It’s All In Your Head

09/22/2013 · 30 comments

in I'm not funny here.

“Why don’t you just stop being that way? Just power through and be normal!”

Boy would I love to.

I would love to stop having PTSD, and as a result, OCD and anxiety issues. I would love to not fall into periods of depression. I would love to not have to feel this way.

But I can’t. I know it’s hard for you to imagine feeling this way. There’s something that you don’t seem to understand about mental illness and how it feels. It’s not an emotion, temporary and fleeting like joy or lust. It’s part of you, and if it’s at all possible to kill off, it’s not at all easy to do so.

It feels like my brain is a completely different person. It’s illogical and sick and disturbed and wants nothing more than to destroy me, and by default, itself. It tells lies, it hurts, convinces you that you’re terrible, unlovable, unworthy of anything in life.

And then there’s me. I know, deep down, that this illness lies. When you hear nothing but lies and hate all day every day though, you start to believe it.

  • My brain tells me I am worthless. I know, that by merit of existence, I have worth, but more often than not I believe my brain.
  • My brain tells me I am stupid. I don’t think I am, but then my brain tells me that’s not a humble way to think, and if I were truly stupid and thought I was smart I might just be utilizing the Dunning-Kruger effect and that means I’m really very stupid.
  • It lies and tells me that I can not work one week because of course I just need to lay around, and then I’m miserable all week.
  • My brain tells me that my husband doesn’t love me. That he’ll leave me any day, that he’ll soon grow tired of me. I don’t think that’s true, but how can you ever know for sure? (Despite his daily insistence that he loves me very much.)
  • My brain tells me every time I write a sentence that I’m shit, that no one cares, so why do I bother. I try not to think that’s true, but that Dunning-Kruger bullshit usually comes around again.
  • It lies and tells me, late in the night, how worthless I am and how awful I make the lives of everyone I know until I haven’t slept in days. When I finally get to sleep out of sheer exhaustion, I have the most fucked-up dreams that are at times difficult to decipher from reality.
  • My brain tells me no one likes me at all, that all people I know and consider friends merely put up with me. I don’t think people would be so cruel, but I don’t know that for sure.
  • It lies and tells me that I need alcohol to get through parties or to be likeable, and I know that’s not true.
  • My brain tells me that I don’t need treatment for my problems, because they are the source of my creativity. This is an outright lie, and I know it, but it crosses my mind each and every time I seek help that if I’m doing this, I will lose part of myself that I love.

You know what this sounds like to me? Stockholm Syndrome. My own brain often holds me hostage and tells me lies. I believe what it says and it tries to destroy me. Does it sound crazy? It feels that way. It feels insipid that I have to fight my own brain every day, but here we are. It’s a cycle that, through therapy and conscious effort, I’m able to widen each time–but it never goes away.

We’re often told that our brains are designed to be thinking, brilliant machines, but do not forget that the brain’s main evolutionary goal was to make as many things as possible unconscious thought. The brain identifies patterns and mutes them so that we don’t have to think. It’s exhausting to actively think, it’s exhausting to break out of a pattern and fight through your day actively thinking about each and every activity and thought so that you don’t fall into a depression or self-harm state or dissociative state and realize, days later, you have no real idea about what you’ve been doing.

That’s the battle of a lot of people with mental illnesses, every day, every week, every year. You fight your own brain’s proclivity to mute patterns and make them a part of you to the point where you don’t notice them because that’s how disease infects your life and tries to ruin it. You fight with yourself about who you are and what you are really capable of. The only thing you feel like you have to show for it at the end of the day is a seemingly inexplicable fatigue and the accompanying feeling that at least for today, you won.

So yes, I would love to just stop. I would love to just feel the way I imagine people who don’t have mental illnesses feel and carry on with my life.

I’m sure hostages feel the same way about people on the outside.


Art by Susie Campbell, found on Buzzfeed

Mayor Gia September 23, 2013 at 6:38 am

Before I saw the picture at the end of the post, I was totally going to reference it. “I saw something on the internet pointing out that no one tells you to just power through cancer!”

Sigh. So true. Sorry you’re struggling with this stuff.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm

That photo is so fucking true.

