Working on Fear of Death

I just wrote an update post and thought I had nothing of note to say, but I just realized I was wrong.

A couple years ago, I wrote about my crippling fear of death. The other day, I talked to a counselor about this for the first time, and it actually really helped. But before explaining my counselling session, I should try explaining this bizarre fear again.

Since about 2015, I have had a near-constant fear of death. I can’t explain away the irony that I have been suicidal at times since this began; mental illness is weird. But I am always afraid that I could die any second, and that my life would mean nothing because I haven’t done anything important yet. It ties into an existential anxiety about the reality that everybody dies and the desperation to attach meaning to my temporary existence.

I am aware that statistics suggest I will live for several more decades. I have spent time looking through Stats Canada data to make sure of this. But I just have this overwhelming feeling that I will die young. I find it difficult to plan for my future, because I don’t feel like I will have one. Making plans for later in life feels like deciding what I’ll spend the money on if I win the lottery. Because of this constant fear of death, I never feel safe. I imagine the bus I’m on crashing, or nuclear war breaking out today, or a plane crash-landing onto my house. It’s obviously very distressing.

After speaking with my counselor, I have learned a bit about why I feel this way. For one, I realized that this started around the time I found out that a girl who had gone to my babysitter’s died in a car crash. She was 19. I also spend a lot of time watching the news, where freak accidents are reported on regularly.

These things might play a role in creating my fear of death, but what sustains it? I realized that the thought of letting go of this fear ironically terrifies me. I feel like constantly expecting my death protects me somehow. I can’t handle disappointment and changes of plans, so thinking about a future that nobody is guaranteed is really hard for me. I guess I’m trying to prepare myself in case I do die young. I want to avoid a situation where I’m slowly dying on the ground, thinking about all the things I’ll never be able to do. Like “Joke’s on you death; I knew this was going to happen the whole time.” I also feel like having this fear pushes me to create a legacy NOW. In reality, this is hardly true. Sometimes, I will desperately write in an attempt to get all my thoughts out into the world while I still can. So cool, I have a journal and a blog. But a real legacy is built over decades, and I can’t plan that far in advance.

So I’m going to stop ruminating on these fears, as difficult as it is. And yes, there is a small probability that death sneaks up on me while I’m not expecting me. But there is a much larger probability that I stop living in constant fear long enough to make something of myself. So I guess that’s something?

Sarah

A Positive Update

Hello, the internet.

I’ve definitely been neglecting this blog lately. Whoops. Cue the usual “I’ve been busy/ I’m low-key a piece of shit/etc” thing. Formalities, formalities, blah, formalities.

I was eager to get right into this post, but now I don’t know where to start. To be honest, I’m not writing this because anything especially update-worthy has happened recently. Although, now that I think about it, that’s true. But I am writing this evening because I finished my evening routines a little earlier than usual and I still have some time before the Seroquel knocks me out.

Typically, I am motivated to blog by misery. So I guess it’s a good thing that tonight I’m writing because of happenstance instead. Because I actually have some really great things to share.

Good Thing #1: I am a happy person.

Okay, I don’t know for sure what it means to be a happy person, because I’ve never been one, but I’m certainly not a sad person anymore. And it’s a really weird feeling, but it’s a good weird feeling. I’ve been fighting mental illness for so long that it has become my identity. I was the sad, cynical, sarcastic, beautifully-broken asshole. I’m still a sarcastic asshole, and I am acutely aware of the problems in the world, but I also have a sense of purpose to solve those problems and the hope that it can be done. I don’t know if it’s the daily meditating (yes, I’m that person), challenging my social anxiety, or making Dominique a smaller part of my life. But whatever the reason, I’m pretty pleased.

Good Thing #2: I am dating.

For a while, I got stuck in a pattern of ending my contact with someone as soon as there was any potential for anything. My therapist said I was scared of getting hurt again, which sounds better than me lacking any social capabilities, so I’ll take it. Eventually, I gave up on dating altogether. At one point, I was going to casually sleep with one of my guy friends just to feel some shitty, bootlegged version of love for ten minutes. But recently, I’ve really been trying to put myself out there and meet people. I went on a date recently, and the plan is for us to go out again. I don’t know for sure what I want at this point, but I’m having fun. So, there’s that.

Good Thing #3: I got a job today.

