Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dead Inside

I have, for several years, described myself as "dead inside" but it's hard to explain to other people exactly what that means. For such a finite term as dead is, a feeling of being dead inside is terribly complex. My two favorite bands, Tool and Ludovico Technique, both have songs with the over-arching theme of being dead inside, and I've been able to relate to them although they're vastly different songs with different themes of inner deadness. Let's start with the Tool song, Bottom.

Back in 2012, I wrote about the type of mania you don't usually hear about when people talk about Bipolar disorder. I had this month-long episode of rage mania that was frightening, to say the least. It was a constant, overstimulated, adrenaline-fueled, heart racing episode of palpable rage. And in that time, I did my best to channel it, even if it involved driving around with Bottom on blast, screaming along to the lyrics that at the time spoke to my soul: "Dead inside/Hatred keeps me alive/Loneliness keeps me alive/Weakness keeps me alive/Guilt keeps me alive/At the bottom." I was fueled entirely by my hate and anger all while wrestling this angry demon in my head, which the lyrics "If I let you, you would make me destroy myself/In order to survive you/I must first survive myself" seemed to so accurately describe. I don't pretend to know Maynard James Keenan's personal connection to the song but this song is one of my personal descriptors of my mental illness.

Living with a mental illness sucks, but the medication can be worse. At my highest dosage, I was on 900mg of lithium, which isn't the highest adult dosage, but my doctor deemed it was the right amount based on seemingly endless blood work. Lithium is supposed to even you out, make the cycling between mania and depression less frequent. For some people, it works. I felt like a zombie. I tended to cycle more toward depression, and never had any highs. I didn't feel passionate about things any more. A lot of the time, I didn't feel.

When I hear Ben V.'s lyrics for Dead Inside "Draining/Regenerate this spiraling mind/how will I be alright/when I'm Dead Inside... Balance/was a trace/of something misplaced/before all was uneven" it reminds me of my struggle with Bipolar, that deadness I felt while on lithium, that desperate search for myself because I felt lost inside myself, behind the medication haze. Eventually, I made the decision to come off lithium, with the support of my doctor. I am not a medical professional and my experiences may not be the same as yours. Always consult your doctor about medications! Being off lithium has been the best thing for me, honestly. Yes, I have manic episodes, and downswings into depressive episodes; that's just life for someone with Bipolar disorder, and that's why I keep this blog, so I can learn about my disease and share my experiences.

I still describe myself as dead inside. I'm in general a pretty happy person. But there's that part of me that lives in moral ambiguity, that part when mania takes over and I become a little reckless, that part that just doesn't care. Am I being succinct in describing this part of me? Probably not. As I said, it's a terribly complex feeling. The connection to music during rough patches, though, has been monumental.

Just being able to identify with the lyrics and know I'm not the only one that feels dead inside, but can function as a human, is immensely comforting. I could take the entire day and dissect each song line by line and explain how I relate to it, but I won't. Just know, Maynard and Ben, that your music has touched me and means the world to me, more than you can know.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Getting A Part of Me Back

Lately, all I've wanted to do is live, eat, sleep, breathe art. I almost feel like Ricky Fitts from American Beauty when he says "I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in." I  feel more alive and more mentally awake than I have in a very, very long time. Maybe it's a combination of factors that has brought my creativity back to life-- being back in academia, listening to music that opens up my mind to different thoughts and challenging the status quo, stimulating conversations with people I truly respect. I've gone out into the world and found beauty and sometimes it's so much it makes me weep, whether it's music, or a piece of art, a statue. If you've been following along with this blog, you'll have seen I've been much more active in writing, and if you follow me on social media, you'll see I've started photography again after not really doing it for a very, very long time. 

My mind has been so active, nonstop, for months, and sometimes it's hard to organize and channel those thoughts constructively. Long drives help. Listening to music helps (but often adds to the overstimulation-- blessing or a curse?). I've done a lot of introspection and reflection on the past also. There was a long period of time in my life now I realize I was simply too dead inside (I'm still dead inside) to even feel any passion for anything. Was my passion killed by the medications meant to even out my bipolar disorder? Probably. Was it killed by trying to live for others and not myself? Definitely. Was it dampened by being in unhappy job after unhappy job? Absolutely. 

