Mental Health: Depression Lies to You

Coming at you live from a blue day, and my head is heavy, literally and figuratively. I was doing the dishes and had to rest my forehead against the cabinet above the sink, like some broken weeble wobble that toppled over and got stuck sideways. My rubber glove’d hands worked away, and I imagine it all would’ve looked pretty comical had anyone walked in.

I keep thinking about how I should be writing to work on my thesis, but can’t bring myself to do it. I’ve got a litany of to dos, and just… cannot. It’s an inability, not a lack of willingness, something that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced mental illness, but I am doing my best.

Here goes…

DEPRESSION: Some days I am plagued by a feeling of worthlessness. I become certain that things will never get better and everything is a downward spiral from here. Nothing sounds appealing, and my inaction builds an internal tension and a self-doubt that often leads to self-hatred. When I try to pull myself up and out of my slump and fail, my mind bottoms out and I fall further downward, mentally. I hate myself even more. I clam up, don’t want to talk, shuffle around too exhausted to pick up my feet, and would do anything for it to be acceptable for me to just go back to sleep. I become convicted that this is it, this is who I am, a big ole bump on a log and a burden to my loved ones. What’s the point?

damn you, isolation foot
source

Despite feeling the way I do, life keeps moving with or without me. Time and responsibilities don’t stop because I woke up mentally paralyzed. There is no pause button, so I push through, go through motions, and do the very best I can until the cloud lifts. It always lifts, I just never know when it will – sometimes hours, sometimes months. The unpredictability is troubling and hard to plan around which is, frankly, a big part of my apprehension about becoming a parent. How could I subject a child to this? I know deep down that depression lies, so when I’m in the thick of it, like now, I try to remember that these toxic thoughts are not true. The thoughts exist, but they’re not substantive.

My commitment to be open about mental illness on Bummed Out Baker is important to me, and I hope it helps someone either understand what a loved one is going through or feel less alone if you yourself are going through it. I’m game to die on the hill of destigmatization, which also means I will possibly never be hired anywhere else, ever again. The idea is such a bummer that I have to laugh, internally of course, because turning up the sides of my mouth today feels impossible.

In between writing the above paragraphs I had to break to rest my head on my palm, my temple on my fist, or just completely collapse on my arms on the desk until I could pull myself up again. Depression is nonsensical, physically exhausting, dramatic, and infuriating. It’s also sort of funny, but only because if I couldn’t laugh about it, I don’t know if I’d survive.

Written on Monday, May 13, 2019.


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If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue and Hyper-Empathy

Rick is annoyed that I’m self-diagnosing myself again, but I can’t help it. I was listening to a podcast* while getting ready for bed the other night when I burst out of the bathroom to enthusiastically announce my discovery to Rick: “Hey! I have compassion fatigue and hyper-empathy!” Did I mention I get into bed about 1:00am? Poor Rick, all he wanted was to fall asleep listening to inspiring football stories on YouTube. I just get so excited when I gain language for something I’ve been experiencing and unable to accurately put into words for years, especially as a writer. It was like the time I discovered “dual diagnosis” and “co-occurrence” to describe mental illness + addiction. Revelatory.

This study discusses compassion fatigue due to the overwhelming nature of social problems that leads to burnout. It’s from 1996 and is still relevant. The fact that this is a thing shouldn’t be surprising, taking into account the stressful existence of a 24-hour news cycle. Something else that will likely be to no one’s surprise: compassion fatigue is often experienced by social workers, hospice workers, nurses, and psychiatrists. Guess what I’m talking about next week with my psych?! Cause now I’m worried about him.

