Exam results and clarity

There’s a moment of clarity that comes right after closing doors and burning bridges.  Sometimes that clarity brings peace, but sometimes it’s painful and bittersweet.

I got my exam results back Sunday.  It honestly feels like forever ago.  The moments since then have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me.  I had put off deciding on a career path and university course until my exam results came out, so there were difficult decisions for me to make.  Decisions so difficult that when I should have made them months ago, I didn’t.  My options looked something like this:

1. Medical school in Hong Kong.  Not sure whether I’ll get in or not with my grades, but certainly worth a try.  I think I’d be a decent doctor.  I think I’d even find it meaningful to be a doctor.

2. Engineering in Canada.  By far the best safety option.  I can’t say engineering thrills me.  I don’t even have a very good idea of what they do.  But it’s vaguely sciencey, and it’s a degree that leads to a career, and it’s achievable, which makes it ideal as a safety choice for me.

3. Going to Cambridge and trying to switch to medicine.  I actually didn’t make the conditions of my offer from Cambridge, but since I only missed the conditions by one mark in one subject, it would be worth appealing.  My parents want me to choose this option.  It’s the perfect environment for me.  I’ve always learned better in a smaller-group setting (like the Cambridge tutor system), and having a university full of interesting people doing interesting things might make it more likely that I’ll actually be able to make friends and be happy there.  At the moment, there are few people I consider friends or acquaintances.  I think I’d be happy there (or at least as happy as my depression will ever let me be).

Guess what I decided to go for?  I chose to wait for medical schools in Hong Kong to get back to me and to keep engineering in Canada as a safety option.  Against what seems to be every single person in my life saying that Cambridge is what’s going to bring me the most joy, I chose not to appeal the rejection.  I wrote an email to Cambridge, burning my bridges behind me, and now I have clarity.  There’s a certain relief in that.  In the certainty that I can no longer change my mind, and whatever happens, happens.  On the flip side, though, I’ve been crying for over an hour and couldn’t stop.  I had reasons for not going to Cambridge (most of them bad ones), but they don’t really take away the pain of losing an opportunity I might never have again.  I’m afraid I made a mistake.  When I sent that email to Cambridge, I was more afraid of changing my mind.  The fact that I was so afraid I might change my mind probably means that deep down, I want Cambridge.  I think not-so-deep down, I want Cambridge.  But I also know I’m not ready and I’m not willing to take that chance.  Because of that, there’s a certain bittersweet clarity I have now.

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Just a Few Thoughts Bouncing Around in My Head

I’ve just finished my exams (that’s why I’ve been gone for so long that I ran out of scheduled posts).  Oddly enough, I actually feel worse now than I did during my exams, as stressful and awful as they were.  I have no idea why.  Anyways, I just wanted to write about a few things I’m starting to realise/question:

1. I’ve known I am asexual for a while, but I always considered myself to be hetero-romantic.  I’m having complicated feelings for a girl, and that’s making me question my romantic orientation.   I might be biromantic or panromantic.  I’m not sure about that yet, though.  I guess I’ll see what happens.

2. My therapist thinks that obsessive compulsive disorder might be a reason for my symptoms.  I’ve been provisionally diagnosed with ADHD.  Neither diagnostic label seems to fit me particularly, well, though, and reading about the experiences of people with either OCD or ADHD have really convinced me that I most likely don’t have them.  I’ve been considering the possibility that I might be autistic.  The more I talk to people who are autistic and read about their experiences, the more convinced I am that my life finally makes sense.  I spoke to my mother, and she says that she can see that I might be autistic.  I’m pretty convinced that I am autistic, and I think I’m reasonably confident in self-diagnosing myself as autistic.  I’m currently trying to consider the advantages and disadvantages of professional diagnosis.  On one hand, it would be nice to deal with the self-doubt I have about my self-diagnosis and I might want support and assistance at university, but on the other hand, I’m concerned about the very real consequences about having a label like that attached to me.  It’s a difficult decision, and one I’m going to take a while to carefully consider before I do anything.