This is actually amazing, but I don’t think my excitement level accurately reflects it yet. Just getting a job is a miracle and a huge financial relief. But it involves limited contact with other people, and actually sounds really fun. I’ve had jobs that I have “liked” in the sense that I was able to experience moments of happiness while working at them. But I think I will ACTUALLY like this job. Like the people in TV shows that I never relate to. You like the thing you’re forced to do at a desk for half your waking hours? Okay…

But yeah, finding a job means my Summer is figured out, and now I just have to do the things for a few months.
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I actually feel so grateful for where my life is right now. For the first time in a long time, things are going well. Eight months ago, I was constantly suicidal, and now I’m here. I can function in school and can find employment. I go to social things and enjoy them. I spend my time talking to people who want happiness as much as I do. I’m doing all the things. I’m really doing them.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that I have cured myself of all mental illness with the power of positive thinking. More accurately, I have greatly reduced my symptoms of mental illness to a level where I can function, by working very hard for a very long time. I’ve been eating well (and enough). I’ve been going to the gym. I’ve been meditating, despite not really loving it. I made the terrifying decision to move out of my old place. I am pushing myself to endure anxiety-provoking situations many times per week. And at some point, all these actions got me somewhere pretty cool.

It has taken me quite a while to write this, and by now the Seroquel HAS kicked in, so that’s all for tonight. Hopefully I’ll have more good updates soon.

Sarah

The things I learned in Undergrad

My undergraduate experience hasn’t been very conventional. And I’ve hated myself for that since I returned to school in Fall 2015.

But I just finished a 10-minute guided meditation on self-forgiveness (because apparently I’m a person who meditates now), and as cringey and fluffy as it sounds, I realized something important. Namely, that I have learned so much more since I started university in 2012 than I ever could have if things had gone differently.

I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had graduated in 2016 with my friends from high school. If I hadn’t switched programs. If I didn’t take time off for eating disorder treatment. Maybe things would have been easier, but they wouldn’t have been better. Because I went to university to learn, and that’s what I did.

2012-2013

I began first-year as an anxious but generally happy super-Christian. I went to church twice a week, I volunteered with a youth group, and I planned to declare Religious Studies as my major in second year. I hardly know that 17-year-old version of me now. I feel compassion for her, because I remember that Christianity gave her a purpose and a community, before it gave her crippling self-hatred for being a sinner and stifled her dreams. I feel compassion for her, but I barely know her. These days, she rarely crosses my mind. Anyways, at some point, this girl decided God was telling her to become a nurse. When I didn’t get into the Nursing program for the following year, I decided to major in Psychology for my second year then transfer into Accelerated Nursing.

2013-2014

At the end of Summer 2013, after university education and life experience left me doubting Christianity for months, I made the decision that I was no longer a Christian. When I went back to school in September, all my friends thought I was going to hell, I had no hobbies or interests outside the church, and I had no direction or purpose for my life. I tried turning to science to give me some sense of meaning. I thought if I learned HOW our species and our planet ended up where they are now, I would also know WHY. I wanted to switch into Biology. Then Biochem. Then general Life Sciences. Then physics. Eventually, I decided to stay in psychology after all and do something to help those with mental illness. I developed Bulimia in the Fall, and barely attended any classes in the Winter. I went to the Psych ER three times with suicidal thoughts. At some point, I thought a change of scenery might help, so I applied to double major in Math and Writing at a different university in January 2015. Over the Summer, I experienced a trauma and my eating disorder became restrictive and took over everything. (When I talk about this, I like to clarify that my eating disorder COINCIDENTALLY became worse and more restrictive at the same time, but restrictive eating disorders are not generally more or less severe than other eating disorders)

2014-2015

Just typing in those years brings me immense sadness. This year must have been the most miserable in my life to date. In the Fall, I couldn’t work, and I was waiting until January to return to school. I watched documentaries under a blanket in my room all day, and had energy/motivation for little else. All I cared about was food and calories and weight. And to be honest, I probably needed it at that time, because everything else had gone to shit. I accepted a referral to a Day Hospital program, because I thought I would be magically better in 8 weeks and go back to school like nothing happened. I started attending classes in February, and relapsed immediately. I still only cared about food and calories and weight. I dropped all my classes in late March or early April because I didn’t have the mental capacity to learn anything. I returned to the Day Hospital program in April. While there, I decided to return to my original university, as it was closer to my home so my parents would be nearby and the trigger of commuting would be gone. This school doesn’t have a writing program, so I intended to double-major in Math and English.

2015-2016

I managed to mostly maintain my recovery through the Summer. I met Jenn in the Fall. She made me happy and was a great motivation for recovery. I’m still getting over our breakup, so I’ll just say the recovery stuck and Jenn did not. I also decided to only major in Math, as that meant graduating with a BSc instead of a BA, and the English courses at this school are not remotely writing-related.

2016-2017

Jenn broke up with me a few days before classes started in September, so I started the term suicidal. I was in the hospital a few times for overdosing, and was very nearly admitted as a psychiatric inpatient. I managed to get my shit together just in time, and got through the term. In the Winter, my roommate was admitted inpatient, and everything was about her for months. I sound unsupportive and I honestly am, but I had zero support and she was incredibly selfish during this time. I don’t want to get into the details, but our friendship became very toxic, and it was all very difficult for me. I made no changes to my program this year, believe it or not.

