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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

Emotions Are Exhausting

When my bipolar disorder brings me down, makes me question and even hate myself, it manifests in my body. I feel drained, weak. Depressive episodes are exhausting. It's all I can do to stay awake. Concentration is hard. Everything is hard.

A few years back, following a severe and prolonged manic episode, my doctor prescribed new meds, a mood stabilizer and anti-anxiety, increased antidepressants. All three medications warned of drowsiness and, together, made me slow and weary, at least at first. I took a while to adjust and we had to play with dosages for a bit, which is never fun. It sounds so simple in the doctor's office; we'll just up this and switch that, let me know if there are side effects. But my problem is, when there are side effects, I assume it's my fault and not the medication. Med adjustments can take months and that's months feeling sluggish, or depressed, or extremely anxious and jittery, not quite yourself sometimes all in the course of a few days.

I don't want to discount that, at that time, I was also undergoing psychoanalysis three days a week and it, too, was exhausting, emotionally and physically. Exploring my deepest shames and regrets and fears for an hour, usually sobbing (and sobbing lying down is hard), laying myself bare. I'd feel absolutely drained, then have to dust myself off and go through the day without dwelling on the painful stuff we'd spent an hour discussing. Tuesdays were the worst. I had to leave my house at 6:00 a.m. (and I am not a morning person) to get to my appointment at 7:00, then go to work. It's hard for me to just flip the switch and suddenly be fine to socialize and concentrate all day at a desk. All I wanted to do was take a nap. I would treat myself to a butter croissant and latte after my appointment in an attempt to steel myself for the day.

Often, particularly in those early morning sessions, I complained to my therapist that I was exhausted driving to and from them. She advised it was probably the medications still adjusting and to just stick it out, pull over to take a break if I needed to. One morning, I could barely keep my eyes open on the way in and told her so. After an emotional session, I still struggled to stay awake on the drive to work. I did pull over at a rest stop for a few minutes to close my eyes, but eventually had to keep going. I couldn't just stay at the rest stop all day. I was about a mile from work when it happened. I was driving and then suddenly I was slamming into a guard rail head-on, the crunch of metal on metal and shattering glass. I had fallen asleep at the wheel, just for a few seconds, and crashed on a bridge. I bounced from one side of the bridge to the other and hit the guard rail on the other side, too. I was able to gain control of the wheel and slowly pull myself to the side, my bumper scraping on the ground. When the cop showed up, and I told him what had happened, he said, "But it's 8:30 a.m.," as if I couldn't possibly have fallen asleep at this time. There was judgment in his voice. I didn't want to tell him that I'd just had a difficult therapy session and was still adjusting to new medications and was so unbelievably tired all the time. "You should have pulled over," he accused. I told him I did. I felt like I had to justify myself to this guy, felt ashamed of getting in a crash because of medications and therapy. I know I was lucky; no one was coming, I didn't fly off the bridge, I didn't get hurt. My car was totaled.

Last week I had a tough mental health week. It was the first time in a while. I've learned a lot in the last few years, like how to ask myself what's really going on and to not go down the rabbit hole of self-blame and guilt and shame. Sometimes that's really hard and I don't always do great at it. To get some of my feelings out and try to make sense of them, I wrote a list of fears and frustrations: I can't do anything right, everybody else is better and smarter than me, I'm not good enough. Myths, I know, that it's hard to convince myself in the throes of it. I was having a hard time parsing out my buzzing thoughts and focusing. I was stressed and felt like I was being pulled in too many directions. I was tired. All I wanted to do was sleep. So I allowed myself a few naps when I could afford it, closed my eyes, listened to my breath, tried to think one thought at a time and shut down those negative obsessions. I went for walks with my husband and dogs in the sunshine. I got through it.

It's strange writing/talking about bad times when you're over them. I'm a different person than I was last week. I can look at those fears and honestly say, that's ridiculous! But in the moment, it's so hard to convince myself that everything will be alright. That's my vision for A Tether to This World, the mental health recovery anthology I edited, coming out in May (pre-order your copy for only $10 now!): that these poems, essays, and stories will whisper to you, you'll be OK, there's hope, even when you're in the worst of it. I hope it will be a lifeline back to the world for those who really need it.

Be kind to yourself, friend. And remember that therapy and mental health care are hard work; cut yourself some slack and, get some sleep.

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