A Retrospective on Being Well

This is going to be a weird one for those of you who haven’t followed me across from my previous works. But Wholesome Rage was my project to move away from my previous social media platform, FimFiction.net, where I was very open and talked a lot about my problems dealing with mental illness.

Long story short, I collect diagnosis like Pokemon, and I had a nasty habit of getting immune to drugs fast. I alluded in a Patreon-post that I’ve been on every kind of relevant psychatric drug on the market last I checked, and honestly, that’s not actually hyperbole.

You see, treatment would work for me for a few months where I’d feel good and normal, but just be waiting to not feel like that again. I’d get nasty withdrawl symptoms while still on a medication after as little as two months, growing immune faster than I would risk upping the dose, until an antipsychotic was basically a sugar pill to me. I could go from a maximum dose to absolutely nothing and feel no difference.

Or nothing for days at a time and not feel any different.

I don’t just mean ‘the good effects’ either, like I didn’t feel like it helped. I mean I didn’t feel any of it. The nastier side effects, the gut pains if I took it without food, the foggier thoughts — all that left too.

So I was put in the rather unfortunate position, two years ago or so, of having to deal with… an ungodly amount of bipolar depression and psychosis without treatment. Around this point I dropped down to fifty kilograms and had to walk with a cane for a while.

I thought for sure I was a dead man walking. I really did. I could barely handle things with treatment. With treatment? I’d still have bad episodes where I’d try to gnaw through my own wrists. Long nights rocking back and forth, screaming my throat bloody because it felt like someone had set my brain on fire.

One episode was so bad I got a hit of aphasia — after about fifteen minutes of continued screaming I just stopped, the pain stopped, something clicked, and I opened my mouth to speak and

Niuefnruinrununrvurnirnvur

Was what came out. Even now, when I’m very tired, I still ‘loop’ words like a skipping record, or type a lot of homonyms and homophones.

I’ve been an agoraphobic since I was 15. Leaving the house has given me a constant, low level surge of adrenaline and anxiety. I mean, I got mugged twice and survived a murder attempt that year, so I kind of feel vindicated on that one, but still. Even something as simple as leaving the house has been as completely overwhelming and exhausting to me as going skydiving. Imagine having to walk out of a perfectly good plane every time you wanted to buy yourself a Snickers.

I’ve fugued out and scratched through my own arm, not realizing that I was idly digging fingernails into an open wound. I’ve walked in front of busses absentmindedly. In early 2014, I tried to commit suicide by buying a tank of helium, and was only stopped in the attempt because I lost my wallet on the way to the supply store, which found me outside some very excellent friends’ apartment who managed to talk me out of it.

It hadn’t been a whim, or a spur of the moment decision. I was in constant pain all the time, and I had no reason to suspect or believe it could get better. For a long time after, it actually did get worse for me. Without the people I became close to in that time, I would have been dead a dozen times over by now.

I’m not trying to be maudlin. And for the mentally interesting reading this, I cannot emphasize enough, I’m not saying this like it’s a competition. I’m not trying to one up anyone. I’m just trying to give you context for just how utterly messed up I’ve been for years now.

Now, coming up to my 23rd birthday, I feel… good.

Like, just, good. Most of the time. And have for a while now. Definitely for the last six weeks straight or so, perhaps as long as the last six months.

That doesn’t sound like a long time. But it’s the first time I’ve been happy since I was a child. It’s the first time I haven’t been indiscriminately angry, or burned out.

I’ve lived my entire life without knowing what it’s like to be well. Of having no context for what it’s like to live outside the tunnel. With the belief this might simply never have been possible for me.

And now that I’m here… looking back is a weird and uncomfortable feeling. It’s like vertigo. I don’t just feel like I’m looking backwards, I feel like I’m looking down from a very great height.

And from here, I have a lot of context and insights I want to share.

Normally, and I think this is common for a lot of authors, when we’re drawn to writing this stuff there’s this impulse that nobody will want to read this, and that this is a bit of a wanky thing to do. But I think it’s unfair to make that decision on your behalf, and I think writing this down is an extremely healthy and important thing I need to do regardless.

So, with that said, let’s move on to me writing the damn thing.

