Rudderless

Knowing yourself is hard. It’s even harder to know what you want and need. And without knowing those things, it is impossible to find happiness. How can one orient themselves towards a path that leads to eventual happiness when they don’t even know what matters to them or who they are? 

I have struggled with this a lot lately. Feeling disconnected from myself during the pandemic has highlighted how little I feel I truly know about myself. It feels like there should be these pillars inside you which you can identify and lean on when things become uncertain; a central certainty in the core of your character. 

Buddhism teaches us that there is no self, that the concept of a self in reality is all an illusion – grasping to worldly concepts that don’t exist in absolute reality. I’ve always struggled with this concept. I want there to be certainty in my self. I want there to be a resounding ‘Meagan-ness’ that I can rely on day-in and day-out, no matter what the world throws at me. 

So much of recovery involves trying to find your self, your core characteristics and values, in order to let them lead you to a life worth living. A life you want to live. My core values were that of Joy, Freedom, Connection, Authenticity, and Growth. And I do feel most myself when I am prioritizing these things. 

Lately, Connection has been highlighted in my day to day. For so long, I kept myself separate from others to keep myself from being hurt. If you aren’t vulnerable with others, then they have no grounding, no ammunition, with which to cause you pain. But you also have no ground to cause you joy. Connection lies at the basis of so much joy in my life, and without it, I feel stagnant, lonely, and in a sense, purposeless. Recognizing how much I need meaningful connections, meaningful relationships, at the center of my life has made me rethink some of my practices lately. It’s caused me to open up when my anxiety is telling me to shut down and hide. It’s caused me to be vulnerable with people who aren’t always there for me, and to deal with the pain of that rejection and disappointment. 

It hurts when you are open and honest with someone, and they aren’t able to or interested in being there for that. In reciprocating or being open and vulnerable or even receiving your vulnerability. When you get no reply, or, worse, a disinterested one. It is painful to feel alone. To have your fears that ‘if you open up you will be rejected’ confirmed. But in the end, it weeds out the meaningless connections and strengthens the meaningful ones. And that bit of risk is totally worth it to find who truly cares, who truly is ready and willing to reciprocate your connection. 

I also have been thinking a lot about Freedom. How desperately I want to be and feel independent. How I want to make my life my own, and follow a path I create because it is what I need. How important it is to not be dependent on others (even if I am connected to them). How much it means to me to be dependent on myself. After losing so much autonomy for so many years to my mental illness, the prospect of being completely autonomous feels revolutionary. Radical. Important.

This all leads back to Joy. The question of who am I, what do I want, what path do I need to craft for myself to find happiness. Because in the end, my most significant value is that of happiness. I just want to be happy. I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships, my self, and my job. I want to wake up satisfied with my life and go to sleep feeling actualized. I want to be happy.

And to be happy, I have to acknowledge that I have needs, and that those needs are valid. That they matter. That I matter. I have to set boundaries in my connections and make hard choices about who I have in my life. I have to ask myself what kind of life I want to lead – not just what I can or should, but what I want to. What is going to feel worthwhile and important. What is going to be meaningful. 

I have to feel that I deserve happiness. I have to feel that I’ve fought for it. That I’ve woken up every day asking what is going to make me happy today, tomorrow, and the next day. The next month. The next year. What do I want? What do I need?

I don’t know the best way to do this, and it feels terrible not to know. I feel like I’m having all of these thoughts and pulls towards this concept of happiness, but I’m in a boat with no rudder and all that is leading me is the direction of the current and gusts of the wind. I don’t know how to build my rudder, how to find my needs, how to fight for what I want and demand what I need. 

So for now, we drift. And hope that every wrong turn helps to show the right one.

Pandemapocalypse 2020

There has been a lull on this blog for several months, ever since the start of the pandemic. I never thought that in these modern times I would write those words. It sounds like the beginning of a post-apocalyptic novel rather than a blog in the age of the 20th century. But that is the reality – we are in a pandemic, and it’s made things sort of fall apart.

I have felt totally deflated the past few months. At first, all my energy went into worry and anxiety about what was happening and what was to come. Then, came a period of gratitude for time home to grow and develop myself without the obstacles of life. But quickly this turned into a hopeless depression, in which I felt  the weight of what was going on around me and inside me, and I couldn’t escape. I could feel the reality I had worked so hard to fit into crumbling around me. For so many years, I wasn’t able to participate in the world in the way it expected of me – I couldn’t work, do school, or really succeed in any “productive” way. And that productivity, that contribution to society, is how we were judged. It was a matter of what you were worth in a literal dollar amount, what the value of your time was. That was something I couldn’t be a part of because I was so sick, and as a result I felt immense shame for years. 

