depression

What’s Next?

I’ve been telling my friends that I plan to quit music school soon.

To be honest, I always knew I was going to drop out. A degree was never the objective. Instead, I enrolled because I wanted to learn…or at least, that’s the press release. The real answer needs deep introspection, and introspection needs time that’s probably better spent studying for Solfeggio or practicing Czerny.

Time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m planning to leave UST: music school takes up so much time. And I knew this, my piano teacher repeats to me when I show up to her studio looking run down the nth week in a row. And I did know this. I knew that school would take up time, effort, that I would lose Saturdays and sleep and a whole host of other things.

I also know what a parametric EQ does and how it works. But I still struggle to use it on Garageband.

There’s a lot of difference between knowing and knowing. The latter, I guess, you can only gain through experience. I’ve been in UST for nearly two full school years. If I stick to my plan—and I don’t know if I will—then I won’t last a third. I haven’t made up my mind to quit, but I’m nearly there. The only thing holding me back from definitively making that decision is that I am just as uncertain about why I should leave as I am about why I started in the first place.

I know why I should go. I should go because I keep turning down gigs for this. I should go because I don’t get to sleep much. I should go because there are ministry opportunities that I miss out on because I’m in school on Saturdays (and what nobler thing is there to leave the conservatory for than church?). I should go because, ironically, music is taking time away from music.

But is it really?

Someone asked me—I forget who; maybe it was a lot of someones—what I planned to do after I quit UST. I think the exact phrasing was, “What’s next?” At first, I found the question odd, but then I realise that I have always had something going on. I can’t remember the last time I had Saturdays free; probably back in university, but even then I’m convinced I was probably doing something. For an introvert homebody, I don’t like staying home: I always need to be doing. And, for at least six years and maybe more, that doing has had to do with music.

Back to the question of why I enrolled in music school to begin with. The easiest answer would be that I simply traded ST for UST. The band broke up the year I got in, and school conveniently took up all the hours I would spend rehearsing in Marikina, week after week. If I’m less kind to myself, maybe I’ll even admit that getting into the conservatory was me trying to prove a point: I got in on the strength of two songs I wrote and produced all on my own, no bandmates or audio engineers or “hitmakers.” In that last, horrible year, I remember constantly feeling like I had to prove I was worth the band staying together.

My ahia would say this sounds about right, but they don’t to me. I know they’re correct, somewhere, but like I said before there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I know what I know isn’t quite it.
I plan to at least finish my four freshman AppMaj requirements (Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet) and my piano minor before I go. If I go. When I go. To be honest, even now, with Saturday in just a few hours and my dread of it growing, I’m still not 100% sure if I should leave or if I should stay. My old university professor—also a musician, also a current music student—shared a post that went, “When you feel like stopping, think about why you started.”

But what if I don’t remember why I started? Or else, what if there’s nothing to remember? What if I never really had a reason, a real reason; I did this because it was a convenient “next,” because it felt like the logical thing to do, considering my “dreams.” I don’t even know what my dreams are anymore, but that’s something for another time. Or maybe it isn’t, because that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. Because I feel like I’ve lost my way, and now I don’t know where to go or what to do or why I’m even here.

Maybe the harshest truth is this: I knew what I was getting into, what I was going to give up. What I didn’t know then, that I might know now, is that maybe I wasn’t so willing to count that cost. The “self-care” and “self-love” posts on Facebook say that it’s okay to take time out for “mental health,” and I think they’re right, but when is it self-care and when is it just laziness? When is it me being soft on myself?

When do I face myself, look in the mirror and admit that maybe I just don’t have it in me?

I don’t know. All I know is that there are open mics I want to play, dance classes I want to join, ministry opportunities I want to take, and goals I still keep in view, even as I wonder if I’m ever going to hustle hard enough to reach them. There is a Google Keep account with an album’s worth of songs, and a constantly moving target for when I want to release them. There is a sound I keep chasing that I don’t ever know if I’ll be good enough to make.

There’s a weight in my chest I can’t shake, that keeps me awake even after my homework is done.

There’s a wish, faint but if I’m honest getting stronger by the day, to close my eyes and maybe never open them again.

There’s a difference between knowing and knowing. Perhaps that’s why I stay. Because for all of these things I know, I don’t know the answer what’s next.

And I don’t know if I ever will.

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Hello! I have dysthymia.

Hello! Frankie here! It’s funny how I’ve never really directly addressed something that I’ve learned about myself last year. I suppose I was afraid, even after a formal diagnosis, that I was just making a big deal out of being “emotional”: something I’d been labelled since I was a kid. But I suppose I’d be making an even bigger deal out of it if I pretended to be “fine” when I’m obviously not, so here goes!

