Stress management

I find that the most important thing when living with a mental disorder is stress management. Stress is something that can affect anyone working under too much strain for too long. The more strain we live under already the less we’re able to deal with unexpected events and emergencies. You might recognize when you’re having a bad day, your mood is already bad from the moment you drag yourself out of bed, and after that, every little thing that goes wrong just stacks up until you reach a point where you just want to give up on life, go home and bury yourself under your comforter for the rest of the day and possibly the next too.

Each little thing that goes wrong could be packed into a box and labeled as “a stressor” and each new box stacked on top of your mind represents the strain on your psyche. Balancing one box on top of your head is obviously a lot easier than balancing five or six. At one point or another, you will reach a point where even one more tiny box might send everything tumbling down over your head. Some people might naturally be able to balance more boxes than others, but we all have a breaking point.

My psychologist explained stress to me with a model similar to the the cute drawing above. I think the model was developed to help people with ASD and their families understand what causes meltdowns and how to manage their lives in a way that minimizes chances of such things occurring. But I think it’s an excellent model to explain stress and burnout as well. For us living with a mental disorder simply managing day to day life is already a strain and so it takes less boxes to push us to our breaking point. Luckily, we can make use of our symptoms to gauge where we’re at on the scale. Typically, symptoms worsen the more stressors we’re dealing with.

So, the first step in stress management is to sit down and try to identify the stressors in our lives. These are the things that drain our energy, that cause frustration, or put pressure on us. For instance, as an introvert social interaction tends to drain me, so I need to make time for myself to spend on my own in order to recharge. Even having to manage chores and deciding what to have for dinner can become draining when I’m already bogged down by other things. Another thing that puts a strain on me is uncertainty. Especially if I know there’s a chance something unpleasant is going to happen. When I worked for this grocery store delivering wares from storage and various providers to the two stores, I found I started to increasingly dread when we had to deliver to one of the stores in particular. Because there was a chance we would have to park the van on the opposite side of a busy road from the store and there was no crosswalk where we had to cross. I was always scared to death crossing the road, afraid of getting run over. The more times I had to deal with this unpleasant situation, the more I sought to avoid it until I stopped working for that company altogether.

One thing I was a little surprised to realize was that one of my favorite hobbies: gaming, actually contributed more to my stress. This is because games are typically goal-oriented and having to overcome challenges tends to encourage adrenaline production, which is very detrimental to getting your body to relax. I even had to quit playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons because the time-locked nature of the game stressed me out so much. I did not deal well with having to play the game on certain days in order to participate in events and gain items and recipes that I wanted for my island. Oftentimes, the events unfortunately often coincided with periods where I was too busy with other things to even think about spending hours playing Animal Crossing just so I could look for the recipes I wanted, which would appear at random – which was incredibly frustrating. Having to participate in combat is obviously also detrimental to getting your body to relax and most games tend to have some kind of combat element.

Rather, activities that are actually relaxing can be quiet, creative hobbies such as knitting, painting, or reading. Even just sitting on youtube just watching cute animal videos for a while is quite relaxing. Apparently, looking at cute fur-babies doing cute and funny things makes our brains produce the happy-relaxy juice.

A cute quokka to put a smile on your face.

Some might also find journal-writing quite relaxing with the added effect of putting your thoughts and emotions into words to help offload worries. Exercise is another thing that can help the body relax better and lower blood pressure. Obviously, doing the exercise itself might feel awful and straining, but it does help in the long run. One could even use the exercise as a way to channel anger and frustration in a healthy way. For an extrovert, something like going out to a dance club might be considered relaxing. But if so, one might consider holding back on the alcohol consumption.

Speaking of alcohol, certain foods and drinks might put more of a strain on your body, which in turn puts a strain on your psyche. For my own part, I have a couple of food intolerances which causes my intestines to protest quite painfully and often times even keeps me awake at night.

Sleep is another important thing to consider, which is quite a problem and a source of worry for an insomniac like myself. Stress management blends neatly into managing your sleep cycle as things that stress you out often contribute to terrible sleep, which in turn adds even more to your stress.

So, once you’ve identified the things that put a strain on you and the things you find pleasant and relaxing, the challenge comes in successfully balancing the two. You can’t simply remove all your stressors, but making the effort to reduce them will in turn reduce the time you need to dedicate to recharging. When you know what activities put a strain on you, you can take steps to plan some especially pleasant activities to balance things out when you know you have to do something particularly strenuous. Or when you have to deal with an unexpected stressor, taking steps to decompress afterward will help lessen the impact quite significantly.

Once you start to successfully manage your stress levels, your symptoms should also lessen. Perhaps even to a point medication is no longer necessary. Although your symptoms can return as soon as you’re put under more strain again, so you might have to make permanent concessions in your life in order to stay healthy and happy. Prioritizing is an absolute necessity.

For my part, there are jobs I’ve had to realize I can’t ever do as they’re simply too stressful. I’ve also had to change my diet quite a bit, of which the hardest part has been having to go without my favorite treats and snacks. In turn, I haven’t had to cut down on my gaming too much, which is nice.

