Too smart for this

Being intellectually invested in one's own mental illness can be disappointingly unhelpful in terms of recovery - and as my favourite podcaster Paul Gilmartin has said: "You can't think your way out of a thinking problem", or as my mum pointed out the other day: "You don't have to analyse every single thing you feel". For us analytical, reflective, intellectual people this is terribly frustrating because surely there must be a logical, linear way out of the problem. And so, we keep on intellectualising and rationalising anyway.
A central issue with mental illness is that it affects the mind - obviously - therefore making solitary introspection a rather faulty treatment method. If your mind is infected, then how are you going to heal it without outside help? No amount of self-help material and logical thinking is going to set you free. It can take you further along, and it can help but it will never be enough. Of course, I have had to learn this the hard way, as I'm sure many others; and to be frank, the hard way is most of the time the only way.

For a very long while I genuinely thought that studying, labelling and categorising my mental disorders was helping. It gave me clarity and helped me to separate myself from my demons. It made it all less scary - and more real. For me, being able to learn about depression, anxiety and eating disorders from books and articles, and comparing that information to personal experience is invaluable. This scientific knowledge keeps me grounded. It's like a solid wall to lean on to when my mind is clouded with invisible, paralysing terror. I find medical labels validating, as if without them I wouldn't be deserving of help. I know this isn't true but I have always felt that I'm not sick enough to be entitled to treatment. This continues to be the main reason why I resist finding further support to go alongside with medication. I'm still afraid of rejection.
Being aware of all this makes no difference to how I feel when I'm depressed or anxious. It does absolutely nothing to makes those feelings subside. I can't knock my depression out with a book - sadly, but I do feel more able to fight it the more I learn about it. Listening to people talk about their experiences with varying mental illnesses and traumas in Paul's podcast has had a huge impact on how I perceive mine. Hearing someone put into words something that you, yourself have been feeling is unlike anything else. It's an easily digestible and tasty dish of insight served on a silver plate with a cherry on top.

Something that comes along with an analytical and perfectionist mind is getting stuck in the details. If I don't fulfil every single characteristic of such and such disorder, then it must mean that I am perfectly healthy and the reason that I'm feeling terrible is simply the fact that I have failed at being perfect. This way of thinking is applicable to all of my problems, but especially to my tendency to disordered eating. An obsession over my body and food was the first major way in which my perfectionism started manifesting itself, but because I was never really anorexic or bulimic or orthorexic, and never lost weight to a noticeable extent, the obsession has stuck with me, unnoticed by others, since puberty. I would restrict my eating, I would binge, I would avoid certain foods because I saw them as unhealthy but I never fit into one neat box with my behaviours. I tried several times to force myself to throw up but never succeeded, and I was never able to completely control my eating either, and as a consequence I saw myself as a failure. To this day, I can't give weight to the eating disorder that still sits on my shoulder every now and then. The worst of it does seem to be behind me but I am ever hateful towards my own body, and I do try to fill a hole inside me with food. I still congratulate myself for eating healthily and exercising rigorously. And by no means, am I past the issue.

Something interesting that I just learned, is that actually exercising as a means of subtracting, is considered purging alongside with vomiting and using laxatives. Whatever action you take to deserve to eat, or to remove the calories previously ingested is purging, and as such, a sign of an eating disorder.
Another really significant insight to eating disorders (and I'm now conscious of leaving out binge-eating on its own, without the obsession of weight-loss), and suicidal depression and anything connected to physical harm, is that it's not important whether you act on the thought, but the thought itself. For example, the way I saw myself as a loser because I couldn't push my fingers deep enough into my throat was no less harmful than if I'd actually managed to make myself sick. Breaking into a bank with a gun and the intent to rob it is still a crime even if you get caught before taking the money, not unlike the crime committed against the body when you have the intent of violently removing something from it.