Last April, I went to a psychiatrist in order to confirm or else refute suspicions I’d been having about myself since late 2013. As I said before, I’d always been a rather emotional person, but back then those emotions had been easier to understand as they had obvious triggers. Starting December 2013–around the time my dad had a massive stroke–that started to change, until by February 2014–the month my paternal grandmother passed away–I was grappling with bouts of sadness, anger, and fear that felt like they would come out of nowhere.

It was around that time that my mother revealed we had a family history of depression/depressive episodes, but I suppose both of us were reluctant to make that suspicion official for the fear that naming it gives it power. I have always felt that people consider me a “drama queen,” and feared this would just look like another bid for attention. Still, something really did feel seriously wrong, and while I got somewhat used to living with it (I became very good at putting up fronts for long stretches), it got to a point where I couldn’t pretend I was okay anymore. I wanted to know if I actually had something or if, indeed, I was simply an emotional drama queen seeking attention.

Last April, I took a day off work and visited a psychiatrist referred to me over the holidays by a relative whose own child was grappling with mental illness (anxiety, in their case). I won’t reveal the name of the doctor–for reasons that I’ll make clear in a bit–but I will say that they came highly recommended as supposedly they had experience with individuals coming from traumatically broken families, something that my relatives speculated was contributing to my psychological health. While I don’t believe I am “damaged” by my family history (or well, no more than usual; didn’t an author say somewhere that all families mess up their members somehow?), it seemed wise to visit someone who might be able to understand my situation better and chalk things up to unresolved issues versus actual mental illness.

I was very nervous walking in to the appointment, more so because the receptionist had asked me point blank if I was bipolar (apparently there was a “look”? But then again, the receptionist didn’t exactly have psychiatric training.). Half of me feared a diagnosis, while the other half feared that I didn’t actually have one and, again, was simply a weak and wimpy drama queen with no emotional maturity. My nervousness was apparently obvious to the doctor, because when he finally saw me he asked if why I seemed so scared.

The interview/consult itself didn’t go the way I expected. Really, I’m not sure what I was expecting: more…tests? Instead, we had a freeform chat where he asked me why I wanted to consult, what I had been experiencing, what I think triggered it, etcetera. He told me he found I often used “intellectualizing” as a way of deflecting emotions, which was odd because I definitely saw myself as more of a feeling than a thinking person, but when he mentioned that I probably had walked in with a suspected diagnosis because I’d already pre-researched my symptoms…I figured he might be on to something.

What I thought I had was something called “adjustment disorder,” which is described by Psychology Today as:

…an abnormal and excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor. The reaction is more severe than would normally be expected and can result in significant impairment in social, occupational, or academic functioning. Symptoms must arise within three months of the onset of the stressor and last no longer than six months after the stressor has ended. The response may be linked to a single event (a flood or fire, marriage, divorce, starting school, a new job) or multiple events (marital problems or severe business difficulties). Stressors may be recurrent events (a child witnessing parents constantly fighting, chemotherapy, financial difficulties) or continuous (living in a crime-ridden neighborhood).

Adjustment disorder often occurs with one or more of the following: depressed mood, anxiety, disturbance of conduct (in which the patient violates rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules), and maladaptive reactions (i.e. problems related to work or school, physical complaints, social isolation).

I guess the words “abnormal or excessive” appealed to me because they felt suitably intolerant of my turbulence, which I disliked because I didn’t understand it (if you can’t tell from this blog, I like reasons and understanding things). Still, my self-diagnosis was bunk since it’d been more that six months since my identified triggers (dad’s stroke, grandmother dying) and I was still unstable.

In the end, after what felt like a relatively short talk (turned out we’d been chatting for an hour and a half), the doctor laid out his diagnosis: dysthymia, which he was kind enough to spell out for me knowing that I would try to Google it later. He also described my constant lack of will to do anything as asthenia, and recommended supplements for it (which, looking back, I probably should start taking again?). He explained my body possibly had a hard time converting serotonin, so said that my self-medicating with 5-HTP (something an officemate had recommended; it’s a mood stablilizing, organic food supplement) was a step in the right direction, but that he feared I might become more “unstable” in the future, and suggested I look into…well this is the reason I didn’t go back to him.

He suggested I go on lithium.

I’ve since sought a second opinion on the meds and everyone agrees lithium is pretty much overkill, but other than that the diagnosis seems pretty sound, especially considering people’s descriptions of me as “having a permanent cloud” (despite also being probably one of the wacky drunk-est sober people ever). It was a relief to know that this was actually something, and while I can’t as yet afford regular therapy (hence me trying to angle for a schedule at at UST), so far I’ve been able to manage it with a support group, plus occasional consultations. It helps to know that my perennial sadness is basically a “brain allergy” versus a character flaw (which was how I treated it), and knowing that my body’s just wonky somewhere has helped shut up my self-condemnation a bit.