3. Superficial vs actual insecurities.  I realised that some of my insecurities are things I genuinely believe (for example, that I’m overly sensitive and have deficient social skills), but some of the insecurities are things that logically I know are not true, but I am somehow insecure about anyways (for example, that I’m bad at chemistry and that I’m fat).  I find it interesting that I can believe that I’m not good enough in some areas even though I have sufficient evidence to logically show that I am not, in fact, as bad as I believe myself to be.  It’s strange.  My brain is weird.

4. I’ve had depression for about three years.  I’m wondering if I might have psychotic depression.  Not that it would actually make any kind of a difference at this point.  I’m just wondering.

5. Recently, I’ve been having a recurring thought.  I keep thinking of a needle in my heart, and all the blood draining out until I die.  I have no idea why on earth I’d be thinking of that since I absolutely hate needles (despite being 17 and a half, I still act like a 3 year old when it comes to having blood drawn).  I guess more evidence that my brain is weird.

Suicide

Read the title again.  This could potentially be upsetting.  [Slightly, you may or may not want to read this.  You know me offline, and you might not want to know this about me.]

A classmate of mine attempted suicide in Spring 2013.  A friend of a friend committed suicide a week and a half before Christmas.

One would think that after seeing the shock, the confusion, the guilt and the pain experienced by the people I would be completely put off the idea of suicide, and yet, in my darkest moments, I’ve come closer to actually doing it than I feel comfortable with.

A lot of the bookmarks on my web browser have to do with suicide.  I’ve made two detailed suicide plans (one as a backup in case the first one fails), right down to where I’d get the materials I need.  I have in my phone text history, a series of text messages sent between me and a friend written at a time when I thought that the pain of dying of asphyxiation over the course of a week was preferable to the pain of living my life.  Might I note that at this point in time, the reason why I felt life was not worth living was basically that I had written something rather stupid and someone I respected had seen it, and a dog I liked had died (and I couldn’t find a photograph of the dog that I was looking for).  Each of the factors on their own would have been manageable, but given who I am, that pretty much set me up for failure right then and there.

I look back at that now and think of how ridiculous it was to want to die so badly over something so small, and yet even now, I have moments where I find myself going over my suicide plans again and again, wanting to be released from the pain of living in this world.  People often like to tell suicidal/depressed people that things will get better.  I always find that difficult to believe.  I already have everything I could have ever hoped for, and yet it’s still not enough for me to want to live.  I don’t know why.  I wish I did, so that I could stop this.  Deep down, I don’t want to kill myself.  I don’t want to feel like death is the best option for me.  But I do, sometimes.  It scares me.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about suicide a lot.  For the past week, nearly every day, I’ve hit a point where I have seriously entertained the notion of harming myself (although I know that I’m most likely not going to make an attempt on my life).  When I was hospitalised, the first thing that I thought of was that after I was released, I might be able to use the pain meds to commit suicide (a subsequent check of the chemicals showed that they’re not actually suitable for suicide).  Thinking of the pain that I might cause to others if I committed suicide used to be enough to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea, but it’s getting increasingly hard to believe that anyone would actually be upset.  I honestly believe that most of the people I care deeply about dislike me and I even think that my parents would be ambivalent about my death and move on quickly (even though logic tells me that this is most likely not true) because I’m slowly losing touch with reality.  Now the only thing that can reliably make me consciously choose to live is the knowledge that there’s a pretty good chance I won’t make it and I’ll wake up knowing that as much as I fail at life, I also fail at death, and I don’t know if I could deal with surviving a suicide attempt.

I don’t have a point I’m trying to make, I’m just trying to vent my emotions, really.  This is about as bad as things get for me, and I’m not always this insane.  [Slightly, if you’ve read this far, I’m sorry.  It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll do anything, so you don’t need to be worried about me.]

What Lies Beneath the Surface

I had a rather nice, honest discussion with a classmate about my depression the other day.  Most of the time, when I talk to people about my depression, I’m told that I’m just being a special snowflake and I don’t really have it (my father, most notably, although he has subsequently apologised for this, and admitted he primarily does it because he finds it difficult to accept that I’m struggling with something that he himself struggles with and finds incredibly difficult to live with…after all, nobody wants to see their children suffer) or I’m told to just do [thing] (my brother told me that he had depression but recovered by changing his lifestyle…and told me that I should just do the same…except it doesn’t work that way).  What made my discussion with the classmate so special was that this classmate just accepted that what I told him was true, and believed my version of my own experiences instead of trying to tell me that his interpretation of my life was more accurate.  At some point in the discussion, he mentioned that I don’t look depressed (without invalidating my experiences at all!) and that it must be hard for me because people don’t really realise, but I still struggle.