I worry about government corruption, our oceans and forests, people without quality / accessible medical care, those assholes at Texas A&M who give golden retrievers M.S. so they can do tests on them, violence against women all over the world, whether people next to me are comfortable and me thinking Did I hurt their feelings? over and over, whether the person on the subway next to me has enough personal space and then arranging myself so none of my belongings are in it**, whales in captivity not getting to swim long distances with their family members, the whale pup at SeaWorld who got taken away from its mom who then just sank to the bottom of her tank and audibly cried for days, whether the man running the newsstand downstairs is happy, the time I saw $20 fall out of someone’s pocket in high school and instead of returning it I kept it and now imagine them not eating for days because of me, racial justice and reparations, the guy in front of the subway stairs who’s leg is rotting off (so I called 911), gay people who aren’t included or treated with respect while I get to go off and marry Rick no problem and am even celebrated for it, hurting the feelings of the employees at Jersey Mike’s when I parked in front of their store only to walk next door to the taco shop, that time ten years ago when my dad called me because he hadn’t talked to me that day and I responded “Do we have to talk every day?”, gentle pigs and cows getting shot in the head for unnecessary human food, forgetting to send a gift or thank you note, not saying thank you enough in general, whether or not my parents are okay, whether or not my parents know how grateful I am, whether or not my golden retrievers are dehydrated or hungry or hot or sad or in pain because they can’t talk and tell me, whether I’ve signed enough petitions and done enough to effect policy change, it goes on and on and on.

I worry about people, animals, our planet, and whether I’ve upset anyone CON. STANT. LY. Like a tick, I feel the overwhelming need to interject to apologize or explain long after everyone’s forgotten about what I’m even talking about. I cannot focus until I clear the air of things perhaps only taking place in my brain.

My parents joke that I sleep so much because I’m emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. I chew through mouth guards, subconsciously toiling away about all the problems in the world, real or imagined. To remedy, I try not to feel bad about having a cocktail and turning my brain off to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills. In the podcast* they call this type of activity “babysitting your brain.” You know, just let my brain sit over there for a while. Meanwhile I’ll be over here, strong cape cod in hand, in case it needs me.

Fun fact: hyper-empathy and compassion fatigue can be linked to borderline personality disorder. 🎶 Learn something new every daAaAaAy 🎶

Does anyone else suffer from hyper-empathy or compassion fatigue? Do tell. Revisiting all of my pet worries was extremely tiring to write, so I’m gonna go sleep for three days straight, now.


*Listen to “Too Much Empathy” from the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You here.

**The other day I sat on the subway and the man next to me elbowed me twice in the side and, without looking at me, said “move over, you got all that space.” There were several inches between us, our bodies weren’t touching, and someone else’s stuff was on the other side of me. I am so conscious of other people’s space that I went home and burst into tears and told Rick I’d never be enough. Poor Rick 2: Electric Boogaloo.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Weight Gain and Mental Medications

May is Mental Health Month, and I’m coming in hot here on May 1 with a vulnerable topic. Putting all my business on the internet is scary, so I thank you in advance for your kindness and open-mindedness while reading.

This topic plain sucks. But, I think the effects of mental meds on our bodies and the way we talk about bodies are both critical to openly discuss in the mental health conversation.

I’ve been on more mental meds than I can even remember, starting from the time I was 14. Whatever it is in the realm of depression, I’ve probably been on it. I’ve even dabbled in mood stabilizers! #versatile

2007

Zoloft (early-mid 2000s) made me break out in a rash. Remeron (2015) didn’t make me feel better and it made me eat everything in sight. Wellbutrin (2008-current) caused me to lose so much weight that my family was concerned for my health, and then, still on it the following year, I gained back all the weight I’d lost. I got off Wellbutrin and got on it again. I got off it again and got on it again, again. This was so much fun for my family.

I’ve been put on Lexapro, Effexor, Concerta (wth? thanks for the unnecessary ice), Prozac (current), Lamictal (current), and Cymbalta. These are just the meds I remember.

Today I work closely with my psychiatrist to find the right pharmaceutical balance for me, but when I was in high school my pediatrician’s nurse practitioner was treating me like a guinea pig which was both dangerous and inappropriate. I cannot fathom why unqualified medical professionals are able to toss anti-depressants around like parade candy, a frivolity that can be lethal. Big Pharma, is that you???

2009

Anyway, if you’re thinking of getting on meds for depression, anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder, first of all, I applaud you. It takes courage to recognize a potential issue inside of yourself and to take steps toward making your life better. If you’re new to the mental health realm, or even if you’re a veteran who can’t seem to find the right RX fit for you, I urge you to consult a psychiatrist, or, at the very least, work with a psychologist who will then work in tandem with a psychiatrist to care for you.