What I know and what I am certain of is that life is a constant journey of exploration. I want to dive into my academic studies, I want to make art and have stimulating conversations. I want to lose myself in music. I want to challenge my way of thinking and perceiving the world around me every day. I feel free, I feel alive. I feel like me again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sometimes I Get Defensive of my Brain

10 Internet points if you know what this is from!
This post is brought to you today by Melissa being a huge defensive bitch to someone who is, essentially, a stranger. The conversation started innocently enough, but then when the person said "you're missing the point" I went immediately on the defensive and replied "no, I get it. I'm not daft." And then I stewed on it and apologized for getting defensive. And I stewed some more and and felt awful for being such a bitch to someone who didn't deserve it, then I tweeted about it, and stewed in the car some more, thought about it in class, remunerated on it all the way home and now we're here. Why the hell did I get so defensive, especially at someone who doesn't know me and I don't know them?

I guess I've always felt the need to defend my intelligence. I've always felt written off for being female, for being pretty, for being sexual, for being from a more rural area (but it's not quite that rural) and so, my intelligence has always been a sense of pride for me. So much so that when my high school anatomy teacher jokingly insinuated the our class was the lower-level, lower-intelligence class, I got so angry I threatened him. It feels arrogant to say to someone, "look, I'm smart" but Jesus, sometimes I feel like I have to. I am smart. Nothing rankles more than when someone talks down to me, and then usually I get nasty and put them in their place.

Women can be pretty and smart. Women can be sexual and foul-mouthed and be smart. I have a degree. I'm working on a Master's. These are things you can't accomplish with looks, but with brains. Don't discredit someone based on their looks. Don't write off the quiet, shy person either. Don't assume someone is less intelligent because of how they dress. Just, don't be an asshole and treat people like they're stupid? Just a thought.

And for the person I got defensive with this morning: if you're reading this, I truly do apologize. You didn't deserve my bitchiness.

Monday, September 28, 2015

You Don't Have to be Sexual to get the Attention of People That Matter to You

The Internet is a huge place full of people and information. I love the Internet. I love social media and the global community it creates, but I'm going to get real fucking serious here, and pretty damn honest. Yes, I flirt with guys online, and sometimes it leads to an exchange of pictures. I'm a consenting adult, in full control of my own sexuality. It's harmless fun, "spank material" if you will, with other consenting adults. Imagine my surprise tonight when I got a private message from someone I have a hell of a lot of respect for (we'll call him "L" for privacy reasons, since he is a public figure) telling me that one of my spank material guys often inappropriately messages minors. I was horrified (even if my initial response seemed flippant) and grossed out. I stewed on it for hours. I messaged L back asking "how the hell do we help young girls protect themselves?"

I completely understand what it's like to be an insecure teen, having a mad crush on a gorgeous, unattainable guy (or girl, whatever). Suddenly, after weeks or months of yearning, that person looks at you, or, in the world of the Internet, likes your Instagram photo, likes your Tweet. Inside, your heart flutters, and you think "they finally noticed me!" It's elating. Even as an adult I get that way sometimes, everyone gets a little star-struck. But when you're a teenager, it can be problematic when your obsession is a legal adult and you are not.

So where does it go from there? Adults on the Internet have a certain responsibility to interact with people appropriately. When someone is clearly under age (especially if their profile says their age) it is incredibly inappropriate to leave comments of a sexual nature. Bottom line. I don't care how much older a person looks than their age, they're still a kid and unable to provide consent. I liked L's response to how he handles responding to his fans online:
"You'll notice I only ever respond to people on IG [ed: that's Instagram] with a none (sic) romantic reply. I never leave hearts or sex stuff.. ever. I want the fans that interact with me to know that you don't have to be sexual to get the attention of people that matter to you."
 Emphasis on that last line is mine. It may seem hypocritical, coming from someone outwardly sexual like myself, but that statement is so, so important. I get the lack of confidence, I get the elation at being noticed, I get it, but by putting yourself out there sexually, as a minor, you're not only attracting negative attention, but the wrong people. Because there are, sadly, people out there that will exploit the vulnerabilities of insecure teens and that leads to a downward spiral of potential sexual abuse. No. It is sexual abuse. Teens can't consent, and if you exploit them when they're vulnerable, knowing that you're attractive enough to get what you want from an emotionally fragile, naive teenager, you're a sexual predator of the worst kind, and I don't have any more time for you.