Cheryl S. September 23, 2013 at 10:01 am

So, so true. I thank GOD I found a medication that helps me with the depression and anxiety. And I promise you, I didn’t lose ANYTHING, but gained a life!

I now watch my 8 year old daughter, and I can see it starting in her. It KILLS me, but I know what it is and we’ll deal with it.

Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:15 pm

That lie was the hardest of all for me: the idea that getting help will kill what good I do have. And it was just that–a goddamn lie. I’m stable and also I’m still a writer.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to see your daughter go through the same thing you have, but I’m glad she has you around for it.

Dana the Biped September 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

This! Things are actually going pretty well right now for me. So of course my brain keeps whispering to me that everything will go to shit at any moment, and when it does, it’ll be my fault. But at least it’s not shouting and beating the message in Morse code on the inside of my skull…
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Quieter voices are better! I hope things keep going well for you.

Lovelyn September 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. It’s such an all encompassing problem that most people in society still just don’t get. My son struggles with severe OCD that takes over his life on bad days.
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Will George, Humor Parasite September 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Re: the feeling that the brain is talking, like it’s a separate entity. I once heard a cognitive therapist describe this phenomenon (metaphorically) as a kind of “script” that seems to play itself in the head.

I thought it was an instructive analogy because of the way the words repeat the same negative themes over and over. In this post for example, the brain saying its owner is stupid, worthless, unloved etc.

It doesn’t sound like the brain is reporting a fact that it conscientiously verifies before assertion. It sounds like it’s just following some set patter.

To me the script analogy is useful in that it drives a wedge between factual discourse about oneself and other forms of self-talk whose point is not to reflect reality. “You’re worthless” need not be the brain perceiving anything real at all. It might be the brain just reading from same ol’ script. My $0.02.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm

That’s what my therapist had said when she started me on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is just that–a damning script you’ve memorized.

I use the separate person analogy because to me, a script felt so innocent that it was stupid it was destroying my life. I use the separate person because it gives me an antagonist that isn’t myself. It helps me to reconcile with the idea that I am not that person, and I don’t have to listen to them if I don’t want to.

Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

There is more and more outcry for understanding these days, so it gets better and better, but yeah, it’s still not super. I feel for your son.

Melissa September 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Thank you so much for posting. You have explained the exact thoughts and feelings I have failed to express. Thank you.

Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I’m glad it was there for you! This has been rolling around in my head (not a pun) for a long time.

Celia September 23, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I struggle with this a lot, too. It’s the reason I don’t update my blog more. My brain tells me every idea I have is dumb or unfunny or too negative or anything in between.

If it’s any consolation, I think you’re great! c:
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm

1) Thank you because that was nice of you to say

2) You are not dumb or unfunny or negative. I love your stuff. You’re great.

Celia September 23, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Thank you, friend. It means a lot.
Celia recently posted..The 90′s weren’t always that great, Buzzfeed. Pt. II and some other stuff

Misty September 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

In the very very recent past, I was in a deep and all-encompassing funk. I have clawed and scraped my way out of the pit, but it took a lot of help, both therapeutic and pharmaceutical. I now know how it feels to be leveled out, and it is glorious. However, it does not stop my brain from trying to rebel every once in a while and cause a revolt all up in here. I just have to try to remember that she’s a lying asshole and that everything she is telling me is wrong and dark, and if I listen to her, I will go back to “the old Misty” as my family calls it. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Keep fighting through it, girl. It is long and hard and treacherous, but worth the effort. And know that we are all here, supporting you and going through it right beside you. We know. And we’ve got your back.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I’m so happy to hear that you fought your way out and made it. I’m so fucking proud of you.

Johi Kokjohn-Wagner September 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I really just want to give you a hug right now, then take you out for ice cream.
You are so amazing, generous, and talented. You have improved the life of EVERYONE here, I assure you. I hope that you can find some light soon. Be gentle with yourself. You have my phone number- use it anytime.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Thank you Johi. You are so good about saying the right things at the right time.