When that high school nurse practitioner had me sign a cartoon-y certificate that said I wouldn’t kill myself, ain’t nobody in that room felt any more assured. Take it from someone who’s done the legwork: mental illness + medical professional who’s not a psychiatrist, not okay; mental illness + psychiatrist, imperative.

Alright, now on to the next. Don’t comment on someone’s body size. “OMG, you’re so skinny!” is not a compliment, and “Skinnyyyy” is not a helpful comment to leave on someone’s photo. I have no doubt I’ve used some iteration of this as praise before because women have been conditioned to value thinness in ourselves and each other, which is a crock. Let me break this down:

  1. Someone may be having health issues causing unwanted weight loss or weight loss that feels out of their control.
  2. This can be a trigger for our sisters actively struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder.
  3. If you say that one time but not another, people can and often will get in their heads about their bodies. Did my body change? Was I not ‘skinny’ before they said that? Am I not ‘skinny’ anymore?

K-hole of misery ensues.

This is what I mean when I talk about valuing word impeccability. If you’d like to make a positive comment about someone’s appearance, use words like radiant, happy, lovely, glowing, sharp, etc. Avoid any adjectives that refer to size. No one likes to feel as if their body is being appraised, “big” or “small”. Making a conscious effort to not commodify our bodies is both freeing and key to feminism.

To bring this full circle from a woman’s POV, we already have enough bodily pressure without having to consider the effects life-improving mental health meds may have on our bodies. It’s a drag, but mental solace always wins.

Conversation is paramount and, anonymous or not, I’d love to read about your experiences regarding mental health meds in the comments.


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Happy Birthday Bummed Out Baker! Recipe: Chocolate Birthday Cake with Whipped Cream Icing (Gluten-Free + Vegan)

Happy Birthday Bummed Out Baker!

One year ago, I scuttled into the library at my in-laws’ NYC apartment carrying a heavy cutting board loaded down with a food rainbow. I used the window’s natural light to photograph the korma I was making, and my husband and my mother in-law’s nurse looked at me suspiciously, wondering what the heck I was up to now.

I wasn’t quite sure, myself. I had an old, but decent DSLR camera, limited lighting knowledge, and an affinity for cooking and baking new things, so I decided to capture it and throw it up on my site for anyone interested. I made a deal with myself to post a new recipe every Monday for one year and here I am, 52 recipes later! I’m proud I stuck to a promise I made to myself.

Less than two months in I changed the website name from my full name to Bummed Out Baker (Why Am I the Bummed Out Baker?) in order to encapsulate the full breadth of, well, me. Although I was finally pursuing my passion for writing and had accepted a place in The New School‘s MFA Creative Writing Nonfiction cohort for fall, that didn’t take away the depression and anxiety I’ve suffered for years. Do you guys wanna guess what my thesis is about? ;)

This is not a bubbly, perfectly put together vegetarian food blog like the ones all over the internet. They’re beautiful, but that just isn’t me. Instead, I aim to present my truest self to you all and be unabashed about the mental issues I face.

Some days, I’m too wrecked to do much more than to get up, do my morning routine (bed-making, teeth-brushing, etc.), take my meds, and then crank out what’s needed for school. I work hard not to beat myself up for being unable to take on more extracurriculars or a more rigorous social schedule and always try to look for silver linings in mental illness. I will say that one thing my finite emotional gas tank and constant, sinister awareness of my own mortality (lol) have taught me is to be hyper-focused on what and who matters most. Mental illness silver lining, yay!

Mental illness manifests in a myriad of terrible, unconventional, surprising, and sometimes hilarious ways and I will continue to share what I experience here. Thank you to all those who’ve kept an open mind and have been along for the ride with me.

THIS SEASON ON REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BUMMED OUT BAKER:

  1. I will be more transparent about the issues I’m experiencing in real time.*
  2. “Don’t judge your life in comparison to someone else’s highlight reel” has become a social media platitude, and I will further that mentality.
  3. I, an average, sad person on the internet, will provide community and reinforcement to people dealing with or who are in close proximity to mental illness. You’re not alone.
  4. I will snuggle golden retrievers.

