Thursday, October 25, 2012

In which I just have a lot of feelings. And drugs. Oh, and also I swear.

We meet again, Tiny Pill

I have decided to go back on medication.

As most of you know, I struggle with mental illness and have spent the past several years juggling medications.
As a few of you know, I made the decision to go off of meds in early May. I spent the summer talking to shrinks about my feels, learning to be a more trusting person, learning to accept parts of myself and past experiences I would rather ignore, thankyouverymuch, and experimenting with herbal supplements- this is not a euphemism for weed, we're talking straight up nasty vitamins, prescribed by an herbologist and everything. And that was good.

And now things have changed, and I am going back on medication.

[Also, I feel now would be a good time to jump in and say that I am absolutely terrified of writing this. Is talking about mental illness on the internet something that will prevent me from getting a job in the future? Is it going to make my friends feel uncomfortable around me? And if so, why is that?]

Let me tell you about myself.
My name is Lissa, and I am one of the 26.2% of Americans who suffer from mental illness. I am still capable, and lovable, and at times a total bad-ass. I also take medication a good deal of the time, and today I'm going to talk about what that's like for me. This is my personal experience: I am not a doctor. I am not the authoritative opinion on brain weasels and the drugs that can treat them. I'm just talking, because that's what I know how to do.

I feel like there are two versions of myself- Lissa on and off meds.

Off-meds Lissa is who I spent the first seventeen years of my life being. She's awesome. I hope to spend many more years as off-meds Lissa. She's brilliant, and passionate, and funny, and creative. She's also wildly emotional. Her life is markedly comprised of a series of dramatic highs and lows- beyond the "good days" and "bad days" one is expected to experience- she is either furiously happy or totally submerged in darkness.
And you know what? Those highs are awesome.
During those periods I feel like I'm running headfirst into the whole world, and I will conquer all of it. My best artistic work is absolutely created during these periods, because it is during these periods when I feel most creative and inspired, and when I have enough energy to dedicate to it.
These are also the times when I feel free of inhibitions- this girl is not scared of anything. This is the person who will talk to anyone, who will try anything. And I love that.

I absolutely realize that I could be projecting into these highs- and they probably aren't nearly as much fun for the people around me to experience. I mean, this is the girl who thinks throwing milk at people is absolutely hilarious (to be clear, medicated Lissa also finds this hysterically funny, but she refrains from throwing milk.) Actually, that's probably a fairly accurate metaphor: I throw milk, everyone else has milk thrown on them. That's basically what it's like to live with me.

And then there are the lows. Depression is the technical term, and the one I use with doctors, but when describing this period in my mind, I use the word "melancholy"- a deep, pensive, long-lasting sadness. I think I settled on this descriptor after watching Paint Your Wagon (my all time favourite cowboy polygamist musical starring Clint Eastwood), when Clint Eastwood finds his partner, Ben, lying by himself in the road during a rainstorm, and Ben says the following:

"I get melancholy every now and then.
It's a disease common to
mountain men who live alone a lot,
but if you stay with me such times,
l'll be OK."
I can remember thinking this was an incredibly accurate sentiment, easily summarized in a single word: melancholy. 
I too, get melancholy every now and then. My mind becomes void of traceable thoughts, which are replaced with emotion and irrational impulses. It is very hard for me to function during these periods- when things are really bad, I won't leave the house, or even my room, for days- I spend most of this time sleeping, or watching TV. Well, not so much watching TV as having TV constantly playing. There's a difference, one that I don't know how to explain. 

I do not believe having these periods is inherently bad- no more so than, say, having brown hair or asthma. I appreciate them as being a part of who I am. Even the lows have benefitted me in more than one way- from them I have learned empathy, and sympathy, and how to appreciate art/music/film/books that I otherwise would not have been able to understand, I have learned how to cry, and how to better value the highs in my life. 

But over the last several years, the high periods have gotten shorter and the low periods have gotten longer, and lower. I've often felt like I was clinging to the high periods with the tips of my fingernails, desperately trying to maintain a state of being that was quickly slipping away. In attempts to prolong these highs, the lack of inhibitions quickly turns to recklessness, which has lead to my involvement in more than one stupid, if not dangerous, situation. 

Off-meds Lissa is a fantastic, amazing person. But she can be kind of hard to live with. 
And on a couple of occasions, she makes it kind of hard to live. 