On decency and dealing with an emergency

I had to call an ambulance for a complete stranger today.

I was at work when I heard drunken rambling. I couldn’t see the person and having the problems I do interacting with other human beings at the best of times, I did my best to ignore it and focus on my work. Then I was approached by a young girl of maybe 12 at the most, asking for help. She said there was a man who had collapsed on the ground and couldn’t get back up.

As an adult, there’s only one thing you can do, when a kid asks you for help. And that’s to put on your adult pants and deal with the situation. Even if you don’t want to. And I really, really didn’t want to. But I knew the guilt of doing nothing would eat me up. So, I went with her to see the man. He was conscious, if not entirely lucid. He was obviously drunk and lay on the ground where he’d fallen, unable to even sit up. I tried to ask him if he was hurt. He insisted he wasn’t, but he couldn’t get up and couldn’t quite get his legs to work right. I thought I saw what looked like blood seeping through his pants at one knee, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want to be and figured it could just as well have been something he’d spilled on himself as he fell.

I did my best to at least get him up to sit, because he was lying awkwardly on his side. But he was big and heavy. Thankfully a woman, who looked to be some kind of social worker came over and between the two of us, we managed to get him to sit up, at least. He kept insisting that he just needed help getting back up onto his bench, but the woman suggested I should call an ambulance. I’d been considering it myself, but I was grateful for her saying it out loud. It might have taken me longer to get to it if she hadn’t. I stayed with the man until the paramedics arrived. Then, booked it. I thought about mentioning the wet patch I’d seen over one knee, but I figured the paramedics would do their job without my input.

This was actually my second time as an adult having to deal with finding a stranger collapsed in public. The first time, I witnessed a young woman suffering some kind of seizure just outside my local mall. I’d just gone out for takeout, that’s all. Then I saw her, just slowly sliding down to the ground as she started convulsing. I think she might have had to deal with it before, because she’d managed to put herself in the recovery position. But she was alone, and I was the first one there. I had absolutely no idea what to do. I think I tried to check on her, see if I could get a response or anything. She was unresponsive. I was lucky that the mall was full of people. I remember there was a woman, who appeared to be somewhat in shock. She kept repeating: “I don’t know what to do.” I didn’t have my phone on me, so I couldn’t call an ambulance. Luckily there was a man who did. I didn’t want to just stand there doing nothing, so I suggested the woman go fetch mall security, assuming they would have had some first aid training. As soon as there was someone there who appeared to know what they were doing, I was out of there.

I hated not knowing what to do. I hated feeling helpless. So, I half resolved to take some first aid class, just in case I got into a similar situation. I never did. That was a few years ago.

I don’t know if things had gone differently today if I’d taken a first aid class. I don’t think I’d have acted differently. I don’t think it would have affected me any different either. Seeing another person in distress, is very distressing in and of itself. Unfortunately, many people choose to look the other way. They don’t know how to deal with the situation and choose simply not to. I myself would be inclined to choose this option. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I shy away from any kind of responsibility. I still manage to “man up” when necessary, but as long as I don’t deem it necessary, I’m happier to run away. See no evil, hear no evil and all that. No need to play hero when there’s no need to.

Regardless of what I choose to do about the situation though, once I see what I’d rather not, I can’t un-see it. It sticks with me regardless of what I do. I take everything to heart and it’s better to be able to tell myself: I did everything I could, given the situation. Rather than have to beat myself up over what I did or didn’t do.

As I sat waiting for the ambulance, I had to interact with the old man. He was in such a sorry state. Filthy from lying in the mud and disheveled. To put it bluntly, he looked like a bum. He even called himself a bum at one point. He was wearing a hospital shirt underneath his jacket and told me he’d been hospitalized more than once. He said it was no use, that they couldn’t do anything for him. He said they couldn’t give him what he wanted. I didn’t ask what it was he wanted. I didn’t really want to know. He said he was all alone. No parents. He’d been waiting for a man to deliver his medication. But he didn’t want to sit alone in his messy apartment. So he’d come to the bench to sit and had himself some beer. “To make myself feel a little better”, he said. He tried to light a cigarette, but he could barely move his hands properly and misjudged the distance between the lighter and the end of his cigarette. And the wind kept blowing the flame out. So I helped him light it by shielding the flame and guiding his hands. His hands and arms were so stiff. He asked if I could just light it for him, but I told him I couldn’t. I assume he meant by putting the cigarette to my own mouth, which wasn’t going to happen with the pandemic and besides, I hate cigarette smoke. Eventually though, we got it lit.

It was such a short exchange. But so absolutely heartbreaking. I’d like to think that I acted with compassion and did some good for the poor guy. He was just so lonely and hurting. I still feel like I should have been able to do more somehow. I still feel bad for running for the hills the moment the paramedics arrived. I excuse myself by telling myself I had work to do. But in truth, I just couldn’t bring myself to do more than I’d already done.

