Why yes, that loaned money is going to get spent again. Yes, I will be paying off my own loan for a rather long time. Yes, helping the Overlord out was the most destructive financial deal I have ever entered. No, life has not gotten easier yet.)

Please don’t think that receiving that money means the the process of finding a new home starts (or ends) at this point. Migration started years ago, truth be told, and will carry on into the new year before it is finished. A little thinner and a little shakier and a little more wary, I look to the north.

To Be Continued…