I’ve been told many, many times that I don’t look depressed.  After a rather difficult incident at school at the end of last year, I had to take some time off school because I couldn’t cope with my classmates’ reactions.  When I returned, a lot of people indicated that they were surprised because I’d always seemed so okay.  Even my therapist doesn’t fully understand my life, because I’ve always been told not to show emotion, and after years of having my emotions invalidated, I act okay even when I’m not, even without thinking about it, sometimes.  So yes, I don’t look depressed.  That doesn’t mean I’m not depressed, though.  I have struggled with depression for the past 3 years and very few people know (although I’m trying to be more open about it now).  So what lies beneath the surface?  What aren’t people seeing?

I’m not a person who cries much, but things lately have been getting too much for me.  Last night, I was crying alone in my room and my father happened to walk by and see me.  He had to hold me for 20 minutes while I couldn’t stop crying.  My mother saw, as well, and was so terrified that she offered to let me go horse-riding after the exams (this has been an ongoing battle… my parents didn’t want to let me ride).  When she made that offer, despite the fact that I was finally getting offered a chance to do something I’ve always had to fight my parents for, I wasn’t ready to take them up on the offer because when I’m depressed, no matter what I do, I don’t enjoy it (fancy medical term is anhedonia), and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go horse riding.  That’s my depression.

I think about suicide nearly every day.  I don’t want to.  The thoughts scare me, but I can’t make them go away.  I’ve made several detailed plans for suicide.  I’ve had thoughts that go something like “I want to commit suicide the day the IB exam results come out, even if I do well”.  I chose to accept an offer from a university that doesn’t require a deposit so that if I commit suicide, my parents can save money.  That is a truly awful way to pick a university to attend, but that was my reasoning.  That’s my depression.

I don’t believe the love anyone else has for me.  Even when someone stayed up talking to me past midnight when I was in the hospital until the nurse came with pain medication and I could finally sleep, I believed that person disliked me.  When someone tells me that another person likes or respects me, I always believe that the person is lying.  Even when someone tells me themselves that they like or respect me, unless I’m having a particularly good self-esteem day, I believe that person is lying.  I’ve had days where I felt like the love and care shown to me by my best friends and family has been part of some massive joke that they’re all playing on me.  That’s my depression.

On the surface, I look happy.  Most people wouldn’t suspect that I struggle with mental illness, unwanted suicidal thoughts, self-injury or anything else.  My life looks picture-perfect.  Generally good grades (at least in the past…this year I’ve been too depressed to study or turn in homework a lot of the time and my grades have suffered), supportive parents and I always have a smile ready…but that’s not my depression.  My depression is what lies beneath the surface.

More On Identity

Yesterday I wrote about values and how that’s important to identity.  It’s the obvious thing people think about when they discuss the idea of identity.  I’ve been thinking lately of another aspect of identity that is often overlooked because it doesn’t apply to everyone, but one that can be very, very important to the people that it does apply to.

Disability.  Mental illness.

Those aren’t things that people often think about when they think about identity, but they’re important.  Here’s why.

When I was younger, I struggled with many things (you can read about one of them here, but I also had other difficulties with social skills, motor coordination etc.).  I’ve been called all kinds of things.  ‘Lazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘stubborn’…  But in the sixth grade (after a learning specialist at my school suggested it for the second time), my parents took me to an educational psychologist who gave me a provisional diagnosis of ADHD.  Although I do not actually believe I have ADHD, the label was and is so important to me, because for the first time, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might actually not be broken or weird.  That I might just be a different kind of normal.  That there might be others out there who struggle the same way I do (which there are… I’ve found a few, although at the time I felt really alone).