Shannon September 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm

The brain pattern/routine and trying to break out of it that you wrote about is the most succinct description I can think of for what it’s like when you step out of the hamster wheel. You feel like the most boring person on the planet because you have to focus on every step and move you make just to function correctly. I understand that some artists do lose a little something when they tamp down the crazy, but the true geniuses always come back. I always think of Mike Ness and Trent Reznor- when they went off drugs they were fair to middlin for one or two albums and then came back stronger than ever.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm

That’s so true. I hate that romanticism of drugs and alcohol and suicide in great artists. That’s not what made them great, it was exacerbated their problems. Thank you for pointing that out.

Abby September 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm

I don’t think I have to tell you that I get this 100 percent, as I’ve told you I get this 100 percent. It’s a bitch. It’s also your (our) reality now. You don’t get over it, but you get through it and you never go through it alone (I know. Eye roll.) Anyway, keep kicking ass. The end.
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Noa September 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Stop being so far away.

Stop it right now.

ColinP September 23, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I tend to fall back on this quite a bit but when someone says it right, they say it right:

A guy is walking down the street and falls into a very deep hole in the sidewalk and cannot find a way out. He looks up and sees a doctor walking past. He cries up “Hey Doc, I am stuck at the bottom of this hole and I can’t find my way out. Can you help me?” The doctor writes a prescription and tosses it into the hole and walks away.

A short time later a priest comes walking by and the guy shouts up again “Father, Father. I am stuck at the bottom of this hole and I can’t find my way out. Can you help me?” The priest writes out a prayer and drops it into the hole and walks away.

A friend comes walking by and the guy shouts up “Hey Joe. I am stuck in this hole and I can’t get out. Can you help me?”

The friend looks down and jumps into the hole. The guy looks at him and says “What in the hell are you doing. Now we are both stuck in this hole. ” and the friend looks back at him and says “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

ColinP September 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm

True friends will not only help bury the bodies, but they will always help you find your way out of the dark. Just try to remember that you are not alone.
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Starle September 24, 2013 at 7:32 pm

The best way I have ever heard this described was by way of spoons. Both this person and I suffer from chronic pain (invisible, know, fake) and mental illness.
She said; it is all measured in spoons. “Most people wale up with 30 spoons. They use five to have breakfast, get the kids to school have a shower and a coffee and leave for work. Then they use ten spoons for work. Then they use ten to drive home, eat, feed kids, bathe/read/homework/watch news. Then they have a few left to put everyone to bed and maybe read in bed for 5 min before falling asleep.
Sometimes I wake up with only five spoons. What can I do with these spoons? Not shower or look after me. Not make a tea. Just fucking cope.
Some days I have ten and then BOOYA I am having a great day. What happens to me when I wake up with less than five spoons? I need help. And I am ashamed to ask. Because I am out of spoons to realize that I am worthy. I do not have any spoons left to feel that I deserve what I have. ”
It was one of the most profound things I have ever heard. Now, when I wake up with 7 spoons, I tell everyone. “I only have seven spoons. Be kind to me. I am trying. Tomorrow I might have ten, or 30, or three. ” I try to keep one spoon to myself. Keep trying is all we can do. Hugs y’all.
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Noa September 24, 2013 at 7:35 pm

That was a fantastic analogy. I really love that. Not everyone has the same amount or type of spoons, and some of us have a bunch but they’re slotted, and some have ladles.

Starle September 25, 2013 at 2:53 am

Right? I am going to pass on the slotted/ladles bit to my friend. Maybe today is the day she could use an extra slotted spoon and it will be thanks to you!
Starle recently posted..I’m about to buy appliances in the UK. This is going to be (stupid/awful) interesting.

Artemisia September 25, 2013 at 9:50 pm

It’s kinda of sad that I got excited at the ‘my friends really just put up with me’ part. Oh good, someone else thinks that too.

Steph December 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Normally I get a lot of laughs from my visits to your site. This time, I got a great deal of comfort in knowing I’m not the only one at battle with my brain. The nervous breakdowns/depression come and go in spurts throughout the years, but never seem to be fully cured – even with every barrage of medication they’ve had me on. I have panic disorder and sometimes I just feel like a prisoner of my own brain. At least I know someone else understands.

And on a brighter note… keep truckin!
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