Experiences like these tend to stay with you. Especially if you’re the sort to agonize over everything. It got me thinking about what I could do to help alleviate some of the agonizing. Being able to tell myself I did a decent thing, that I was brave enough to face an awful situation and treat an old man with a bit of compassion and dignity helps a great deal. Giving myself some time to recover and just process things probably helps too. I considered making myself a relaxing cup of tea. Which would probably have been a whole lot better than cramming as much sugary goodness into my mouth the minute I got home. Turning to sweets is almost as unhealthy as turning to alcohol to cope. Next time, I’ll make an effort to make myself turn to tea instead. A nice cup of tea and some quiet relaxation.

I did want to make a point with this post, besides simply sharing an experience that weighs heavily on my mind. It is that if and when you find yourself in a stressful and unwanted position where another person needs your help, it doesn’t have to be a choice between compassion and self-preservation. But whatever you do, it is important to take the time to take care of yourself after the fact and acknowledge when you find yourself out of your depth. As long as you make sure to take care of your own needs, it’s possible to extend your limit as necessary – but only for a short time.

And you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be super to be a hero, you don’t even have to be a hero to be a decent human being.

Eccentricity

One of the hallmarks of STPD seems to be eccentricity. Odd thinking, speaking, strange appearance etc. So I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. How do I and others with STPD stand out in a crowd? Honestly, I can’t really tell myself.

Let’s start with an easy one. Clothing. I wear jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and comfy sweaters. Easy, comfortable and pretty anonymous. I wear mostly black or muted colors in earthy tones. I do have one bright pink hoodie, which was a gift and which I wear because it’s comfy like you wouldn’t believe! So, anyway far as I can tell, I dress normal. The weirdest piece of clothing I own is a super-soft gray bunny hoodie with floppy ears on the hood, which I do wear outside on occasion and people seem to find it adorable. And it’s warm and comfy like you wouldn’t believe.

Others with STPD I’ve seen also looked perfectly normal to me. The one person that stood out the most to me appearance-wise was one girl who had a bit of a punk-rock style going which wasn’t really a stand-out in Copenhagen. And besides, clothing styles belonging to identifiable subcultures such as goth and punk-rock tend to be excluded from the eccentric clothing criteria in STPD. All in all, we basically looked like average college kids.

So where does the whole dressing strangely even come from? Is it even relevant in this day and age? Surely I can’t have been the only one to think: “How can I have STPD? I don’t look like I have STPD”. But maybe clothes are just an easy thing to focus on. I think the odd clothing style is but one of many ways the schizotypal brain can express its uniqueness. We wear certain clothing for many different reasons. We wear what we feel comfortable in and what we like, what makes us happy, and we use it to express how we want the world to see us.

I wear what I wear chiefly because it’s comfy and secondly because it’s fairly anonymous and so I’m not likely to stand out in a crowd. I don’t like to stand out. It makes me nervous when people notice me. But the thing about clothing is, whatever you wear can stand out depending on the environment you’re in. A bright pink hoodie isn’t likely to stand out too much on a shopping trip, but it surely is at a funeral. A nice suit and tie is generally associated with giving off a good impression most places, but it might not be the thing to wear walking down a shady neighborhood at night. Knowing what to wear when can be a bit difficult to keep in mind, especially when your mind’s already so cluttered. So it might be we either spend too little or too much time on our clothing choices. But so what?

One thing I like to do when looking at the criteria for STPD is not only to ask: is this thing present in my life? but also: is it a problem? If it’s not a problem, then it’s not worth paying attention to. The way I dress is not a problem, so it doesn’t matter. If, on the other hand I looked so alien that people actively avoided me or I continuously found myself in trouble because of what I wear, then it’s worth paying attention to. As mentioned, we can dress to express ourselves, but even when we don’t do so consciously, people around us are likely to judge us based on our appearance. Someone who’s tattooed all over their face isn’t likely to land a job as a salesperson or receptionist. So, if there’s a chance your clothing style or overall appearance communicates something other than what you want and creates problems for you or holds you back, then it’s worth paying attention to. Otherwise, feel free to express yourself as you want and wear what you feel comfortable in. Luckily, in this day and age you have to go pretty far out clothing-wise to really seem too alien.

So anyway, what is it about STPD that we tend to stand out as eccentrics? Although I think you can certainly be eccentric and not have STPD and have STPD and seem pretty normal on the outside. I think there might be a quality in the way we think or how our brain works that makes us more susceptible to developing STPD. I read somewhere and I unfortunately forgot where, that there was some research evidence linking the Big Five personality trait ‘Openness’ with Schizophrenia and schizophrenia-like disorders like STPD. It made me think of that thing some skeptics like to say: “Being open-minded is fine, but you don’t want to be so open that your brain falls out”. I wonder if that’s kind of what happens? That we’re so open to new experiences that we kind of lose ourselves?