Going back to the intellect, it is enlightening to know that the form in which my eating disorder manifested/manifests itself is recognised by the medical world, and that it has always been an illness, or a sign of one. However, and here we arrive at the disappointing conclusion, I still use food as an emotional filler and a way to comfort myself; I still can't see my body as a whole but rather a collection of disgusting faults; and I still view exercise as a way of subtracting calories from my food intake. Compared to depression and anxiety, this is not a prominent issue at the moment, and in fact, I think that mostly they're all just different sides of one whole, and I have no idea what dictates the strength with which each of them affects me at different times.
At the moment, I feel like I've taken another step in recovery by acknowledging that while intellectual approach to my mind is fascinating an gratifying, it alone isn't enough. Medication, and the knowledge of my illness enable me to remain functional in daily life, but I will need to get into therapy to move forward. This is nothing new to me or anyone else, but it's one of those things that require an amount of energy and determination and courage that I haven't bee able to muster yet.

And now I've hit the writing wall. Bye.


Abnormal reaction to my morning coffee?

Isn't it the worst when an inspiration strikes 30 minutes before you need to leave for work?
And here I am trying to fish out the thoughts that were just circling in my mind, and force them into logical sentences before I really need to get out.

At least my hours are flexible in that ten minutes one way or the other makes no difference so at least I can grant myself this moment of morning word-vomit - I don't seem to be able to get any breakfast apart from black coffee down anyway.

For the past year I've found comfort and much needed distraction from the gem of a podcast, Mental Illness Happy Hour, which I keep bringing up every now and then in my ramblings. So far I couldn't find a single critical word to say about it. Yes, so far. Because now there's something that has started to irritate me; not to the point of abandoning the whole program or to even decreasing the time I spend with it playing on the background, but just enough to write about it.
Mind you, the defect that I'm about to discuss is a common way of describing mental illness - especially by Americans, I've come to notice. So it's definitely not unique to my favourite podcast but more of a cultural thing.

Without further ado - let's get to it.

The idea that mental illness is not an abnormal reaction, but a normal one to abnormal circumstances is problematic for me personally. I understand it in the context of severe trauma because then clearly there has been that abnormal situation that has brought upon a reaction that is oftentimes debilitating in some way. A really obvious example is PTSD in rape victims (which apparently is even more common than amongst war veterans by the way): the abnormal situation: rape, causes sexual and emotional trauma, which when triggered in a seemingly unrelated situation: let's say consensual intimacy with a partner, bring up flashbacks, panic and what have you.
So there, abnormal situation - normal reaction. Trauma re-wires us.

But then there's me.

And though, I have endured some emotional and social hardship in my sensitive teenage years, the ripples of which reach out far and wide, I don't see myself as having a "normal reaction to abnormal situation". Why? Because the environment where my anxiety started getting exponentially worse was not a particularly hostile one. I wasn't decidedly singled out and abused. Sure, there was total mismanagement of my recurring panic attacks, but that just made them worse; it wasn't the cause of my problems.

Going back to the first signs of an eating disorder resolves just as much: nothing. I can pretty much pinpoint the moment when that shitstorm began: I was eight or nine years old and out playing with my friend. I don't remember how or why the conversation got there but I remember her saying something about her weight or appearance - and bam, my brain went: I should be thinner. We were both tiny. But I'm sure my friend had picked it up from her big sister who was a teen then.
But literally no one had ever commented on my weight or size or eating habits, and yet my mind warped around the idea that I should be thinner - and nearly 15 years later it's still there.

My early childhood was completely stable and happy. The only thing I can think of that caused me emotional stress was a period of time when my dad used to work in London and only come home for the weekends. I missed him so much, and would cry every time he left. My little sister - the voice of reason already then - always said that it was silly to be so sad because he was coming back soon. I must have been around five years old - making my sister the ripe age of three.
I remember my mum being a little bit stressed out - as you would be with two kids and carrying the third, but she was never abusive verbally or physically. She was present, she was there and she never made me feel like I wasn't good enough.

So all this leaves me with, is that I must have always had a genetic susceptibility to mental illness, and a series of unfortunate events (ba-dum-tsih) of a relatively small size on their own, has been the catalyst to the issues that I currently struggle with. In other words, it is such a gradual reaction to the world around me that there was never anything that I, personally, could have done to prevent it. A large part of it is written in my DNA, and for that part, I can only do so much.