After 6 years of undergrad, I will (if all goes to plan) finally receive my degree in 2018. That degree will tell the world that I came to university and I learned about math. And I used to take comfort in knowing it wouldn’t say anything else. Like the fact that it took me 6 years to achieve, or the fact that I changed my mind on my program 20394 times, or the fact that I entered school wanting to be a missionary, or the fact that I lost a year of school to complete eating disorder treatment. But today, I kind of wish my degree wouldn’t just say I learned math. I wish it would say that I learned where I stand on religion, how to survive when I don’t want to, how to cope in unhealthy ways, how to cope in healthy ways, how to break and then put myself back together, how to love, the fact that I love women, what heartbreak feels like, how to put my life back together a second time, what I really want to do with my life, and how to work towards the life I really want. Because I learned all those things, and looking back, I wouldn’t change my path one bit, because those struggles and setbacks and detours made me grow into the person I am today. And I learned things about myself and the world that I will use for the rest of my life. So my undergrad hasn’t been conventional, but thank god it hasn’t been.

Sarah

In Transition

Today, a lot of things changed.

I moved out of a place I shared with my toxic best friend (whose best friend status is currently under evaluation). I moved in with 4 strangers whom I will live with during my final year of undergrad. Both my Summer courses began (I attended neither due to the move). I guess that’s not very many things, but it feels like everything.

I need my routines. My routines comfort me. My routines ground me in reality. But I’m in a new house now, and I’m taking different classes, so things will be different. My routines have to change.

This might sound bizarre, but I simultaneously feel like life isn’t real and that I’m falling off the edge of a cliff. I don’t know what to do with myself. What do I do tomorrow morning for breakfast? When do I shower? Do I need to prepare more for Wednesday’s classes? I just want to lie in bed on my laptop forever.

I was excited to use this Summer to fight my social anxiety, so I could be a happier person by Fall. And I still plan to do that. But everything feels so scary right now.

I can’t explain it. But I just feel so afraid. I’m afraid to socialize with the people in my house. I’m afraid of how my social situation will change as I rethink my closest friendship. I’m scared my Summer courses will be terrible, and that I’ll be miserable all Summer. I’m afraid to get a part-time job, and then have to do it. I’m afraid of finishing my undergrad next year. I’m scared to go to grad school, which will probably be in Germany. I’m scared to get a real job after that. I’m afraid of everything I’ll ever have to do for the rest of my life. And I thought facing my fears would feel liberating, but I’m remembering all these times I was forced to face them repeatedly and my anxiety did not improve. That’s where the depression sets in, where life starts feeling like a long list of things I don’t want to do. Usually, my efforts to avoid anxiety (like isolation) cause depression, so it’s a bummer when it’s caused by the anxiety itself. Like what am I supposed to do to live a full, happy life?

Clearly, my thoughts are now devolving into chaos, so I will take this opportunity to politely excuse myself from the internet.

Sarah

Feeling Positive

My desire to write is typically inversely correlated to my mood, turning my blog into a heap of depression. But right this second, I am feeling genuinely happy, and I want to write about it. This may be related to the fact that I should be studying, but regardless, here is happy Sarah.

I feel obligated to mention that objectively, my life hasn’t gotten much better. My roommate is out of the hospital, but our relationship is irreversibly damaged, and we have decided to live apart next year (aka May 1st). The Summer is a terrifying swirl of unknowns; I don’t know where I will live, where I will work, who I will hang out with, or whether I will enjoy my classes. So it’s an anxiety-provoking time, which conveniently follows a Wellbutrin increase (which is great for mood, not so much for anxiety). Blah blah negativity blah.

But today, right this moment, I feel happy. Maybe meditating for the past 6 days has caused me to achieve enlightenment, but I somehow doubt it.

Today is a snow day (because Canada), so I get to spend the day curled up in my apartment. If it didn’t lower my mood long-term, I would spend every day like this. Fortunately, I can enjoy this day indoors guilt-free with the certainty that I will resume my usual activities tomorrow.

I planned to go to the gym today, so I did something resembling a home workout with moderate kitten interference, because I want those gains. Then I showered and got right back into my cozy pajamas. Then I did my daily chores (feeding the cat, laying out tomorrow’s outfit, etc.) and meditated. The only thing left to accomplish today is studying for my midterm tomorrow, but I’m already feeling fairly confident about it.

So here I am, feeling clean and warm in my cozy pajamas, mindful and full of endorphins, hanging out with my cat and reading about commutative rings. Everything about this day brings me joy, which is something I haven’t felt in a while, so I want to appreciate it while it’s here.