When talking about Autism Spectrum Disorders people on the spectrum themselves like to point out that they aren’t wrong or broken. They’re just wired differently. They don’t need to be fixed, they just need to be heard and accepted as they are. They’re “not neurotypical” or “neurodivergent”. I think this is true in many ways for people with STPD. We certainly do have problems that we need help treating. I’m certainly not denying that! But I think we also tend to pathologize what’s simply different even when it’s not really causing significant problems. After all, sometimes it’s just easier to cut down the tree rather than build the road around it.

The very idea of pathologizing simple eccentricity does seems strange to me. We don’t typically go to our doctors because we’re “weird” or “different”. We go because the noise inside our heads is so loud we can’t sleep, can’t hear ourselves think or focus or fully follow what’s going on around us. We go because trying to keep up with the rest of the world is stressing us out, wearing us down and making our brains go haywire with all the warning and stop signals it can throw at us until we actually stop and listen to our own bodies, and finally pay attention to our needs. And sometimes our loved ones make us go because we’re alienating ourselves and everyone around us. It’s not simply because we’re strange. It’s because the strangeness goes so far that it creates problems in our lives that we need to address. Being eccentric in and of itself is rarely ever the problem.

Weird, odd, strange, eccentric, different. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. They can bring color and variety to our lives, broaden our horizons, open up new paths we never imagined. Strange isn’t always easy for sure, but it’s not impossible to live with. It’s when strangeness goes too far, becomes utterly unrecognizable, isolating and makes creating meaningful connections difficult or impossible. That’s when it needs to be addressed.

Reading

Growing up, I had two passions: Drawing and reading. Once I grew out of wanting to be Superman when I grew up, I wanted to be either an artist or a writer. To this day, I still want to be an artist or a writer. Depression put a serious wrench in my artistic aspirations however and after about 7 years slugging through university with little more than a useless bachelor’s degree to show for it, I had to finally acknowledge my reading problems.

Again and again I would force myself to sit down and read a text and while I understood each individual word, by the end of the page, I had no idea of what I’d just read. I could still read novels okay and follow the story as long as it was simple enough. No Dosteyevskij or even George R.R. Martin for me, unfortunately. My psychology textbooks and academic articles? They may as well have been written in German for all the good they’ve done me. I’m amazed I managed to make it as far as I did.

Some information would make it through my brain soup and stick around for a while, but then some new information would come along and knock the old right back out again. I had the bizarre experience of re-taking an exam and pulling the exact same topic from the first exam. An article on language learning and Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.  A couple questions I answered correctly the first time around, I couldn’t remember the second time, but I answered other questions correctly the second time around. Luckily for me, I passed the second time. I was just happy I wouldn’t have to re-visit the article from hell a third time.

Even something as supposedly simple as job applications can be hard for me to work through sometimes. Going through dozens of them in a day to find just one or two that sound promising? That is seriously taxing work. More than once, I received a call from a workplace I couldn’t even remember from all the applications I’d sent. Makes for a pretty lousy job interview when you can’t even remember what job you’re applying for.

Other times, I’d apply for a job only to later realize they were located about half-way across the island if not at the exact opposite end. Some people can commute two hours back and forth to work. I can’t. Two hours of public transit in the middle of rush hour? Yeah, no.

It was something of a revelation to find out others with schizotypal disorder had similar problems with reading. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s a schizotypal thing in particular or more of a general effect of long-term stress. I might try to look that up sometime.

A part of me still refuses to acknowledge that I can’t actually read anything more complex than the equivalent of a Harlequin novel. I was the born academic. I’ve always loved reading and learning. What good is an intellectual who can’t even read? About as much good as a boat made of Swiss cheese, that’s what. So I still routinely expend and exhaust myself trying to slug through all the reading and writing I can manage. It’s still almost entirely simple romance novels and roleplay posts, but I like to think I’m slowly working my way up to something more substantial. Maybe I’ll even eventually find a good use for all the light novels and roleplays I’ve devoured.

Anyway, this whole post came from trying for months to stable together something more academically grounded for this blog. I’ve been ruminating over one topic in particular: The relationship between Asperger’s and Schizotypal disorder, or the differences and similarities between the two. But I wanted to study up on what kind of research has been actually been published on the topic. As you might have guessed from this whole post, it’s not going so great for me.

Over-inflated Regret

I don’t know if anyone else has this experience, but I am frequently haunted by my own perceived mistakes. Not only actual, real mistakes, but stupid mistakes too; like mistaking a duck for another bird or a minor misunderstanding in an otherwise perfectly innocent conversation. Even forgetting a timed quest in a game cab just about ruin my day. It’s supremely annoying to say the least. It can also be downright crippling. It can be hard to initiate a conversation or go out and do something – anything, when there’s a good chance I’ll sorely regret it and end my day buried under my comforter wishing I never left.

 

I haven’t found any good sure-fire way to work around this other than try to practice patience, forgiveness and live in the here and now as much as possible. I know logically that my reaction is disproportionate to what’s actually happening but I can’t control my feelings. Eventually, I forget most things, but there’s always some that linger and pile up over time. On my worst days, they become suffocating. Each and every memory becoming a mental hammer to beat myself down with. It leaves me feeling like the next time I go out and make a “mistake” it’ll be like the straw that breaks the camel’s back so to speak. It also makes it very hard to feel motivated to venture out of my comfort zone at all.