The first thing I want to say, the realization that most struck me as why I needed to write this, is a thing I said to my friend Daniel at the start of January; Holy shit, how aren’t healthy people way more productive.

What I realized later was that, yeah, you have the energy to do things… but you don’t feel crippling anxiety at the idea of not doing them.

That was bizarre to me. I need you to understand, this is something I didn’t even understand in theory about healthy people.

I thought when people relaxed and did things they enjoyed, it’s simply because they didn’t have the mental energy to be actively, at that moment, practicing an important skill, or fixing something, or doing something. They needed to be recharging.

What I’ve found out, that nobody even thought to try to explain to me, was that… no, people do things they like just because they like doing them. That’s… that’s it.

To explain how deep run this anxiety was to me, and something Daniel patiently explained to me about myself, was that I realized I don’t start conversations with people if it doesn’t feel like work. When I’ve just enjoyed the conversation too many times in a row.

If I’m trying to be more likable, if I’m trying to work out how to be more liked by that person, if we’re talking about interesting ideas and I’m learning from their experience, I’ll exchange thousands of emails or messages with someone.

But as soon as I just… like talking to someone, I’ll stop messaging, because my brain will be screaming at me that I’m wasting time.

That’s kind of really fucked up, isn’t it?

I can’t do things or just talk to people because I like doing them, because I’ve been living under the impression that… well, God knows I put 80% odds I’d be dead by 25. Every second I wanted to be contributing more than my life took away from this ideal of humanity.

I couldn’t have lived my life as a net drain on the world, and I had a lot of catching up to do.

That’s another thing I’ve realized, especially about being angry all the time — when the two states you have are ‘vague anger and tension’ and ‘utterly burned out’, it’s much easier to choose to be angry, to be coiled up like a spring, to be ready to snap at a moment’s notice. Especially when you’re insecure, and terrified, and half everyone’s size, and you need to know you can stand up for yourself.

I cried a lot as a teenager over the dumbest things and I didn’t know why, and I hated it, and it made me feel so weak. So useless.

More than anything else I felt guilty about not being good enough, even though I had no idea how I wanted to be better, or how I could be better. I just had a deep seated hatred of my own inadequacies, and another layer of resentment that I didn’t have the power or understanding to fix them.

It was hard to be angry at people, because I think something that’s surprisingly true for me is that I have a deep love of people, conceptually and individually. I think we’re amazing, and wonderful, and flawed, and so interesting. Above all else, I think people are fascinating to me.

It was easy to be angry at people, because I knew they didn’t like me. That I was deeply unpleasant to them. I had… still have, I suspect, a deep resentment that my love of people is so one sided.

I had the realization that the only reason my friends tolerated me was because I was witty, I could be funny.

That’s my fault. I was an angry, filterless bastard who had no idea how to communicate with anyone my own age. I was arrogant, because superiority is always a handy substitute for achievement, I was bitter, I was cruel.

And I hated myself for it. But I had no idea how to fix that.

Something that Daniel said to me back in 2015, which I had forgotten but he apologized for over the course of these epiphanies, was that the worst thing he has ever said to me was an attempt at a sincere gesture; “You know, you’re a really good person in small doses”.

God, isn’t that a fantastic summary, though? I tried so hard to be better than I was, but I had no idea how to do it, and the result was a person who must have been exhausting to be around. And I could see other people be forced to tolerate me. I wasn’t a bad person by choice, or pride. At this point, I’d achieved enough in writing that even my arrogance was giving way to self-confidence and self-esteem.

But I had no idea how to be the better person I so desperately wanted to be.

And it’s hard to be anything else when all you know is pain. When every good thing that comes your way is tainted by… “I’m going to fuck this up, and even if I don’t fuck this up, I’m going to continue to be fucked up”.

I liken it to a leaky ship. You spend all your time bailing water just to keep it afloat, that you don’t have time to make repairs. If you make the repairs, you don’t have to bail water anymore, but you have to stop bailing water long enough to do that, and you’re already on the verge of going under.

You can get better at bailing water, but the whole time you realize that at some point your arms are just going to get tired.