So what the hell do we do? Well, let's get rid of this bullshit patriarchal idea that girls are only worth how their bodies appear, and that they must always present themselves as desirable to get attention. I was that ugly, fat girl, and as an adult, well, I look pretty on Instagram but I'm pounding away at my keyboard right now with a horrible pimply mess on my face and hair that's gone too many days without washing. Men still find me desirable, even when they see me gross as fuck. It's because I'm intelligent, confident, and assertive. Confidence and assertiveness I had to learn, they didn't come over night. I figured this out on my own, but that was really pre-Internet and social media, so it  was a different time.

The question is, how do we help girls now find their confidence, to attract the right people into their lives? A lot of it is education and parental involvement. We hear sensationalist news reports about online predators, but are we having actual two-way dialogues with kids about how they present themselves online? Actual, true conversations that don't involve shaming? A true predator can easily identify and exploit a vulnerability. There are a lot of resources online, and a few links I found interesting to start with:

How To Have "The Talk" With Your Kids (About Internet Safety, That Is)
Raising Confident Daughters in a Changing World
Talking to Kids and Teens about Social Media and Sexting
A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives

I don't pretend to have answers on this. It's a tricky, complicated subject that needs to be approached with sensitivity, and honestly, the best way is to start a dialogue with each other and also step back and look at our own interactions online. I welcome any conversation or additional resources.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Goth Subculture and My Personal Journey of Discovery

Recently, I was asked by someone not to change too much, because they liked me the way I was. And all I could think of was "I'm not changing." However, after some reflection, I realized that to some people, it may well seem that I'm changing. I can assure you that I really am not, but it's incredibly freeing to be able to express myself visually what I have felt since I was a teenager. As an adult, Goth is so much more attainable.

Last night I couldn't sleep, so I pulled up YouTube on my tablet to watch some videos, and I looked up a video by the Offspring that always stuck with me: Gotta Get Away. This video came out in 1993 I believe, so I would have been 13. Grunge was starting to become popular, and so many taboo things were becoming mainstream. The reason this particular video has stuck with me for so long is that it was really the first time I had been exposed in mainstream culture to people with body modifications. In this video there is a bald young man with two septum rings and pierced nipples, and young men covered in tattoos. Something in me clicked. Something felt right. The music of the 1990's fueled my creativity, Bands like Type O Negative brought a dark aesthetic that I identified with. The lyrics had meaning, and I would often listen for hours while writing poetry or drawing. As a teenager who had (as of yet undiagnosed) depression, I felt that deep connection, and I didn't feel alone.

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows I have always dressed in black (to the point that when I started wearing pink my Mom asked if I was okay) and have been into heavier makeup. I had a spiked collar, and lots of jewelry. I dabbled in Goth, got my toes a little wet. I used white face paint instead of foundation (WHY) and always wanted to be serious and sombre in pictures. At 15, I discovered Wicca. As I got older my spiritual beliefs evolved away from Wicca to general Paganism and my makeup improved (no more white face paint, thank god). I still wore primarily black, and I listened to a lot of metal, darker music, and a lot of other genres.

Goth culture has become more and more accessible to me via the Internet. I held back a lot when I was younger because I was the literal black sheep of my friend group. Even now, I don't know any other Goths, really. I was also afraid of the elitism in the subculture, and ostracism by "normal" society. One thing I have learned as an adult, as I advance into my 30's, is to stop caring what other people think. I got my first tattoo at 30. I started my second one at 32. Now, at 35, I have my snakebites pierced. I have wanted that piercing since I can remember. At least 17 years. And now I have it. I know a lot of people would think I'm trying to act young, or that I'm going through a phase, but I assure you, I'm not. This is who I always have been, just held back by fear. So I have the black claws, I have the tattoos, I have the piercing. Granted, I always say Goth is how you feel inside, not necessarily how you look, but I feel so much more comfortable in my skin being able to visually express myself. I may not have the awesome clothes (they're expensive and I'm useless at DIY anything) but I feel liberated and happy. I'm not trying to please anyone else any more, which is the cycle I keep getting into. I'm pleasing myself. I'm happy. And I'm still me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I Love Social Media

