The problem of happiness

April 29th, 2016: I had my last appointment with my therapist.

We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. I’m too happy for him, too consistently. While he always enjoys our talks, the past few sessions were more status updates than real therapy sessions. He felt that I had acquired the tools necessary to navigate through life alone: Ritalin, writing, and daily exercise. He encouraged me to continue with my network of caring people that teach me compassion in my day-to-day: Dynamo, Coach and my mentor from work. Of course, in the event my life unravells beyond my coping abilities, I can always give him a call – but he was convinced he wouldn’t hear from me for a long long time.

20 months worth of work. 20 months of appointments. A LOT of money spent, since unfortunately, my insurance didn’t cover much. So many tears. Quite a bit of laughter. Lots of time thinking over all my therapist told me.

We reminisced on how far I’ve come. Depression. Public meltdowns. Paralyzing anxiety. Fear of vulnerability. Unwillingness to put myself out there and date, because the slightest rejection could send me weeping. Taking small risks – singing in public. Asking Beaut out, and handling the weird evolution of that interaction. Changing jobs, because I wanted to be happier – thinking that was a worthwhile reason. Navigating a trip in a strange country by myself, and the intense roller-coaster emotions well enough to pull through and experience joy. Accepting my limits, and going back on Ritalin, because I am willing to get help, in my quest to get my shit together. Signing up for my first boxing fight in two years, because I am ready for a challenge, and am able to accept the risk of getting hurt.

I’m happy. I’m SO happy. I’m almost scared, because I don’t feel I deserve this happiness. I’m aware that this might be a temporary reprieve, that depression is a relentless disease, and strikes at the most unexpected moments. I’m aware the rug might get pulled out from under me at any moment, that it is probable that I will have at least one other depressive episode in my life.

But right now, every day I wake up, and I am filled with gratitude to have finally reached a point in my life where my brain is at peace, and the negative voices in my head no longer run the show. I finally can hear my heart singing with happiness – I had forgotten that it once knew joyful melodies.

It feels so good to finally start getting my life together, instead of spending all my time and energy fighting the exhausting noise in my head. I am slightly daunted by how much I let lapse in the past 6 years as I struggled with depression. But mostly, I am just grateful that I have gotten to the point where I have a to do list, and the wherewithal to deal with it. 

I’ve noticed that the happier I get, the less compunction I feel to write. I hope this is temporary, or that I learn to find blog content that is triggered by fun and happiness. An interesting challenge, and one that I don’t mind AT ALL.


Accepting limits, part 2

I’ve written about my life-long struggle to accept the limitations imposed by my ADD here.

A few days prior, I’d written about my inability to dream. My father asked me if I was on medication for ADD, because he noticed that when he cycled off Ritalin – ours is a multi-generational ADD, best kind of inheritance there is – time frittered away, and he couldn’t find the wherewithal to get anything done. He too would feel mentally lethargic, weighed down by the constant stream of thoughts spinning around in his brain. I pondered.

I’d noticed I was underperforming at work: I was falling quite behind in my projects for the year. While not a problem for now, I do have 8.5 months to catch up, at this rate, I won’t complete the workload allocated to me by my boss, which would result in a negative evaluation, and worse, shame and guilt at my inability to perform to my expectations. I did an inventory of my emotions regarding work: I love my job, the projects given to me interest me, I adore my boss and the team that reports to me, the work environment is dynamic and supportive. I did not have any attitude problems caused by low motivation, unlike my previous job, where I hated the work environment and my boss scared the shit out of me, which paralyzed my brain. I also validated my self-assessment with my therapist: no depressive symptoms for almost 6 months. So my lethargy was not attributable to that. Diet was good, sleep levels adequate, excercising 10 hours a week, no boy problems… I had no reason to underperform at work. Every week, I would make myself to do lists, determined to catch up. Every week, I would finish the week with hardly anything done, dismayed at my lack of productivity, exhorting myself to just try harder next time. Don’t fuck this up, Vanilla. Don’t be a fuckup. Just do it already.

Then I did something extremely stupid and entirely preventable that could have jeopardized my entire career. At the last millisecond I avoided the apocalypse, but the close call left me shaken: the only thing in my life that I have actually going for me is my career. My finances aren’t where they should be. My personal life is perpetually in shambles. It takes every ounce of energy I have to play at being a self-sufficient adult. I have trouble not boasting if I manage to get laundry done AND cook myself lunches in a given week. Pay bills on time too? Super woman. Given the status of the rest of my life, there is no way I would voluntarily blow up my career, the only asset I have.

As I scurried to fix my inattentive error, it suddenly dawned on me. My father’s comments. My new perpetual refrain of self-blame at work: just try harder, don’t fuck this up. My crazy inattentiveness about something I cherished.

Textbook ADD.

“You have to accept your limits, in order to properly address the issues at hand, and determine the best course of action. Everyone has limits. Refusing to accept your own is not a sign of ambition and drive, it is a sign of immaturity.” – my new therapist, circa August 2014

In that moment, I accepted that it was time for me to go back on medication. I was exhausted. Exhausted at never having my shit together, no matter how many coping techniques I implemented, reminders on my phone, to do lists, rearranging my schedule to do fit my concentration patterns. Exhausted that no matter how much therapy and exercise I got (the 2 most important non-medication elements in the management of ADD), I still couldn’t perform up to my potential. Exhausted from the familiar feelings of being way smarter than my behaviour indicates, like my brain is muzzled by my behaviour. Exhausted that I can’t ever move onto other projects, goals, LIFE other than trying (and perpetually failing, bouncing from one crisis to another) to keep my day-to-day shit together. Exhausted from having some dreams that I give up on before even starting them, because I am weighed down by the constant noise in my head, that I can never sift through, to get to a spot of peace and concentration.

So I found myself a doctor, one who smiled kindly at me, as I wept in her office. Confided in her my sense of shame at trying to medicate away my problems. Everyone has crosses to bear – so many people have been dealt a hand of cards much worse than mine. And yet, princess that I am, I am giving up the fight, and gonna pop some pills to make my burden smaller. She listened, handed me kleenex, and promised me that we would work together, one month at a time, to find me a dosage that gave me access to the best parts of my brain, while minimizing the side-effects of the medication. I sniffled, and decided to trust her.

My therapist didn’t even try hide his glee when I told him the news. He danced a full blown jig, even as I weepily told him how guilty I felt. This, this is progress, this is maturity. Life is about compromising, Vanilla. You are finally acknowledging all of yourself, the strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out how to build your best life. That is only way to achieve happiness. You are FINALLY doing it.

So here I am. On medication. Trying to find my true self, even as it is chemically changing. Every side-effect makes me nervous and sad. The heightened anxiety, the extreme loss of appetite, the dry mouth, the increased irritability (my coworkers are very entertained by the appearance of Bitchy Vanilla. Apparently Bitchy Vanilla is fun to hang out with. I think she is short-tempered and snarky), the heart palpitations. The rising panic that my identity can be so easily manipulated by a pill – what kind of a trade-off am I really making?

This is gonna be one long bumpy ride.