 

It’s about as difficult to explain to others as it is to avoid. Failure to make myself understood absolutely will and often does trigger the mental wrecking ball of regret. Talking about it even now, I feel like I’m exaggerating and that it’s just an excuse to stay home, do nothing and feel sorry for myself. Phrases like “suck it up, Buttercup” and “put on your big girl pants” come to mind. And yet, attempts to arbitrarily push myself to ignore my emotional state only pushes me straight into depression. On the other hand, I can’t very well spend my life cocooned in my own bedroom. I’d not only bore myself to death, but also guilt myself into depression.

 

Being stuck in a position where doing anything and doing nothing both leads to unhappiness is really uncomfortable. I end up choosing one or the other more or less at random depending on how optimistic and impulsive I’m feeling in any given moment and just hope for the best.

 

I’ve a sense that doing something is generally better than doing nothing, but I don’t really feel it to be true enough to always keep me motivated. In the end, I fear I end up doing nothing more often than doing something and so my fear of doing anything is too rarely challenged. The only way I know of conquering fear is to challenge it. I just wish it didn’t feel so awful every single time.

 

inappropriate or constricted affect

What on earth does that even mean?

A quick Google search describes constricted affect as a restriction in the range or intensity of display of feelings. While inappropriate affect is the display of feelings inappropriate for the situation.

I’ve already talked some about the restriction in the range or intensity of display of feelings in Symptom: Emotionally Inexpressive.

Inappropriate affect however, I haven’t talked about at all. It’s fairly easy for me to find examples of this in my own life.

Two memories in particular stand out to me:

The first, I was younger than 15 at least. Maybe 13-14 or a couple years younger? I was in an indoor swimming pool with my dad, his girlfriend and my youngest half brother. I knew the girlfriend could swim. She would jump into the deep end and dog-paddle around. Then, suddenly she began calling for help while splashing around in the deep end of the pool. Maybe she had suffered a panic attack and forgotten how to swim. She wasn’t a very good swimmer to begin with. I didn’t understand any of this. All I saw was that this woman, who I knew could swim, was splashing around as if she didn’t and people were starting to look concerned. It was so funny to me, I couldn’t help but laugh. Being the one closest to her, I simply swam over and pushed her to the shallow end of the pool where she could reach the bottom and get out of the pool herself. Chuckling all the way. It was an indoor pool. Where was the danger? The harm? Of course, I was reprimanded by the attending life guard for laughing. She could have drowned! But she knew how to swim! I know now, that being able to swim is not the same as being unable to drown.

Looking back now, I can see how inappropriate my laughter was. But I still remember how absurd the whole situation was to me. The way she splashed around looked really funny. I just didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

The second memory is somewhat similar. This one was in high school. The high school I attended had a proud history with not a single suicide among its students. This is significant, given the high suicide rate in Greenland. That record was broken when the school was hit with a suicide epidemic in my second or third year. 3 students killed themselves that year. Including one of my classmates.

After every suicide, the school would gather all the students and hold a memorial. 1 minute’s silence for the poor sod, every single time. By the third time, it went from horribly tragic to downright absurd. Students started asking each other: “Who’s next?” As if there was some invisible serial killer going around offing random people.

At the last memorial, I stood at the back, chuckling to myself. Laughing in the face of tragedy. This time I was well aware of how inappropriate that was. It was no laughing matter. But it still struck me as funny. 3 people, who’d suffered were dead by their own hands and all the rest of us could offer was a speech and a minute’s silence. It was so goddamn sad it was funny.

But yeah, laughing at a memorial is hardly appropriate behavior.

We tend to do odd things when we don’t know what to do. Some lash out and become violent. Others are paralyzed and overcome with their own inadequacies. Some, like me develop a warped sense of humor and laugh at tragedy.

Behavior that is inexplicable or inappropriate when looking from the outside, usually makes sense when seen from the inside. Our behavior, no matter how insane are bound by their own internal logic. Even if we can’t quite explain it, it makes sense to us. It feels natural. I couldn’t not laugh.

Reacting to horrible things by smiling or laughing isn’t actually as out there as it might sound. Laughter and smiles are mechanisms deeply ingrained in humans. They have a relaxing, calming effect. Even disarming. After all, people will like someone who’s smiling better than someone who’s frowning. It’s an excellent coping and defense mechanism. For example, we automatically laugh when we get tickled. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly enjoy being tickled, even though it does feel good to laugh.

So, do I laugh at horrible things because I’m a horrible person who lacks empathy? I don’t think that’s the case at all. But it’s very easy to make that assumption. If tragedy makes you laugh, you’re assumed to be horrible, if comedy makes you cry, you’re assumed to be overly sensitive and if you get angry at nothing at all, you’re an excellent target for bullying.