It’s so easy to say “don’t let [diagnosis] define you/your child”.  It’s so easy to think that nobody wants to have labels like ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia…  That’s not really true, or at least it isn’t true for me.  I’d rather have a word to describe my struggles, because it lends validation to the very real challenges I face in my life.  Because ‘anxiety’ is always a better label than ‘overreacting’ and if I had ADHD, that would be a better label than ‘lazy’ or ‘stubborn’.  [I read an excellent post about how labels are great as long as they’re the right label, but I can’t remember for the life of me which post it was or even where I saw it.   This post was heavily influenced by that one and I’d love to credit the author.  I will edit to include a link if I can remember.]

Having depression as an identity to validate the fact that certain things are harder for me than they are for people who don’t struggle with depression is really different from using my depression identity as an excuse to not make an effort to minimise the impact depression has on my life.  I try not to do too much of the excuse-making.  In fact, if someday I’m lucky enough to recover from depression, I’m (hopefully) not going to give up on recovery because I’m afraid of losing the identity.  But for now, I do have depression, and having that identity is better than being called lazy on those days when I simply cannot do something because getting up out of bed in the morning is the hardest and bravest thing I can manage for that day.

Perfection

I have a nasty tendency to hold myself to impossibly high standards of perfection.

This started when I was younger, when I couldn’t make friends my own age.  I tended to seek attention from adults, who although they wouldn’t be friends with me, tended to at least be willing to spend time and interact with me.  I received compliments on my maturity for my age and my intelligence, and as a result, I started to associate my perceived maturity and perceived intelligence with my self worth.  You can probably imagine where that led.  Fast forward to now, and I feel the most anxious when I say or do something that isn’t perfectly mature or intelligent.  I feel anxious when I don’t get full marks on tests and even when I do, I feel anxious if my choice of words in my answer doesn’t match the model answer, because I worry that the teacher will think I’m stupid.  I feel anxious if I say something and it turns out to be wrong, or when I have to admit that I don’t know something.

The one thing all those anxieties have in common when I look at them is that they’re very, very human things to do.  If someone got full marks on every single test and their answers were phrased the same way as the model answers, they’d likely be accused of cheating.  It’s normal to say something and later find out you’re mistaken, or to have things that you don’t know and admit to not knowing those things.  I never have a problem with other people being mistaken, or less-than-omniscient, and yet when it comes to myself, I obsess over every single tiny mistake that I had made.  Every single imperfection.

It’s not healthy.  The more I hold myself to these standards, the more I disappoint myself and feel worthless.  The more I fail to achieve what I expect for myself, the further I slip into depression (but that’s just my experience, not necessarily anyone else’s) and feel like everyone would be better off without me.  But also the more I disappoint myself, the more I feel like I owe it to the world to be better to make up for my mistakes and I hold myself to even more ridiculous standards of perfection.  If I could just break free from this vicious cycle, I’d probably be significantly happier, but disordered thoughts do take time to change, especially when they come from experiences in my childhood that have been constantly reinforced for years and years and years.

It’s Good to Have a Reminder

I had an excellent day today.  The kind of day that breaks through the fog of numbness that characterises my days with depression.  The kind of day that reminds me of what my life was like before my struggles with mental illness.  The kind of day that makes me not only feel alive again, but makes me want to live.

I think it says something about me that today was spectacularly wonderful despite the fact that I didn’t spend time with my friends, it was Chinese New Year and I wasn’t spending time with relatives and I wasn’t going out doing something new and exciting.  In many ways, by most people’s standards, my day was exceedingly ordinary.

I had tea with a teacher from my school and one of her friends today.  On the way back, we talked about stuff.  My problems, mostly, and how she thought that I had really similar struggles to another teacher at the school.  And at some point in the discussion, she happened to mention her own struggles.  It meant the world to me.  From time to time, my friends mention that they feel guilty for burdening me with their problems, but it’s never felt like that.  I feel good when people share their problems with me.  I feel respected, valued, trusted.   For a teacher at my school to share something like that…I know a lot of people might feel it’s inappropriate, but to me it meant that the teacher saw me as a person, and not just as a student.  In a world where I often find myself wondering if anyone truly sees me, that’s something that’s really important.

In the end, it all comes down to that.  After months of trying to fill the emptiness in my life.  Of trying to break through the numbness that surrounds my emotions.  After years of struggling with depression, the one thing that makes it better for a day isn’t something exciting or special.  It is something that is extraordinary in its ordinariness.  Some days, it’s good to have a reminder that the little things in life actually matter the most.