I’m probably going to go for another check-up since I’m at UST now and I think they’d be less inclined to throwing heavy metals at me, but for now…hi. I’m Frankie, and I’m one of a huge number of people with some form of mental illness. And all things considered, I live a pretty normal life!

I hope this helps encourage you, if you feel you might be struggling with undiagnosed mental illness or just an emotional problem you feel you need to address, to seek counseling or diagnosis from a medical professional. Let me be the first to tell you that you are not being a drama king/queen, and that getting checked out is a perfectly valid act. I treat this a bit like having a chronic allergy: it’s just your body needing a little help running.

Anyway, that’s all for now! I hope I can update more often, but I promise that, at the very least, I’ll be posting a blog on how I coped with my most recent–and quite intense–depressive bout, which happened in Q4 of last year. Hint: it involves KPop.

Until then, I still am:

~aRoamingTsinay~

Today was a bad day. It was fine.

Today was a bad day. It was fine.

It didn’t start that way. I felt okay this morning, or well, maybe not totally okay. Maybe a little under-the-weather mood wise, like the threat of a fever before a fever: small enough to be brushed off. I’m fine. A little cranky, a little sleepy, but fine.

Dysthymia–the name they call my “baby depression”–is a little like if depression were a flu: when you least expect it (when you have no real reason to expect it, actually), it just…shows up. That fact used to bother me so much, to the point that I spent days picking myself apart in frustration: why couldn’t I just be happy? Why couldn’t I just do the work? Why couldn’t I function the way I was supposed to? 

Nowadays, these sudden bouts of sadness just annoy me, this reminder that I am feeble and human. But while I am young and still idiotic the way young people are (let’s be honest; at this age we’re stupid, but only because we have to be. Because this is the season for learning and honestly we learn best when we make our best mistakes.), I’m old enough to know that being feeble and human won’t change. This is yet another in-between, a sort of emotional second puberty, where I transition from boldly proclaiming invincibility towards acceptance of my inadequacies.

It’s not wrong to not always be enough.

Today was a bad day. But it wasn’t a dark one. I don’t like the weight of that word, darkness, as if clouds don’t lift. Like a cold, this heaviness comes and goes, staying for hours or days or weeks or months but eventually–even if only briefly–leaving. There are times you wake up with the flu. There are times I wake up in the morning and find am wary and defensive, consumed by a need to protect myself from some unnameable thing that will inevitably go wrong.

This is not a “place.” These are simply symptoms. I do not need fixing. I am not broken. My brain is simply telling me it has a flu.

There is no cure for the common cold: it just passes. I drink water. I listen to music. I message a friend–one I know won’t romanticize this, won’t let comfort turn maudlin–and we sigh, accept that sometimes people wake up with bad stomachs and worse colds.

I tell him I don’t want to be kind to myself–I would rather nuke this sadness into submission and why haven’t they made a Berrocca for depressive episodes yet!? He tells me, matter of fact, that I’ll need to accept that I have to be kind to myself, someday. Even if that day is not today.

These things do not necessarily make me feel better, but they make it easier to accept that I do not feel better. That this is what today will look like, for now, and that’s fine.

Sometimes I need the bad days, the way they bring out the worst in me, because I’ve gotten so used to pretending I don’t have issues that I risk letting it get to my head. When I’m having a bad day, the pride and prickliness come to fore, and I am reminded that there are still things wrong with me. That people do have to be patient with me. Eating humble pie doesn’t feel good, but then again I already feel bad, so it’s not like things have changed. Maybe this is what it means, accepting your human frailty: admitting that you’ll still have things to work on, and maybe you’ll never be done working on them.

I can’t work. Today wasn’t as productive as I wanted it to be. The heaviness I feel has me dreading tomorrow, dreading the week after, dreading the endless procession of days the way you do when you face the prospect of having to get up and go even if you don’t feel like it. But that’s life, really: not feeling like going and doing the thing but going and doing the thing anyway because you know you have to. Because it matters. Because knowing it matters means, in a sense, that you want to, and isn’t it nice to know that, in some small way, you aren’t completely a slave to how you feel?

Eventually, I will learn to be really kind to myself. Today is not that day. Today was a bad day.

But it was a start.

~aRT~

DISCLAIMER: This blog reflects my personal experience and is in no way an authoritative account on dealing with mental illness, depression, dysthymia, etc.