Six months ago I bailed out enough, for long enough, that I could start making repairs. I needed to bail water less often, which meant I got more time to make the needed repairs.

And I couldn’t have done even that if I hadn’t had the last eight years spent studying the damn ship at every possible opportunity, finding every leak, memorizing every patch I’d need to make if I had the opportunity.

Yeah it helps I was reading books the whole time I was bailing water on ship repairs, too. It’s not enough to just get better at bailing, I suspect, though that does help.

I think it helps to emphasize just how long I’ve been bailing though. The first time I went to the doctor for blood pressure problems was in grade 6, so I would have been about 11 years old.

… to be fair, I went to school, my teacher hit me, I came home, my parents thought I was lying, my Dad would hit me, it was a fantastic time of my life.

Erugh.

I’m noticing I don’t bring up external factors very often, but focus a lot more on my part in them — with exceptions like the above, and mentioning the murder attempt before. I think that’s probably helpful.

An important thing I learned is just because things aren’t your fault, they are your responsibility. And a very common thing I repeat to myself and others is that you are the common source of all your problems.

It doesn’t mean you’re the common cause of them. A lot of shit isn’t your fault, but you’re still the person who has to deal with it.

Anyway.

All this has been helpful for me to talk about and get down because a lot of it is stuff I’m realizing, or appreciating, because it isn’t true anymore. It’s hard to understand these things without a point of reference, something to compare it to. You can’t really direct compare your lived experience to someone else’s.

So a lot of this is stuff only makes sense to me now, as I’m explaining it.

Like I knew that being angry gave me energy, and was an alternative to depression, so I’d purposely put myself in situations or surround myself with people where I knew it was socially acceptable, or admirable, to be angry at them, or on their behalf.

In plainer English, a lot of my social interactions were based on getting angry.

It wasn’t because I was intentionally self-sabotaging. It was just, in those situations, I felt like I had the most energy, and felt my most socially aware. Barbed wit is a skillset that I’m good at and pride myself on, and there are some people who absolutely deserve your ire.

If that’s when I felt my best self, it makes it very hard to acknowledge that’s not a good self to be. Or to avoid situations that made me feel good.

I made a conscious effort to stop doing that a few months ago, and the improvements have been great. But it’s definitely what I mean by… perspective. By only understanding things in hindsight.

See, if you only have two core emotional states, ‘angry’ and ‘crushing void’, then you’re not going to see yourself going into a situation to feel angry. I joked about doing it to get angry, but what I thought was ‘invigorated’.

I didn’t realize I didn’t message people I liked talking to, either.

There’s so many little things I’m picking up that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

A thing I have to give my past self credit for is what he first wrote about. When he was in that situation, a depressed, miserable 16 year old, what was he writing? Stuff about misunderstood protagonists lashing out at the world?

He wrote comedies. He wrote as much comedy and saccharine romance as he could bear. A girlfriend at the time commented, actually; “How are you so good at writing characters when you obviously can’t understand people?”

I think I did though. I had to, to write like that. I just couldn’t understand myself.

The best way to put that is why I wrote that, then. I was obsessed with the idea that nobody should feel like I did, and that I’d do everything I can to give others the happiness I couldn’t feel.

Over time, though, I started writing much harder dramas, much more melancholy pieces. As I started to understand my own feelings a lot better, I transitioned in my writing. I stopped trying to just help other people feel better, I wanted to help them analyze and understand these feelings for themselves. To find catharsis in the idea other people had walked that road before and come out of it.

And here’s the thing.

I think I can finally say what it’s like on the other end.

It used to be that my mood was kind of like pushing a heavy piece of furniture on wheels along a slope. It’s very easy to lose height, very difficult to regain it, and easy enough to coast at the height you’re on.

If you’re not careful, if you’re not constantly paying attention, it’s easy to start drifting down the slope as you move across it. Every little bit of height you lose puts you lower down the slope the rest of the way, and it’s so much harder to go back up. So you just keep coasting, and if you’re not careful, losing more and more ground all the way.

Finally you hit bottom, and you can’t move along anymore, you have to stop what you’re doing to force yourself back up the slope enough that you can keep going, and it’s hard and miserable, and then you’re just coasting downwards again, trying to see how long you can go before you have to stop and push yourself back up again.