Welcome to Midnight

900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important. - Doctor Who

The Doctor’s words of wisdom…

Another year is over.  Finally over, or unfortunately over.  I hope it was a great year for you.  It wasn’t really one for me.  But that’s okay.  Because a new year is a time for change, a time for healing.  Change is absolutely terrifying, but it’s also one of the most profoundly beautiful things in the universe (which has to do with the title of this blog, Le Chatelier’s Principle).

Every year at this time, people all around the world make resolutions.  Today is a time to take an honest look at our lives and rebuild them.  And that’s what I plan to do this year.   For the past year, I have let my struggles with depression, self harm and anxiety rule my life.  For the past year, I have fought my demons, winning sometimes and losing sometimes.  For the past year, I’ve fought my demons mostly alone, because I didn’t feel I deserved to share, to reach out, to ask for help.  This year will be different.  My promise to myself is to not let my belief that I don’t deserve help get in the way of my asking for help that my friends and family are waiting to give me.  I’ve survived this year, and that’s a great thing to celebrate.  But what I’d much rather celebrate is my commitment to not be ashamed of my truth.

*****

The following was taken from the TWLOHA blog and was written by Jamie Tworkowski.  It can be found here.

Five.
Four.
Three.
Two.
One.

The ball drops and fireworks. Resolutions are made.
People scream and people kiss and is it possible to change?
Is it really truly possible to leave the past behind?

Welcome to Midnight.

Another year comes to a close. Another year begins.
With a moment in between.
Why the fuss?
Why the fame and fireworks?
Is it more than hype? More than something else to sell us?
Is there something to this holiday? Something true inside it?
Because isn’t there something inside us that aches for change…
Dreams it to be possible…
To let go.
To hold on.
To leave it behind.
To start again.
To be new.
Is it possible?

If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs, then you’re alive today tonight right now.
And who can know how long we have here…
And is it a gift? Was it ever a gift? Did that ever feel true or could that one day feel true?
Are there things to fight to live for?
Moments and people… Weddings and children and all your different dreams…
Love…
Is your life more than just your own?
And are there broken things you were made to fight to fix?
Broken families, broken friends… Injustice.
Will you move for things that matter?

Wouldn’t it be nice if change took just a moment?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy?
Midnight and we’re new. Midnight and the past erased. Midnight and we’re free.

It seems to come slow. It seems to be a surgery.
Forgiveness. Healing. Sobriety. Letting go. Starting over.
It seems to happen slowly over time.
One day at a time, the choice made new each morning.
Will you fight?
Will you fight to be healthy?
Will you fight to be free?
Will you fight for your story?
Will you fight to get the help you need?

Change takes more than a moment, but maybe there’s also something to this celebration of a moment, something to the way it speaks to us, something to the way we fear it, and dream it to be true. Maybe it’s the most honest moment of the year.

It’s possible to change.

Welcome to Midnight.

Here’s to the possibilities.

Peace to You.
jamie

Bad Day

Or why when I know I’m not doing well, I should take a step back and not try to push myself.

On Thursday night something bad happened.  Or rather, a perfect storm of bad things happened. I’m not going to go into details, but the end result was that despite having been keeping myself mostly afloat for the last few months or so, I got to a point where I was once again seriously considering taking my own life.  I was making a plan, doing internet searches to see where I could buy the poison I wanted to use… And then I got a text message from a friend in Japan.  I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t texted me, but the important thing is that he did.  And that he listened.  He didn’t once express that he thought my problems were silly (which each of them, taken alone, actually was), or that he thought I was overreacting (I might have been, I don’t know).  He just stayed up late into the night with me until I felt ready to be left alone.  Until I felt I could finally get some sleep.

It helped.  A lot.  I don’t know how to express how important it was to me, in that moment, to have a friend who offered me his unconditional love and acceptance in a moment where I needed a person to listen, to care.  He didn’t try to invalidate my feelings, even if in the privacy of his own mind he might have seen them as an overreaction to the situation, he accepted that even if they weren’t real to him, they were very real to me, and to him, that was enough.  He accepted that there are things in my life, in my mind, that are hard for me to deal with, and he accepted that in that moment, I needed him to put aside whatever he might have been thinking or feeling to be there for me.  And he was.  In the end, it was really that simple, and I’m grateful for that.  But even his being there for me wasn’t enough to ‘fix’ me, it never has been, it never will be.  Depression is like that.