I first went on medication my junior year of high school. It was a hard decision then, it's a hard decision now. I don't like the idea of having to depend on external sources to survive- and yes, I realize how stupid that is. I also feel there's a stigma around having to take medication to better handle your life- and, weirdly enough, while I've never judged another person for taking medication, I think I may be applying that stigma to myself. 

It's okay to supplement your brain's chemistry with medication if you feel you need to. It's just as okay for me to take my asthma medications to breathe every day, and just as okay to take vitamins or eat food to survive. 

Again, I feel like I'm a different version of myself on medications. I still have high and low periods, but they are much less extreme- more a collection of good and bad days. I have much more control over my emotions, in part because my emotions are restricted to a more limited range. I cry less. I also laugh less.  It makes my life easier, but somedays it also sucks.
I don't take medication to be happy- I am still responsible for my own happiness. I take medication to prolong contentment. I take medication because I have yet to find a job with three months of sick days a  year  to accommodate my need to spend large amounts of time hiding under a blanket.
I'm still brilliant and passionate and creative and funny and frequently melancholy- just in smaller, more regular doses.

Taking medication is a personal choice, and one that I feel is not suited for everyone. From what I understand, medication for mental illness is a tricky business, and one that comes with lots of nasty side effects. On medication, I've been plagued with insomnia, lack of appetite, dramatic weight gain and loss, and one particularly fun year when I slept 16 hours a day.

There are lots of aspects of taking medication that suck. Really suck. But sometimes the benefit outweighs the side effects, and earlier this week as I sat on a psychiatrist's couch, bawling my eyes out and attempting to explain through a series of hiccups that "my life is going nowhere and I just want to sit in my mosquito tent of isolation and Finn and Rachel's breakup was really sad to me and I just have a lot of feelings, okay?" I realized that such a time had once again come.

I may be taking medication for the rest of my life.

And that's okay.

Here are some things that are not okay:

It's not okay to tell me- or anyone else with mental illness- to go take some more pills. Even as a joke. Unless you are my practicing physician, you have no say in my medication. I feel like this is becoming the cray cray version of "Geez, are you on your period or something?" WHY IS IT OKAY TO SAY THESE THINGS? I am allowed to have bad days, an I am allowed to be irrational and emotional as long as I am not endangering myself or others. Hell, I am allowed to go off my medication if I decide that is what's right for me. I am enough, with or without them.
And you have no say in it.
If you really love me, you will continue to do so regardless of what dosage I am or am not taking. Ditto if I gain a hundred pounds. Or adopt five cats. Or move to Tibet. Okay?

It's not okay to suggest that my need for medication stems from a failure in other aspects of my life, ie, if I just ate more spinach I wouldn't need drugs. I am aware of the studies showing the effects of alternative treatments. I don't need you to quote them to me.  I am also eating my vegetables, exercising, engaged in my religion, and actively communicating with a wide support group of friends. I'm not taking medication because I'm too lazy to try anything else, or because I'm "sticking a bandaid" on something. So unless you've found a spinach genetically modified to include SSRIs, let's not have this conversation.

It's not okay to call me at home to tell me how depressing I am to be around. Admittedly this has only happened once, but WHAT THE HELL, RANDOM GIRL FROM HIGH SCHOOL. WE WERE NOT EVEN FRIENDS AND NO ONE WAS ASKING YOU TO SPEND TIME WITH ME. I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN ARE UGLY.
so...if any of you are considering ever doing that...don't.

My name is Lissa, and I am one of the 26.2% of Americans who suffer from mental illness. I am still capable, and lovable, and at times a total bad-ass.
And today, I am taking medication.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

in which I drink my troubles away

Today has been a really, really crappy day. In a string of crappy days, actually.

No, scratch that. I would actually like to call BS on your college years being the best of your life. If this is as good as it gets, I would like my money back, please.
And if you're getting ready to send me a message about how college was just the best, and that I need an attitude adjustment, and should be grateful for what I have, sure, I'll read it. And you're probably right! I'm so glad your college years were happy ones.
And I hope your babies are ugly.