Alright, now CAKE!

Ingredients

1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 c teff flour
1/2 c rice flour
1/2 c potato starch
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 ripe bananas
1 c orange juice
1/2 c olive oil
1/4 c + 2 T maple syrup
1/2 c coconut sugar
1 t vanila extract
vegan chocolate sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Refrigerate can of coconut milk overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease sides of cake pan with oil and place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan (or use cake pan w removable bottom).
  3. Combine teff flour, rice flour, potato starch, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix well.
  4. In a blender, add bananas, orange juice, olive oil, 1/4 c maple syrup, and coconut sugar and blend until smooth.
  5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  6. Pour batter into cake pan.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, testing the middle of the cake with a toothpick until it comes out clean.
  8. Let cake cool completely in pan before removing.
  9. When you’re ready to ice, place mixing bowl in the freezer for about ten minutes.
  10. Turn refrigerated can of coconut milk upside down and open. Pour liquid at the top into a jar for later use (i.e., smoothies). From bottom of can, spoon out coconut fat.
  11. In the cold mixing bowl, beat together coconut fat, remaining 2 T maple syrup, and vanilla on high for about four minutes.
  12. Frost top of cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate sprinkles.

*I’ll start my candor now: this cake, although it looks delicious, tasted like a stale Luna bar with coconut guts smeared on top. The sprinkles were top notch, but you don’t have to make this cake to eat those. My advice: enjoy the photos, eat some sprinkles, but… don’t make this cake. Here’s a recipe for a truly fabulous cake.

If you’re a masochist: recipe adapted from Vegan Gluten Free Chocolate Cake and Vegan Whipped Cream.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

The Uncertainty of Mental Illness

Acknowledging Uncertainty

Collective hours, days, weeks, and months of my family members’ lives have been spent trying to understand and unpack my brother’s inexplicable decisions and lack of reaction to consequence. Alex dropped out of high school, but the classroom doesn’t suit everyone. Alex was discharged from the Army, but they were just drug tested to make an example of his platoon. Alex lost his left leg in a car wreck, but everyone has a false sense of immortality and drives drunk when they’re 22. Alex shot himself in the head and lived, but “god has a plan” for someone who’s survived so much. Alex lives under a bridge, but that fabled rock bottom must be imminent.

Silence falls over the family analysts, downcast eyes resting on a coffee mug handle being pushed back and forth between someone’s thumbs. There isn’t much crying anymore. Those salty reserves were depleted long ago.

Accepting Uncertainty

When I moved to NYC I packed my Diane von Furstenberg, Wellbutrin, and mounting guilt for leaving so much tumult back in Texas. The unidentified seeds of my depression and anxiety sprouted in childhood, their insidious, invisible tendrils choking me through high school and college. Because my mental illnesses were finally able to be identified and medicated, I became able to live some semblance of a normal life.

Alex has not been so fortunate. There has been so much anger bestowed upon my brother due to his inexplicable mental state, including from me. My failure to consider he could not help himself lasted for several years, and it’s only been just recently that I’ve let anger evaporate and acceptance rain down on us both. When I think of my brother, it is with sadness, but it’s mostly with love and mercy. Our genes come from the same pool, and it just so happens that the combination he got created a long-suffering mental state that is either not yet defined in the mental health community or is shrouded in obscurity, yet to be matched and applied to him. It is not his fault.

Embracing Uncertainty

As an orderly person, it is a joy to classify and organize things, physically or mentally. Accepting the uncertainty of my brother’s co-occurrence of mental illness and addiction has been a paramount, unanticipated challenge. For so long family members have been hoping for the proverbial lightbulb to turn on in Alex’s mind, his final pivot toward a healed, “normal” life. Alex inspires me to reconsider normalcy, expectations, and success, because those things look different for every person. For my brother, it’s a sister who accepts and loves him from 1500 miles away. As if we were sitting next to each other, it is a virtual embrace, and for now it’s the best we can do.