The next day I went to school.  I thought I was better, which I was.  I also thought I was fine, which I wasn’t.  By the time the last lesson came around, I was feeling rather awful.  But because it was my favourite class, against my better judgment, I decided to try to make it through the last hour and a half instead of calling it a day and heading home to take care of myself.  I made it through the lesson, barely.  A friend told me to stop pacing because it was making her nervous and another friend came up to me and held my hand and whispered comforting things into my ear.  The teacher gave me odd looks, but said nothing, even when I didn’t participate in class at all.

The lesson was not good.  I couldn’t even fake a smile, much less try to act like things were any more okay than they actually were.  I don’t remember the actual lesson itself very clearly.  But later, I did worry that the teacher’s strange looks meant I looked like I was not paying attention, like I was bored.  I started worrying about whether the teacher would hate me forever (this happens a lot, but that will be another post).  I confessed these fears to another friend who listened and didn’t judge.  She accepted that my fears were very real to me, and reassured me that even if the teacher noticed, he wouldn’t think that I wasn’t paying attention and that my expression had been one of sadness and struggle rather than one of boredom.

I’m not entirely sure what the conclusion of this post is supposed to be.  Initially, I thought I was writing a post about how next time when I feel that awful, I should take the rest of the day off school instead of trying to push myself to get through a lesson, even if it is my favourite.  But now, looking back on what I’ve written, I think what really stands out in my post is how wonderful my friends have been.  How supportive, how kind… how important.  So I think I’m going to leave this post like that, a monument to the people in my life who are willing to put their own struggles on hold to be there and hold my hand (physically or virtually) while I battle my demons.

Letting Go

One of the hardest things in life is letting go.  It’s something we all need to do at some point, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

A friend of mine recently entered into a relationship that is already showing signs of being abusive.  I and several others have pointed out our concerns to him, and although he agrees that the relationship is problematic, he doesn’t want to leave because he still loves his significant other very much.

Although I’ve never been in a relationship, much less an abusive one, I have faced situations in which even though I knew it was best for me to let go, I didn’t want to.

“Don’t give up”, “you only fail when you stop trying”, “nothing is impossible”… Our society constantly tells us that nothing is beyond us and that no matter what the situation we’re facing, we should never back down, never let go.  It’s easy to see the appeal of the idea.  And indeed if we gave up as soon as things got hard, we’d never go anywhere.  However, it’s equally important to know when it is a good idea to give up, and it happens sometimes.

It’s not so very hard to let go of something we know to be impossible.  What’s hard is letting go of the very small chance that you might have succeeded.  Turning your back on something that is actually possible is hard to justify to yourself, but it’s something we have to learn to do.

It amazes me just how much I’m willing to sacrifice for the smallest chance at something that’s really important to me.  My happiness, self esteem etc.  All for the tiniest glimmer of hope that I might have succeeded.  At some point, I think I really need to learn that if just trying for something that isn’t likely is going to cause me to lose a lot of important things, I need to let go.  But it still feels too much like giving up.  But the hardest thing to learn, and one of the most important, is when to let go of an achievable dream

I’m seventeen, and that means I’m having to decide on what I want to do for the rest of my life.  On one hand, I have my dreams of being a veterinarian, dreams of spending the rest of my life doing something I love and am passionate about.  On the other hand, I have to look at the very real possibility of not being able to find a job once I graduate, and the near-certainty that in this profession, I will not earn as much money as I would being, say, a doctor, which is what my parents want me to do.  I think I have a fair chance at getting into veterinary school, and to give that all up for money and job security seems ridiculous, but even so, it’s hard to say that following my dreams is going to be the best thing for me.  Situations like this are the worst, because although letting go might be wise, the self-doubts, the “what-ifs” will continue to haunt me.

In the end, it all comes down to one big question.  When do we let go and how?  And I don’t have any answers.