In the mean time, today I decided it was time to find the chocolate milk in this town.
Chocolate milk, by the way, is the ultimate comfort food. If I had to pick only one thing to subside on for the rest of my life, it would be chocolate milk. I'm dead serious. After having tried fistfuls of medications that make it pretty much impossible to stomach more than one food item a day, I can tell you without hesitation that one item is and always will be chocolate milk. However, as you may recall, fresh milk is basically non-existant in this country. You're looking at either powdered or shelf milk for all your dairy needs, and both of those are disgusting. In the three weeks that I've been here, I have had milk exactly zero times.
Until today.
The original purpose of this photograph was to give visualization to how small this container is. Instead I would like to direct you to my image- I have been crying/sweating all day and I still look freakin' attractive. I mean, look how voluptuous my hair is. Good grief.

In the third store I have searched since being here, I was able to produce this 20ml box of Lait Chocolate.

And in all honesty, it was probably the grossest chocolate milk I have ever consumed.
But you know what? Still comforting as crap.

Monday, October 15, 2012

in which there are pictures, mostly of cats and my hair.

Greetings, friends on the internet.
I apologize for the space between updates. Here's a nice picture for you:

Aw, look at africa, bein' all pretty. 

Anyways, this is supposed to be the part where I'm all like, guysss, I'm just so busssyyyy I haven't had timeeee, but let's not kidd ourselves, I'm just lazy as crap. But today I realized I was officially caught up on ANTM (which is not really all that fun to watch alone and sober, fyi) and was doing pushups for fun. FOR FUN. The thought process behind this being that...I have never been able to do any great amount of pushups in a row? I guess?

Basically, I've had a lot of ill-used free time. I actually formally interviewed for my job last week, which was...catastrophic. At one point I said I would prefer not to eat bugs. To be clear, no one had even remotely mentioned bugs until this time. I am horrible at interviews. I'm not really worried, though, as they're kind of desperate for people and I have the added benefit of being fluent in English. Sometimes you have to move to Africa in order for the job market to be in your favor.

Other than that I've done the minimal amount of schoolwork necessary, swam in the ocean, wandered aimlessly, learned how to make swiss chocolate mousse, improved my french vocabulary by maybe two and a half words, and filed paperwork to the embassy. Oh, and apparently I do push ups now. So that's fun.

Here are some things, in no particular order:

1) I have procured another cat. And by that I technically mean that my mother has procured a cat, but in reality all cats I meet become mine.

Cats love: having their tummies scratched and sleeping on my boobs. I can explain neither of these things. 
The cat's name is pickles (I did not name this cat) and it's basically the most bedraggled looking kitten of all times (I did not pick this cat) and she loves me best (because this cat recognizes that I am, in fact, patron saint of the cats.)
In other cat related news, my other cat (who was not technically my cat) was diagnosed with...kitty aids? Or something to that extent? And was put down. So that was a bummer for a good three hours or so. 

2) FABRIC IS SO CHEAP HERE IT IS THE MOST GLORIOUS THING OF MY LIFE. If I could figure out how to make my iphone talk to my computer, I'd show you the endless bolts of (quality!) brocade for TWO DOLLARS A YARD, but frankly that's just too much work for one picture. Suffice it to say, I will be sewing all the things here. I'm also looking forward to when I return to fashion school after next year's Christmas break with suitcases filled with fabric. I'll be the envy of all the other pretentious designers. 

3) I will probably not be fabulously beautiful when I leave Senegal.  Which is a crying shame, because my original plan while here was to lose twenty pounds, grow long and fabulous beach hair, and be just tan enough to raise the "maybe she's born with it/ maybe it's maybelline?" question.  Instead I will probably look like Tom Hanks in Castaway. 

Wilson is my life now.

Seriously, my skin is already that color. And I'm a giant skin cancer-phobe, since I'm destined to get it anyway, meaning I wear SPF 70 literally all the time. I wear sunscreen to bed. This is not an exaggeration. And I'm still browning like a baked potato. The only explanation for this is we must be next door neighbors with the sun. Or something. I don't understand. 

Since being here I have also lost fifteen pounds. To refresh your memories, I have been here for two weeks.  I am not thrilled about this. For one, that's way too little time to lose fifteen pounds. And two, I've come to think of myself as a fairly hot fat person. If I were to continue to lose fifteen pounds every two weeks, I would look like Christian Bale in that one movie by the time I left. 

