It is day three of Lamictal titration, and I have to say, every time I swallow that tiny pill, a wave of paranoia ripples through my body. “This is going to kill me.” “This is a conspiracy. Everyone is in on it. I’m not really sick. They want me to die.” “Is that THE RASH?!?!?!?!???!?” My mom asked me if I thought this anxiety would abate in a few months, and I honestly didn’t know what to tell her. I had a terrifying moment of clarity: I can’t differentiate between my paranoid thoughts and legitimate concerns about this medication.
That used to be what separated me from the so-called “psych ward level crazy” people (more on that later) – my knowledge that my fears are irrational despite my inability to rationalize with myself in a moment of anxiety. But no more! I genuinely do not know when my sense of impending doom should be heeded (probably never). Nothing has ever happened to me following my paranoid dread, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a new day. There’s always something new to fear. Trust me.
But I won’t stop now if only because I don’t want my family to be able to say that I’m not trying to get better anymore. I’m trying to help myself, whatever that means, and that trying makes my family more sympathetic – or at least, I thought it would.
In reality, living with a mentally ill person can be annoying. My anger is volatile, my emotions are labile, my panic and depression make me fluctuate between frenetic pacing and zombie-like gestures, and my ability to help around the house is zilch. My family is only human, and at some point, the fact that I acquiesced in taking a mood stabilizer is no longer enough to quell frustration. And then, we’re back to square one.
“You should go outside more.” “You should try yoga again.” “You should be grateful.” “You should be less selfish.” “You should read the Bible.” “You should blah blah blah.”
The thought of sending an email made me cry the other day because it felt that overwhelming. I’m in no position to attempt self-care at the moment. Even typing this is making my hands go limp. Maybe it’s the medication. Maybe it’s this depressive episode. Whatever it is, it’s making me feel 120% worthless. I haven’t even been able to read one article in the New York Times without getting a headache, and that shit is expensive, so I normally try to get my money’s worth.
Point being, internalized stigma always rears its ugly head when mental illness becomes a palpable nuisance as opposed to some amorphous social cause. I’m not asking for people’s pity by any stretch. I know I can be a pain in the ass more than half the time, but hey, I didn’t ask to be born after all.
Seriously though, I’m not asking for leeway to be a shitty person, but there are aspects of bipolar disorder that make me a shitty person – at least temporarily. Telling me I need to just go outside more will undoubtedly make me feel worse about myself than I already do, and in turn, I will most likely act more irritable and irascible.
Perhaps a little backstory will help: I love to debate, and I specifically love to debate politics and religion with my dad. Even though my ability to actually do things is largely impaired at the moment, I can still talk about intellectual topics for hours (like the apparent clusterfuck of conservatives in the – god help us – Trump administration just in time for Thanksgiving, lol am I right?!?). Streams of consciousness are not very taxing. Ask me how I feel, and I will most likely cry, but ask me to talk about how politics undermines the complexity of wealth inequality in the US, and I’m a chatterbox. Directing my emotions to some cause outside myself is my favorite way to dissociate. Plus, my dad likes to debate as well, so it’s a win-win.
Until it isn’t. Once again, my propensities to intellectualize my way out of feeling and to turn each moment into an opportunity for an existential proposition make me seem like I’m doing “okay.” This gives my family’s internalized stigma an entry point, especially if they disagree with what I’m saying (spoiler alert: they almost always do). But the brief adrenaline rush of a good debate is nowhere near enough to heal me. If anything, it’s a tool I use for distraction that’s healthier than, say, drinking or Netflix bingeing.
My cold and calculating façade is ripping at the seams, and I constantly have to channel my emotion into something outside myself so I don’t tear open. Did I ever mention how I take way too much pride in seeming like an unemotional girl? As dumb as I think gender stereotypes are, I am encumbered by my fear of being written off as hysterical or overly emotional. I can trace this fear back to elementary school, but my social anxiety definitely exacerbates it.
My dedication to looking cool and collected means I’m internally anything but. In fact, my default response to being overwhelmed with emotion is to stare blankly into space. But I can’t expect my family to know that I’m a ball of fear and existential despair if I don’t give them any indications. When I do try to relay genuine emotion, though, it comes out one of two ways: unintelligible sobbing or inflectionless robot. I am all or nothing in regards to emotions.
But my expression-related ineptitude doesn’t mean my mental illness has abated or that I’m doing “better.” It simply means that the only things I’m getting better at are dissociating and distracting myself. If anything, the sheer amount of terror I feel in relation to Lamictal only forces me to detach from my emotions even more than usual.
The difficult-to-deal-with aspects of my mental illness can largely be attributed to the pent-up sea of contradictions swirling around in my head at any given moment. One step out of my comfort zone – figuratively or literally – sends me spiraling, and unfortunately, I usually take it out on the people to whom I’m closest. Hopefully medication will help me deal with change and mundane tasks so that I’m not constantly overwhelmed by them and not constantly on the verge of igniting a hostile debate with anyone within earshot. Maybe I will even be able to reckon with my emotions and finally get them under control. Then again, there’s so many. I wouldn’t really know where to start.