So, I think inappropriate affect is an expression of a divide between what goes on on the inside and what goes on on the outside. Either due to the outside stuff being interpreted incorrectly inside your head, like putting 2 and 2 together and getting chicken pot pie, or because you’re reacting to something going on inside your mind that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the outside world. I find that spending too much time with your own thoughts tends to dull awareness of what’s actually going on around you. My point is, the inappropriate behavior has meaning and logic behind it. Just not meaning or logic that’s obvious when seen from the outside.

Sickness – reason or excuse?

One thing I tend to struggle with a lot is distinguishing between genuine need for rest and laziness. I’m constantly second-guessing myself whenever I decide to call in sick from work for instance, because there’s nothing physically wrong with me. I know I could technically go to work and get it done, although not as well and I’d be exhausted and utterly miserable. On top of that, I’d usually be looking forward to an even more miserable time the following day.

Eventually, if I kept pushing myself, I’d reach a point where I can’t make myself do anything at all. That’s surely not a healthy work ethic. I certainly don’t think it’s very constructive to push myself to the breaking point. But when is it okay to stop up and take a break? And how long should that break last? At which point does need for restitution become plain laziness?

I’ve been on a very long sick leave from job-hunting and even though I don’t at all feel ready to go back to that particularly unpleasant rat-race, I felt more or less forced to. It was either that, or stay in an internship I felt entirely unsuited for and found increasingly more stressful and confining.

I didn’t want to drag myself out of bed and either spent most of the day twiddling my thumbs, waiting for customers to service, a task I’ve always despised, even if it’s really just scanning in wares and accepting payment. Most of the time. That is when there was a bar to scan and it showed the right price. Then there was the greens. At the store I worked, we sold surplus goods, so the actual wares tended to wary and the greens varied a lot in type and quality. Often times, the prices could even change throughout the day, depending on quality, quantity and how well they sold. It was confusing and I hate that kind of uncertainty.

It’s the weirdest things that can wear you down. Simply standing around all day wears on the feet and back like you wouldn’t believe. Doing nothing at all tires and stresses and simply not knowing what to expect from a workday can, when you’re not the sort of person thrilled by surprises, really, really drain your energy levels.

Then, when you’re spending all your energy out at work, you come home to dinner that needs cooking, dishes, cleaning, laundry and all the wonderful elements of being a responsible adult. I consider myself very lucky I don’t have any children to look after on top of all that. Sometimes I wonder how anyone can manage all those things. My parents have both done a pretty decent job of it for decades. In my dad’s case all alone for most of my youngest little brother’s life.

For them, simply pulling yourself together and get the job done seems to do the trick. Most of the time anyways. But for myself, I find that approach absolutely miserable.

If I can make work and chores fun on the other hand, it’s so much easier to get done. And taking lots of breaks tends to make things much easier and more fun. Trouble is, breaks can take hours, even days. And then the work piles up to epic proportions, to the point where I’m exhausted just looking at it. To the point where I feel I need to take a break before I’ve even begun.

It’s so much easier, to sit down and disappear into my own, little world instead of with all the things I should, but really just don’t feel like.

It’s understandable that when you’re sick, you can’t do as much as when you’re healthy. But in my experience it’s maybe not so much a matter of whether you’re sick or not, but how sick. For longtime sickness, you tend to have good days and bad days. It’s not like the flu or a cold, where you’re sick and then get over it. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if it’s a good day before I get out of bed. Most mornings, I’m tired but otherwise feel okay. Most days the mood will generally hold throughout the day, other days, I can suffer a major panic attack right after breakfast or on the way out the door.

In reality, the panic attacks aren’t something that come straight out of the blue. None of my symptoms are. It’s usually a slow build-up where I feel maybe a bit stressed, a bit down, but otherwise okay. I think it’s better to alleviate some of the strain while it’s nothing but that. I just have a hard time figuring out a way to properly do that without taking the whole day off. And it feels so incredibly wrong to call in sick when I’m still more or less okay. It’s much easier to justify staying home, when I can barely get out of bed or the mere thought of stepping out the door sends me hyperventilating. It’s either one extreme or the other. Neither’s a good solution. Life shouldn’t be a choice between working yourself to death or be dismissed as lazy and selfish.

I started this post intending to write about whether or not I might be using my diagnosis as an excuse to work less and play more. Instead it became a bit of a rant about how much I dislike work. But they’re sort of connected. Work sucks, play’s fun. I’d much rather play than work.

So then, do I feel like crap because I’m actually sick, or because I’d really, really just rather stay home and play, and just can’t find any better excuse besides making myself sick? Or maybe do I dislike work so much I make myself sick to avoid it?

Thinking about it, it’s possible, isn’t it? When you’re sick, you get to stay in bed. Exactly what I most feel like doing most days. Then it feels more like a reward than a necessity. If you’re sick, you can’t be expected to work, which we’ve already established I’m not exactly a fan of.

Am I so lazy that I’m making myself sick just to have an excuse to laze about?