I worked hard since beginning recovery to reverse that – to work hard to meet that expectation. I saw “being an adult” as my goal post that I struggled every day to meet, going to school full time and working while trying to maintain my health, home, and recovery. Even with going to outpatient appointments 5 days a week, I worked hard to meet all the markers of “success” that I could. And I was so proud of that. It made me feel like I was finally enough, that I could finally do enough. 

Now, suddenly, the whole world has been rocked and this paradigm has been shattered. Suddenly “doing the right thing” consisted of staying home and being alone. The life I used to lead, the one that used to be a marker of sickness and depression, was suddenly the standard and was encouraged in order to protect others from this terrible illness. 

On the plus side, I no longer had to feel badly about not having the energy, physical or mental, to go out and be social and do things on top of the daily struggle of getting through and “being productive.” But on the other, every depression-induced habit I had that was integral to keeping me sick was suddenly the only way of life. 

I fell into this deep depression for a solid month, in which some days I could literally not get out of bed. During this time, life felt hopeless. My whole paradigm for which I had suffered so much, held so much shame around, and worked so hard to succeed at, was suddenly shattered. The world was uncertainty. There was nothing to ground myself to, nothing to hold on to. 

I feel I actually handled it really well. Even the deep depression, I recognized for what it was and did my best to cope through. I was flexible with my expectations of myself, and understanding and compassionate around what I was feeling and experiencing. But even so, this didn’t make it any easier. It may have made it more bearable, it may have reminded me that time will pass and I will get through. But it hurt just as much.

This is something that I think often gets passed over when we talk about coping skills. We act like these skills will make it better – that the higher you go on the tolerance pyramid, you can always use your skills to bring you back down to a grounded state. But grounded does not mean a lack of suffering. It doesn’t mean the pain goes away. It just means you can handle it. 

You still have to feel it. You still have to be vulnerable with your pain. You still hurt and suffer. You just have the strength to get through.

Since the depression has passed, I have just felt spacey. Unable to concentrate on or even remember what I care about, unable to focus in on my wants and desires. Numb. Distant. Far away. Dissociation is one of my most common coping mechanisms, and I think right now it’s something a lot of people are using to get through the reality of a global pandemic. 

But it feels like I’ve been silenced. Creatively, intuitively, emotionally. Like everything I am feeling and wanting and needing is locked in a box somewhere deep inside me, cold and alone and starving for attention. I feel deflated, like the balloon you get for your birthday and then sits there for six months because you don’t want to lose the joy it represents although the reality is its empty, those moments gone. Just a carcass of a memory that once was so fresh and real. 

I can’t paint or draw, write or sing. It feels like every time I try to take a step towards creativity that I am wearing iron boots in quicksand, being pulled down down down until I’m too exhausted to even try to move. Motivation is non-existent even though time is ample, and this results in feeling like a failure for not adequately and productively using my pandemic time. 

I love to plan. It makes me feel centered and grounded, as though I have a grip on the constantly changing world around me. But in this new world you can’t plan, not even a month ahead, because reality is changing just that quickly and in just that intense of a way. Everything is fluid, nothing is real, and I’m floating in limbo.

“Isn’t this a recovery blog?” You might be asking. “Shouldn’t she be writing about her ED?” Well the truth is that I don’t feel particularly dominated by ED anymore. The mindset is gone, the behaviors squelched, and recovery feels pretty solid. That doesn’t mean I don’t have trouble eating. I’ve been so anxious that it, combined with the vast amounts of Vyvanse I am on to make my ADD riddled brain functional, makes it very difficult to eat at times. In fact, lately its been often I’ve struggled to get food in. I’ve been working with a special doctor to help with my various physical ailments, and part of that is eating a pretty restrictive diet, on which I have felt amazing. No pain, way better GI symptoms, significantly less brain fog. But even with all the amazing foods I am trying to put into my body to nourish it back to health, it doesn’t always happen. And that is okay. The important part is that ED is not dominating my mind, that I don’t feel terrible about myself and my body, and that I am trying my hardest to get down what my body needs.

This post has been all over the place, but I feel like its nature reflects the state of the world and myself at this moment. I feel scattered in an uncertain world, and life just keeps throwing more shit onto my back. “Can’t catch a break” has become my mantra. But I am trying. I am trying to remember what makes me happy. I am trying to remember what I want and need. I am trying to reconnect with myself and my expression and my voice. And I feel like in this crazy world we are all living in, trying is all you can do.