This is what I believe. This is what I have to believe to remain functional, and to have hope. Not all mental illness can be attributed to trauma in childhood or otherwise. Not all mental illness is a big, atrocious, enthralling story. Sometimes - quite often I suppose, it is something that grows with us until it becomes too big for us to handle alone. But even then, stripping down the layers of emotional trauma won't bring a relief in the form of a straightforward answer. Because there is none.

For me, the relief is knowing that I can't have control over everything. That no matter how much I look back, I won't find definite answers. That no matter how much I meditate, think positive thoughts, expand my comfort zone, talk, think, feel and try there will always be that innate sensitivity that makes me crumble and fall (and also fight back but that's a different topic altogether). That, for me, is validating. Because a panic attack is a totally abnormal reaction to an everyday situation. Because feeling some distorted sense of joy about having a bad stomach bug because at least after all of this vomiting my stomach will be flat is just nowhere near the realm of healthy thoughts.

For me, the idea that mental illness can also be an abnormal reaction to normal situation is much more soothing than the reverse.

And now I'm gonna be late for work.


Elf Feelings

So I've seen the final part of The Hobbit trilogy twice now, and true to my fangirl nature I will now deliver a deep analysis of it as I tend to when an experience of some kind has immensely shaken my core - which this movie has undeniably done.

Instead of talking about one of the main storylines, Thorin's that is, I just have a few words to say about our lovely Elves. I would have plenty to say about Dwarves as well but as they are at the centre of the film anyway I don't feel particularly obliged to. The visualisation and dramatisation of Thorin's dragon sickness is astounding, and in the context of a fantasy film where the attention is mostly paid to the heroism and strength of the protagonists, I find that this portrayal of mental illness and addiction rooted in both genetics and unresolved trauma is absolutely singular.

However, there is someone else whose trauma is equally as complex and important for the greater arch of the story - the Elvenking Thranduil. Now, I imagine that most moviegoers see him either as a total dick or kind of ridiculous in his grandiosity - or both. Compared to a fellow Elf lord, Elrond, Thranduil is cold, distant and materialistic. He doesn't really seem to care what is going on outside the borders of his woodland kingdom unless there are treasures to be won. Where Elrond and Galadriel are deeply concerned for the future of Middle Earth; where Legolas has a passion to fight the evil; and where later on Arwen gives up her immortality for a mortal man, Thranduil would rather just brood within the vast halls of his fort and not have anything to do with anyone outside of it.

And then Peter Jackson does something amazing that gives depth to the character, and makes me write about it. For the first time we get a little glimpse to Legolas' and Thranduil's past as we learn how Legolas' mother died during the wars that Elves once fought in the land of Angmar. It becomes clear that the loss of his wife - and undoubtedly many of his friends and warriors in those battles is what has broken Thranduil's heart and forced him to grow an impenetrably thick skin that no emotion is allowed to pierce. There is no doubt that he cares deeply for his own, and wants to protect them by any cost - even if that makes him isolate from all other peoples of Middle Earth. He does what so many of us do when a crisis hits: we turn inwards, we hide and we pretend that nothing matters because if we were to open ourselves for the pain of loss, we fear that it might devour us whole.
And when asking for help feels like weakness we would rather become stone.

For me, one of the most heartwrenching moments of the movie was when after exiling Tauriel and telling her that her feelings for Kili aren't real and that she's basically a fool who knows nothing of love and suffering, Thranduil goes back to her as she's mourning over Kili's body, and in his very distant and unemotional way comforts her. I don't even know if it can be called comforting but anyway, that scene made me sob even more than I already was.
I can't explain it so you'll just have to go and see for yourselves.

All of this also provides a little more depth to Legolas' character, even for his later adventures in The Lord of the Rings (or you know, earlier). First, as I started thinking about his story and the persisting hatred toward Dwarves, I didn't quite know how to make these two film trilogies fit together since the chronologically later one was obviously made some ten years before this one. I mean, in The Battle of the Five Armies Legolas goes against his father's and king's orders by helping the Dwarves against Orcs, and yet he's very hostile towards Gimli when they first meet. Yes, mostly Legolas is just smitten with Tauriel who as a crush on Kili, so there we go, and that's why he follows her to the battle. But there's the scene where Legolas is fighting what's-his-ugly-face Bolg (?) when he sees that Thorin is about to be outnumbered, and sacrifices his last weapons to save him. And yet, 60 years later when the Fellowship is formed Legolas still dislikes Dwarves.