When I look at memes to the right, I can only think that they were made by technology-fearing old people. I know they're not, but when some people bitch and moan about "kids these days always on their damn phones" and how everyone is looking at a phone and tapping a screen, I tend to disagree with them. I'm one of those always-connected people. My phone is typically within visible range at all times, or in my pocket. Or my hand. My phone delivers my emails to me from my university, messages from my mother, texts from my friends, calls from my brother when he's drunk and waxing a bit maudlin. I love my phone. People who know me in real life know that I'm kind of shy, I take time to warm up to people and in general have a hard time making friends. So when people want to say that social media culture, Internet culture is ruining how we interact with each other, I'm going to heartily disagree with them.

I made a new friend today, all thanks to social media. It started with getting a follow on Twitter, then an exchange of tweets. Then realizing we had some stuff in common. This is what is wonderful and special about the Internet and social media. I remember back in the early 2000's when I first started using the Internet. One of the first places I visited was a Yahoo chatroom, where I made friends with people from all over. Then I moved on to message boards, where I made some long-lasting friendships on a Wicca/Paganism board. I still interact with those people to this day.

So fast forward to present time. Thanks to Facebook, I can keep in touch with my brother in Canada. I can keep up with my old college roommate and her adventures. I can see how my friends from computer club are and share their happiness and successes. I can network with former coworkers. And speaking of networking, via LinkedIn, I can keep my resume updated and build a network of professional connections. I can search jobs, and see how my old coworkers are doing professionally. If I want makeup inspiration, I turn to Instagram and Youtube, which is also a wealth of information for other things; I've often used it for Excel tutorials when I need to see how things are laid out. When I want quick updates on a celebrity, I turn to Twitter. In fact, I have gained a ton of admiration and respect for a band that is easily becoming my second favorite band of all time (Tool will always be number one) because of their interactivity with fans on social media. It's probably a huge time sink for them, but in turn they have an incredibly loyal fanbase. And you know what? I discovered that band when someone I follow on Instagram posted a picture of the lead singer and I got curious. If not for that, I probably wouldn't have discovered them.

Before  you judge someone for staring at their phone, ask yourself-- are they Skyping a family member oversea? Are they getting updates on a friend? Are they looking for a job or applying to school? Smartphones connect us in a way we have never been connected before, and social media enhances that experience by creating a global community. 20 years ago I would never have thought I'd have friends all over the world that were a Kik message or Facebook post away. If you told me then that I'd be able to talk to my brother in Canada for free through a social media app, I wouldn't have believed you. Sure, there's a lot of oversaturation of media that does come from social media and the Internet, and Pinterest culture has lead to a lot of people with identical tattoos (I won't rant about my loathing for Pinterest today, but that's one social media platform I don't use) but I feel the good outweighs the bad. As a global society, social media has given us insight into the plight of the peoples of other nations, social injustices and victories. Social media has brought us all together in a wonderful, beautiful way.

If you're interested in my social media presence, I'll pop some links below. Facebook is private but all else I welcome followers. All the links should open in new windows/tabs.

YouTube (there's not much on there)
And of course, you're already on my blog, so I needn't post that. :)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On Fridays We Self-Care

I've noticed lately that on Thursdays I get into a kind of a funk. In a weird place between mania and depression, but not even-keel. Thursday is the last day of the week I have classes, and the most depressing class-- Environmental Health. The material is bleak and disheartening, to say the least. Part of being an unmedicated Bipolar is really being aware of my moods and how they change and what affects those changes. I have to constantly be aware of my actions and impulses and analyze them, question "am I doing this because I'm manic? Am I procrastinating on my homework because I'm depressed?" It's a lot of work. So I've decided that Fridays are going to be my self-care days, where I regroup, relax, and refresh myself. Living with Bipolar has been a challenge. Being unmedicated (by choice, and with doctor agreement) can sometimes mean mental fatigue, however it doesn't have to affect my quality of life in the least. I'm in a good place right now. I'm in school, which I have wanted to do for a long time, and I'm happily single. I just need to pay attention to the fatigue and take care of myself when my moods are out of whack, like they are today. Friday will be kitty cuddles and movies and reconnecting with myself. Imma be okay.