I am facing very stressful situations later this week, and the uncertainties about the Summer will continue to cause anxiety, but right this second, I feel joy.

I don’t recognize myself and have strong urges to insert a bitter, cynical comment. But the things that make me cynical and bitter will still be around when this joy passes, so right now, I’m just going to enJOY it. I’m so funny.

Sarah

I need a new living situation

I am currently on day 2 of tapering my meds, so I could very likely be overreacting right now. But I can’t deal with my roommate anymore, and this has been a common theme lately, to the point where I think I need to not live with her anymore.

Her mental health is a large problem, as is mine. The difference is, she seems to really enjoy the attention that comes from being sick, and doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to get better. And I am working hard every day to improve my health and my life. So in that regard, she’s a very negative influence in my life.

I honestly can’t tell if what happened today is that bad, but I feel really angry and upset. She’s on a day pass from the hospital she doesn’t need to be in, so she went to the gym with our mutual friend Lizz, they came back here, and now they’re going to the mall. They are both friends of mine and were in the same room as me discussing these plans while I sat on my laptop in sweatpants clearly not busy, and they didn’t invite me to join them. That seems petty as fuck, but even if I didn’t want somebody to join me in a similar situation, I would invite them just because it’s good fucking manners. I’ve told both of them that I’m having a rough time right now, but nobody asks how I’m doing, nobody thinks I might need to get out of the house. My roommate is the one being dramatic, but somehow she ends up with all the friends. I’m so over it.

I need to get out of this house. I need to get out of this school. I need to go somewhere where I am valued as a human being.

Sarah

Switching Meds

I have been on antidepressants since I was 16 years old. My doctor at that time didn’t know whether I had GAD or OCD (plot twist: it’s both) so she put me on Zoloft, a medication used to treat both disorders.

Years later, I became very depressed, and the Zoloft wasn’t doing enough in that regard. At one point, I was on 250mg daily (the maximum dose is 200). During my second stay in the Day Hospital program, the psychiatrist switched me onto Effexor XR. I found the Effexor to be much more helpful with depression, but slightly less helpful with anxiety. But I would choose anxiety over depression any day, so that was a step in the right direction.

After I recovered from my eating disorder, I began feeling stuck. I had been eating properly for months; I was exercising; I was receiving individual and group counselling. I was doing all the right things, and while I felt much better than before, I wasn’t quite happy. My doctor and I discussed changing my medication, and first we tried adding things to supplement my Effexor. I began taking a small amount of Wellbutrin. At one point, I was on Lyrica for anxiety. I now take Seroquel at night. But I’m still not happy.

I have been wanting a bigger change for months now. I have brought it up multiple times with my doctor and my psychiatrist, only to be told it “wasn’t a good time” to make such a change. It was the middle of the school year, then it was Summer and I had a full-time job, then I was doing poorly and (correctly) wasn’t trusted to keep myself safe, then apparently things were “going well” and it would be a bad idea to rock the boat. Through most of this time, I was eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in regular therapy. I was working SO hard to do whatever I could to improve my mood. But it wasn’t enough. I still felt shitty.

Finally, I felt semi-comfortable complaining to my doctor, and said I wanted to make this change over reading week when I wouldn’t need to worry about unpleasant symptoms interfering with school. My doctor surprisingly agreed, and consulted my psychiatrist to come up with a plan.

Today is day 1 of this transition. First, I need to slowly taper my Effexor, so I took 225mg today instead of 262.5. I will stay at this dose until I see my doctor next Tuesday, and we will go from there. Apparently, my psychiatrist has two ideas for what I can switch to. I don’t know what they are yet, but psychiatry is essentially reaching into a bag of pills and saying “I don’t know, try this one?”, so I don’t really care. Once my Effexor dose is a little lower, I can begin cross-titrating with the other medication. This is what I did when I switched from Zoloft- it involves slowly increasing the dose of the new drug while decreasing the dose of the other. It’s a complicated process, so usually a psychiatrist comes up with a specific schedule for dose changes.

I am pretty scared that this will be difficult. More likely than not, I will experience unpleasant side effects. But I don’t want to live the rest of my life at my current level of happiness. So if there’s a chance I could feel better on a different medication, I’m going to find out whether I do. I thought my roommate’s hospital stint would long be over by now and I would have someone to hang out with during this process, but whatever. I am growing increasingly resentful towards her, but that’s a whole other issue.

On the other hand, I am very excited about the prospect of feeling better. Medication changes always give me hope that things will improve. And I would really, really like that.

That’s all the information I have for now, but I will definitely update once things get going. I hope everyone is well!

Sarah