So, I then I thought about my own grandparents who had to flee their homes in the far East regions of Finland that now belong to Russia during the Second World War, and how that hatred toward Russians was inherited by my dad, and slightly by my own brother. It is always such an easy resolution to find someone to blame when a terrible thing happens; and generations later when no one really has anything to do with that terrible thing anymore the bitterness lives on. It's like there are traumas live in our genetics, and become shared memories between families and tribes and nations. And to me, this makes Legolas' character whole and interesting. He keeps hold of that old grudge, perhaps as an emotional link to his father, but finally lets go and becomes the best of friends with Gimli. I've always found the development of Gimli and Legolas' friendship a beautiful story, and especially now that I've seen that for both of them previous encounters with another's kin have been massively tainted with loss and grief.

Also, baring in mind that Elves live forever and by the time that these sagas are set they'd already lived in Middle Earth for thousands of years, it is no wonder that most of them are a bit stuck-up. If I had lived for that long and seen many wars and lost hundreds of people I would probably just want to sit in my castle and drink wine and not give two shits about the next disaster and if there are a couple of Human or Dwarf casualties.

So, haters, don't hate Thranduil for being a selfish bitch. Don't hate Thorin for acting like a dick. They just need a hug and a therapist. Hate Azog. And hate Sauron. And listen to Elrond because he's usually right.


Thoughts on Anxiety

I lay my body down into the steaming hot bath. The hot water seems to burn through my skin but I enjoy the sting and lean my head back on a towel that I have arranged on the edge of the tub to allow my head to rest comfortably as my limbs float heavy in the water. The heat soon begins bordering unpleasant and my bathroom resembling a sauna. I stay still letting my eyes close, focusing on the blood that is pumping through my worn out body - tired from exercise and work, tense from anxiety. I prefer physical distress to emotional, and so, despite my accelerating heart-rate and the pounding ache in my muscles as they yield to the surrounding warmth, feels oddly comforting.
I let the murmur from the podcast show playing in the background lull me into a state where only the sensation of pain and tension leaving my body exists. In yoga, the act of exhalation is symbolic to letting go of one's stress - both physical and mental. Removing what is unwanted creates space for what is needed - precisely as exhaling carbon dioxide allows for oxygen to enter our lungs.
I'm trying to keep this philosophy in mind, hoping that as the tension melts away from my muscles and the sweat covers my face, at least a minor portion of anxiety locked deep in the cavities of my body, in my pelvic muscles, in my neck and shoulders, might float away too.
But so far, it's all I can do to remain in my complete state of passivity and let whatever is happening, happen.
Anxiety is such an intertwined psycho-physical sensation that I don't always know that it is there. Maybe I feel dizzy because I got up too quickly, maybe my hands are shaking because my coffee was too strong, maybe my head feels muzzled because I didn't sleep well. And even when I know that none of these things - although possibly adding to the experience - are at the core of my mental and physical state. Sometimes I cannot even tell the mental and physical sensations apart. Which sounds totally strange but I have no better way to explain it.
It is a strange thing in itself - anxiety. If I ever mention to anyone that I'm feeling anxious, the following question is always why. Of course I don't know why. If I knew the reason for my nervousness (and even when I do, if it wasn't so overpowering) it would not be considered a disorder. My anxiety doesn't tend to have a singular or defined target. It may be triggered by certain things but most of the time it simply appears seemingly out of nowhere, and has taken over my mind and body before I've even suspected it's creeping presence.
Even now, sprawled in my armchair, wrapped in a snuggly dressing gown with some Bach playing (yes, I am actually not having the bath right in this moment) I can feel the currents of anxiety under my skin, the tension that has returned to my shoulders, the slight tremble in my hands. My mind is only focused due to its preoccupation in creating this post. And I can still feel how my heart is pumping slightly too rapidly as if in anticipation of something.