The cool thing about virtual therapy is that you can watch yourself cry.
I’ve been crying a lot lately and I’m not really sure why. The other day, I dropped the vacuum cleaner on my head. Yes, I know that probably sounds hilarious, but it was not. I was trying to vacuum my stairs, and I’d placed it on the steps above me. One thing led to another, and I got bonked. Hard. I screamed because it hurt, and then suddenly I was sobbing for what seemed like eternity.
There was no one around except Archie (my cat) who was already unhappy because he disapproves of vacuuming, yet I still felt embarrassed as if someone had seen me. “Get it together, idiot. You’re fine! There’s nothing to cry about,” I said to myself out loud. Finally, I did pull it together and stopped crying.
A few days later, I was scanning some film prints into digital files on my computer, and again, I accidentally hurt myself (this time the desk chair was the offender and my foot the victim), which resulted in more waterworks. That night, Chance was there and he heard me crying. Once again, I felt embarrassed that I had been so stupid and clumsy that I hurt myself doing routine tasks and couldn’t understand why I was crying so hard over such a trivial moment.
There is a lot going on right now. Even for people without any sort of mental health issue, this is a stressful time. And for people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, and so on, it really can feel like the world as we know it is ending.
In the week before my monthly Abilify injection, I tend to feel a little off. Stress can bring on psychotic symptoms, so it’s no surprise to me that every time I walk into the supermarket where I work, the voices in my head start chattering. Normally I just hear my name being called over and over, but the last time I worked, it was a slow, constant whisper of, “They’re going to get you. They’re all coming for you. They know what you did. You know what happens to girls like you.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I have pretty decent insight into my condition, so I can normally ignore voices like that when they’re piping up at an inconvenient time. Still, with my injection less than a week away, the weird thoughts keep popping into my head. I don’t have enough eyes… My cat is going to kill me… My coworker is an alien... Let’s just say I never thought I’d be so excited for a needle that isn’t a tattoo!
Right before Florida went into lockdown, I had a friend take some photos of me. He’s a friend from college with whom I recently reconnected over our love of photography. I was a little nervous about it because we hadn’t seen each other in a while, and because I am extremely critical when it comes to pictures of myself.
We had a great time and I took some photos of landscapes along the way. I really enjoyed getting to see my friend. We talked about all kinds of things, and for once, my mental health wasn’t the focus of the conversation.
When I saw the photos he had taken, I was horrified. Do I really look that ugly when I smile? was my first thought. I picked about eight photos where I wasn’t smiling much and asked my friend to use those as the final product. The edits and the composition were great, but I felt that by having used me as the subject, I’d ruined the photos.
I knew that I probably wouldn’t have liked most of the pictures my friend took of me before we even left for the shoot, and I thought I was prepared for that. I take “ugly” pictures of myself all the time on purpose. This one, for instance
I took this a few months ago when I was in group therapy, talking about the forces driving my compulsion to physically harm myself.
When I take a self portrait like this, I’m not intending to look pretty. Shock value and angst are the driving forces behind the photos I take of myself at home.
Between the underwhelming portraits of myself, my medication wearing off, and the stress of the pandemic, I have become even harder on myself than usual. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep at night, I am bullying myself. I feel like I’m getting picked on by the older kids in middle school–except I’m an adult now and I’m doing it to myself.
Unlike a child in middle school, I have more control over my surroundings and circumstances. Still, I have no idea how to reign in my own brain. It is exhausting constantly battling with myself over whether I deserve to eat a meal, go to bed at a reasonable hour, sleep in on a day when I don’t have to work, put on comfortable clothes, etc. I have trained myself to believe I must be doing everything at 100% all the time. No room for resting or mistakes.
During my video therapy session today, my therapist and I discussed forgiveness, which is a hard topic for me. I told her I cannot forgive myself for some of the situations I put myself in. Being a typical therapist, she asked me what I would say to a friend who had had my experiences. I hate this question because it forces me to be compassionate when I feel I do not deserve compassion. My therapist said that if I don’t forgive myself, the anger will consume me and I will not be able to ever really move on or get closure. And despite having told her earlier that I had neither the intent nor desire to process the trauma with her because “I’m over it,” I found myself crying.
“I know I need to talk about it, but I can’t,” I told her. “It’s eating me alive.” Internally, I was thinking that I must have sounded weak and dramatic, as if my therapist had never seen someone cry before.
I can no longer pretend that the trauma happened to “some other dumb girl who got what she deserved.” I have to accept that I put myself in risky situations with people who did not have my best interests at heart. Although I cannot imagine myself consoling a friend in my situation, I can imagine how I would talk to a child.
I frequently hear the voice of “Little Katie” in my head, a little girl who needs to be comforted and understood. If Little Katie had dropped the vacuum on her head, or thought she was ugly, I wouldn’t further belittle her and her pain. I would speak to her with compassion and empathy, two traits people often tell me I embody. I have to come to terms that all of the distinct voices in my head and all of the past selves I have tried to kill are a part of me just like the different styles of writing I use for various pieces of writing or the different ways I sing certain songs.
With a sudden increase in my amount of free time, I have a lot more opportunities to self-reflect, which may not necessarily be a good thing. Social media pressures us to constantly be productive, proclaiming that we should all be learning a new language or skill, trying new recipes, or deep cleaning our houses. But it’s okay if all you can do is take a shower or put on clean clothes. This is a time of extreme anxiety all over the world. It’s pretty normal if you don’t feel motivated to be productive all the time. I hope that as people take it easy on themselves, I can also learn to rest when I need to and give myself a break.