I like to think of this as Christian Bale's "Hater gonna hate" pose. I should really watch the Machinist. 
Also if you live somewhere where you can't get your haircut, it will not grow out to look like a mermaid, it will grow out to look like the lost backstreet boy.

If I knew any Backstreet Boy lyrics, this is where I would put them. 
Basically, I have an abundance of white people problems and I like to complain. That's really where I'm going with this.

4) Moving back in with your parents is really weird. And I really miss eating cheesecake scantily clad. That about sums up my feelings. 

So, friends of the internet, is anybody else following ANTM? Because I really want to drink cocktails and talk about my feelings on Victoria.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

in which I move to Africa.

Good news, everyone. I made it to Senegal.

This was only briefly in question, so no worries. And by "briefly in question" I do mean "for the duration of my four hour JFK layover, I kind of had a full fledged panic attack and had to call my best friend kyle for words of encouragement in order to get on the plane" and by "words of encouragement" I mean he said a lot of "No, I will not come get you from the airport to live in Albany, you can't even say it right, it's pronounced 'all-bany', now stop crying and get on the plane,"  which is why kyle is the absolute best person to call in that sort of situation.
To be clear, I have not suddenly developed a deep fear of flying, or over bearing desire to move to Albany, I just did not want to go to Senegal.

Honestly, I never did.

However, there comes a time in a woman's life when she realizes that maybe she's run out of goals and her chosen career isn't working out so well and her friends are getting jobs and grown-up haircuts and she's still asking for "Zooey Deschanel, but slutty" at the hairdresser and none of her marriage prospects really panned out and  her only life plan  dictated that  by now she should have a husband and babies but the only thing her uterus does is piss her off on a monthly basis and she's running out of money and at that point it feels like there's just one thing left to do, and that is move.

Which makes me curious if this is a third culture/ military brat thing- Oh, things are getting a little more difficult than you can handle? The best solution is to uproot your life and move thousands and thousands of miles away! But in all fairness, this may just be my screwed up way of dealing with things.

Before you're encompassed by fury at my complete ingratitude at this once-in-a-lifetime-oppertunity, let me explain myself a little further:
The last time I was in Africa, so, my freshman and sophomore years of high school, were the absolute worst two years of my life. Suffice it to say that there were several unfortunate circumstances that led to some unfortunate events that led to a lot of therapy and a strong desire to never set foot on this continent again- and I'm afraid I'm going to leave it at that. It's a story reserved for my more tragically doomed relationships and as an object lesson for friends about to make really poor life choices. That being said, if I ever choose to tell you what happened, have fun figuring out which category you belong in!

So that's basically why I've spent the last couple of weeks crying, puking, and having panic attacks in airports. To be clear, I would never do something that I thought would seriously jeopardize my physical, mental, or emotional health- ultimately I figured that if I could just get here, I would be fine. And so far, that's been absolutely true- but getting here was really, really hard. Like, really hard, you guys.

To summarize- Decided to move to Africa, Freaked out, Moved to Africa. And now on to lighter subject matter, specifically, observations and adventures thus far.

1) I am going to get crazy, crazy skinny here.
The biggest difference between Senegal and America, in my opinion, is the sheer lack of excess. Which is not to say that people in America do not know hunger or want- many of them do. I've come close to counting myself among them once or twice. However, people in America are starving because sometimes circumstances, both because of personal and government choices, don't allow them enough money to buy food. People in Senegal are starving because there is not enough food for them to eat. If I understand correctly, most of the food my family eats was either moved with us, or imported from France. Anything they have purchased that was locally grown has had to have been soaked in bleach, and usually results in illness after ingestion (although to be fair, we Joneses are not known for our strong stomachs. See above mention of stress puking. Apply that to everything.) Given that importing all other food from France runs very expensive very quickly, we don't eat a lot. Three moderately sized meals a day, the end. This is absolutely sufficient and I know I'm lucky to have it, but let's not kid ourselves, it's a lot less than I am used to eating. I'm a big girl, guys. And while some of my weight can be pinned on a cocktail of medication I took for the cray-cray, most of it is because I like to eat and I consider excessive making out to be the ideal form of exercise (oh, and zumba, of course.) I've always thought of eating as sort of a privilege- both in having access to good food, and the ability to eat it- the aforementioned medication frequently makes it difficult to consume solid food- so I eat because I can. However, this would be selfish to an extent I'm not comfortable with here, so it's just not going to happen.  Which is a crying shame, as I've frequently said that my idea of an ideal evening is watching Friends while a beautiful man feeds me cheesecake and pets my hair. Time to find a new dream, I guess.