Feeling well? Being well? It’s on flat ground. It still takes the same effort to push the damn thing, honestly, but you don’t feel like you’re drifting downward. That’s the biggest difference.

This is what I’ve come to understand about being better. Not all at once, nothing so dramatic or sudden. All of this is slow progress made over years, made obvious only in hindsight.

When you wake up and don’t immediately get out of bed, it’s because you’re comfortable and you want to remember that pleasant feeling. It’s not because the idea of having to start your day, of walking back into your own life, overwhelms you.

When I feel good, I appreciate it. I don’t question what I’ve done to earn or deserve it, or how my failures will cause me to ruin it.

When I watch shows, now, I analyze and study and critique it because I feel it gives me a deeper appreciation for what I’m watching. It’s not because the idea of slowing my brain down, of just passively enjoying something, makes me feel like I’m letting myself die, wasting finite seconds of life.

My first reaction is to smile at strangers, not to hide from them.

I can have patience, because I no longer fear being left alone with my own thoughts.

I procrastinate because I’m lazy, not because I’m terrified of failing.

I’m lazy because I’ve grown to be very stingy with my mental effort, but no longer because I simply don’t have the capacity for it.

My face is relaxed. I no longer look haunted. I smile more. I smile more easily.

I’m not worried about when this contentedness will be ruined for me. When I’ll return to ‘normal’. I have plenty of fears and worries, but they’re all reasonable and well-founded, and not spiralling hypotheticals branching off other hypotheticals, a chain reaction of ‘If, then, so’s.

When I walk down the street, I’m not watching for every possible thing that could kill me, and visualizing my death in a dozen different ways, and making plans to avoid them. I still try to put solid objects between myself and roads at all times though, baby steps.

I would like a romantic relationship, not because I feel I can’t stand the idea of being alone, but simply because I would choose not to be.

I used to think I was an introvert. It became very clear, over time, that I’m an extrovert who was simply too stressed and nervous and terrified to be one. I’m getting better about that.

I try to be kinder, even though it makes me feel embarrassed and vulnerable to do so. I now feel secure enough to embrace that vulnerability.

I now understand that feeling vulnerable is necessary, and isn’t a weakness.

I understand that you’re never wrong about how you feel. It’s just that your feelings can be stupid. But that doesn’t make you stupid to feel them.

And I no longer understand the person I was five years ago. I legitimately cannot comprehend them. I remember being them, we even share a childhood. But I can’t understand them. I can’t hold the idea of them in this healthy mind, just as they could not hold the idea of me in theirs, even if I had showed them all the life experience in between.

The past is a foreign country to me, and I have renounced my citizenship to it.

The person I was… they were a wounded, crazed animal backed into a corner. It hurts me when people confuse us for each other. I pity them so much. I realize what they’ve been through, what I don’t think they understood they were going through, and I feel so sorry for the person that they were. And that overwhelming fear they would never get better.

They believed that the best they could ever do was survive, and try to give back as best as they could. They continued, accepting the inevitability of their own suffering, just hoping they could give back to humanity more than they had taken away from it.

They walked through the tunnel in the hopes that they might one day light the path for another they couldn’t see yet.

And now I feel the sunlight upon my face, I can no longer truly be the one who walked through that tunnel.

But I have his diary, and I’ve gotten good at translating the notes in there. The one that walked through the tunnel may be a strange and impossible creature to me now, but he was me.

Maybe I can honour his wishes, and help him light the way. No more torches burning what could be found that would burn, but mirrors aimed back at the tunnel, reflecting back the light of the true sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “A Retrospective on Being Well

  1. This was very beautifully written, and I’m really happy you’ve reached these conclusions. It will always be a struggle, but better to fight it than let it passively happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m always encouraged when people with even worse troubles than myself manage to find their way to being better.

    Like

  3. Like the name of your blog, “Wholesome Rage.” We can learn to use that anger or rage, that or have it use us. I have always liked the depression described as anger directed inward. I spent many years punished by my anger, thankfully have learned to use it to build a life i can be proud of. Good luck on your journey of finding your way out! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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