Cognitive Training

When looking at indicators for successful recovery from mental illness, I’ve sometimes seen intelligence, IQ or cognitive abilities mentioned. Personally, I haven’t often viewed my own intelligence with much favor. After all, what good is an above average IQ, if you can’t even manage to keep your own kitchen in order? Furthermore, if you’ve found your IQ score a little on the low side, don’t worry. Like your muscles, you can improve your “brain power” with training – and as I explain later, being good at puzzles doesn’t necessarily mean being good at living. But that too is a matter of training and practice.

So, when talking about cognitive training, what is it exactly we’re talking about?

Cognitive psychology covers everything from critical thinking to attention and memory. It is what we use when we read, write, remember tasks and shopping lists, follow conversations and work on puzzles and challenges among other things. When you recall items on your shopping list, search out a particular item on the shop shelves or spot a friend in the crowd, you use your cognition to do so.

Attention and memory in particular have been shown to suffer when a person is in a state of prolonged stress. You might notice that you forget more easily or have a harder time concentrating on tasks when you’re under great pressure, especially if you’ve been under pressure for a long time.

So, how does cognitive training work? Simply by using your brain. You can easily find several good “brain training” around. On the App store on my phone, I found Brain Training by Triangle Labs Inc., Elevate by Elevate Labs and Lumosity by Lumos Labs Inc. for free. Even well-known puzzle and memory games like crossword puzzles and the like can be used to train your attention, concentration and memory – or various video games for that matter. However, you can sit all day and “git gud” at a game, but then all you do is get really good at that one particular game. The trick is to combine several games to train different skills and then transfer those skills into everyday life.

I, for instance have struggled a great deal with concentration and memory. I couldn’t concentrate on my studies and couldn’t remember the texts I’d read. I’d also constantly lose focus and had trouble keeping track of conversations. And yet I had little trouble remembering every Pokemon and their types, attacks and weaknesses. Or follow the juicy development between the main characters of this or that cheap romance novel.

So, I joined a cognitive training group to try and figure out what exactly was going wrong and try and train my brain not only to remember Pokemons, but shopping lists and scientific articles too.

The cognitive training part of the group consisted of playing especially developed games on the computer, where you use various parts of your brain to solve problems. There’re attention and memory games, where you remember figures and where on the screen you saw them, names and faces, spoken messages and puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi. Each game started would start out easy, then slowly grow in difficulty.

The games themselves were a lot of fun, but the really helpful part of the group was spending time in the group as a whole talking about the similarities between the games and tasks in our daily lives.

Suddenly, the Tower of Hanoi wasn’t just neat little disks on pegs, but piles of boxes in a cramped room that need to be moved to create more space or the random figure somewhere on your screen became your keys located somewhere in your room.

We also spent a lot of time learning each other’s names, going over a couple helpful strategies. Names and faces are a real chore to remember, especially when you have to remember a lot at once. But you can help your memory along by creating connections or more meaning. Like, “Her name is Mary, like my aunt”, “Michael likes knit sweaters”, “Basil like the spice” or “Stella is a star”. Then, when you see the person, you can help your memory along. My aunt = Mary. Knit sweater = Michael etc.

The cognitive training didn’t only stay on the computer, but was pulled into daily living and chores. When you clean up your room, you locate objects, identify them and categorize them to place them in their rightful places. Granted, real life is three-dimensional and full of distractions, but the task in and of itself is the same. It’s just like the computer game, but in hard mode. Once your brain becomes accustomed to performing the task in simple 2D on the computer, it becomes easier to perform in real life. All you need is to make the connection between the game and the real life task and your brain will know what’s needed.

Over the course of the group, I found motivation and interest in the computer games waning, but I’m still using my brain every day, concentrating on tasks and chores, remembering said tasks and chores and how to perform them. It’s become a fun, little exercise when I’m playing a game to try and think of ways how the game translates into real life.

One really helpful technique I’ve learned from the group is to chop up big tasks into smaller tasks and steps. Dishes get divided up by category, so a big pile of dishes becomes smaller, more manageable piles by category: cutlery, plates, cups and finally pots and pans. Cleaning and tidying is similarly cut up into steps. When tidying my room, I start by sorting the trash, then the laundry. Then I usually lose momentum and end up in front of the computer until the trash and laundry piles up again. But once each item has a box, place or category, it becomes easier to deal with. Feels like I’ve mentioned something like this before on the blog somewhere… well, memory’s still not the greatest, but it’s getting better, I think.

Have I mentioned I also find lists and plans helpful? Writing down each step needed to perform a task and how to do it helps keep focus and reduces a big chore to simply following a set of instructions. Cleaning the bathroom starts with filling up a bucket with soapy water, gathering up the necessary supplies and then starting pouring some cleaning solvent into the toilet, then with washing the walls, the sink and shower finishing cleaning the toilet and then the floor. Like following a recipe when baking.

Nowadays, I’m maybe still not at the level of scientific articles, but I’ve slowly upgraded to more meaty texts than cheap romance novels and at least shopping lists aren’t a problem anymore.