2) Third world countries are icky, icky, icky.
About every six months I decide that joining the peace corp is just the best idea. This usually comes at the end of a thought spiral where I remember I'm too crazy for health insurance and can't afford drugs, etc, and decide that joining the peace corp would be the best solution to all my problems. Because they cover health insurance. That's all. Never does it occur to my panic stricken mind that if you're too cray for insurance, you're too cray for the peace corp, but that's a story for another time. However, the truth of the matter is that I would actually be very, very bad at the peace corp- I like food and internet and fancy shoes and I'm way too selfish to help people all the time. I would also probably be a horrible missionary. What I'm getting at here is that I'm really not cut out for third world countries, and probably shouldn't live in them, but I do, and so far these are the things I'm not so thrilled about:

The water. Good lordy lordy I miss American water. If we've ever had a conversation about my living in Botswana, I've probably mentioned how much I hated the water- the taste, the scum it left on your teeth. Hated it. Here, you cannot drink the water. It will kill you. Or just make you really sick. Nobody is really clear on this. For our water-drinking needs, we have a small distillery in the kitchen, which produces yucky water that will NOT kill you. This is a transition I will whine about a lot, as I drink upwards of 5 Liters of water every day.

The internet. I love me some movies. And TV. And pinterest. And instant messaging. And facebook. And in America, I had access to all of these things all the time always, to the point where it was really beginning to become a problem. The internet here is literally one hundred times slower than it was in the States. One. Hundred. Times. So I can email, I can check facebook, that's about it. That being said, over the past twenty four hours I've read two James Patterson novels (not a huge JP fan, but they are always available in excess at embassies. I do not know why this is.) I remember now how I learned to do so many things in Botswana- not a lot of screen distractions. I was also isolated from the world and felt the loneliest I've ever been, so I guess now's a good a time as any to find a happy medium.

Filth. The air smells like salt and sweat and filth. There is garbage and sewage everywhere. I wish I'd brought some scuzzy shoes to wear while walking- and we walk quite a bit. Yesterday I did some strategic climbing and leaping getting out of a taxi in a way my father described as "almost ladylike" in order to avoid stepping in what I hope was a mud puddle.

Germs and bugs and other icky things. Mango worms. I'm deathly afraid of getting them, and entirely convinced that  I will. DO NOT GOOGLE THEM. Malaria is a big issue here- if you get a fever, it's mandated you get tested for it. I sleep with a net over my bed, which is awesome and makes me feel like a princess, because I'm secretly five years old. I am also supposed to be taking anti malarias, but from what I can tell they fell out of my suitcase so I'm currently going without. If a mosquito kills me, remember me well, folks.

3) I need to speak french.
I hate, hate, hate not being able to communicate and express myself. I hate feeling left in the dark. So in this country, I hate not speaking french. My father introduces me, in french, by saying "This is my daughter. If at all possible, she speaks less french than my wife" and then they all have a good laugh (in french) while I stand there grinning like an idiot. I am now attempting to learn french. I am very bad at it. I am very bad at learning any language. But I'm downloading the first season of friends in french (which should be finished in oh...four weeks. Slow internet, remember?) and that's my best strategy for the moment.

4) I am so beautiful here.
I remembered this about three seconds after I got off the plan and the airport security guard was like, heyyyy babyyyy, and I was like I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THIS I AM SO UNCOMFORTABLE. To be clear, I am equally perturbed by this kind of advance in the states, but they are much fewer and farther between- "big pasty white girl who loves cats and is borderline cray" is hardly the american standard of beauty. That, and my idea of flirting involves the exchange of wittily crafted insults. Compliments tend to make me wildly uncomfortable, unless I'm expecting or straight up asking for them.
I'm just a multi-faceted gem of a girl, everyone.
But yeah. Moral of the story, I am beautiful, also the humidity has caused my hair to resemble that of a cocker spaniel. I always forget it's actually curly until I go somewhere that's...not Utah.

Well, that's about it.
I guess I live here now.