Not My World

 This is really more of a personal rant than anything else. It’s mostly an expression of my own depression and feeling of disconnect from the rest of the world. But perhaps you might find something familiar or useful anyways. Further down, I touch briefly on thoughts of suicide. If you struggle with thoughts of suicide yourself, my advice is: find a reason to stick around just a little longer and seek help. The way back out of depression isn’t easy, true. Sometimes you have to crest the hill yourself to see the light and find that you’re not as alone as you thought you were. Death is permanent, depression isn’t.

 Sometimes, I don’t feel as if I belong in this world, like there’s no home for me, no use or purpose. I’m just a round peg trying to fill out a square hole. I don’t understand half the things other people do or say, I’ve no connection to the world at large. If it weren’t for the far too few connections I do have, I’d have been completely lost, adrift in a cold and uncaring world.

I feel as if I’ve nothing to offer the world and that the world has nothing to offer me. That I’m a waste of resources that could have been used to help someone else more deserving and in more need. I’ve no right to complain, and truthfully not much to complain about either. It’s my own fault that I’m miserable. In fact, I’ve nothing at all to be so miserable about. I don’t even know how or why I’m so miserable. Am I truly such a horrible person? That I can’t simply be content and focus on the good things in life? ‘Cause surely there are good things, even if I can’t see them right in the moment.

I’ve a place to live, an income, of sorts. Things to do. But I’ve no home, no real purpose and I’m worse than superfluous – I’m a burden. No matter where I go, I’m nothing more than a guest, a beggar or a prisoner. Living off other people’s good will. It would be ungrateful of me to complain, to express discontent. But I feel it all the same.

Why can’t I just be content with a crappy cashier job? Live in a crappy apartment, content with crappy neighbors or crappy roommates? People do that all the time. They get on with their lives. Some even enjoy it. Why do I have to be so unreasonable? I know the world isn’t fair and no amount of complaining is ever going to make it fair.

I’ve so many people working to help me. I feel like I should be more thankful than I am. And truly, I’ve come so far this past year and a half. Why is it so hard to see the improvements? Why is it such an effort to see the positives? Am I such an awful person I can’t acknowledge all the amazing help I’ve received? How lucky I am? Shouldn’t I be over these bouts of depression? Or at least better at dealing with them? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel entitled to comfort or better life. At least I don’t think I do. I just don’t consider a poor, miserable life worth living.

The other day, I had a pretty good meeting with a psychologist working on a project to help young people into jobs and education. We brainstormed ideas for me to find more fulfilling work and she had a lot of good ideas. She was also a good listener and all in all, I think the meeting went well and I felt fine. Still, I felt lost and adrift. And walking home from that meeting, I just wanted to step right off into traffic, preferably in front of a nice big truck. I didn’t. I had no desire to ruin anybody else’s day. I felt like I wasted everyone’s time somehow.

It made me think of the movie, Up in the Air with George Clooney. At one point, they fire a woman who seems perfectly calm and put together, who then frankly informs them she intends to throw herself off a bridge back home. If a person neither looks nor sounds desperate, how would anyone know if they truly intend on acting upon such a drastic impulse? Surely a competent, intelligent, young woman would find her own reasons to keep going, even when everything looks hopeless.

I don’t feel particularly depressed or emotionally unstable. I’m just so tired of looking for the silver lining in every cloud hanging over my head. Always trying to see the positive when everything just looks like shit.

I will say this though: I am not suicidal. No sudden or violent death appeals to me and I’ve no intention of acting on any, random suicidal impulse. I’d much prefer a comfortable, dark corner somewhere to slowly, quietly decompose over decades and decades.

If only I could kill off my soul and be content with simply a life and not have to worry about living a good life. I wonder if a lobotomy could do the trick? Pity it’s no longer practiced. Not that adding damage to problem would likely solve anything.

I’ve been told that intelligence is a resource, but my intelligence has brought me neither happiness nor fulfillment. It’s just a bigger cup to fill when all I have to fill it with is a couple of pebbles. It just feels more empty. I think I could have been happier if I was dumber; had a smaller cup to fill.

I feel broken. Irreparably broken. My brain as useless and burdensome as a pair of floppy, paralyzed legs.

If I were a dog back home in Greenland,  I’d likely have been shot or drowned. Nobody needs a useless dog. But then, if I remember correctly, Greenland still has the highest percentage of suicides in the world. I wonder how many of them felt like I feel now? Like a lame dog to be put out of its and everyone else’s misery.

Unlike them though, I have no problem finding excuses to stick around anyway. I know there’re people who would be absolutely heartbroken if I were gone and I might be useless in the grand scheme of things, but I’m not leaving my loved ones behind if it means I can’t ever come back to them. Moreover, there’re still things I want to do that I can’t do if I’m dead. And if all else fails, I’ll stick around purely out of spite. Let my two middle fingers be the last thing to disappear, when the rest of me is mulch piled in my dark, little compost-corner.

This world might not be my world, but I’m living in it. So I might as well make the best of it. With a little luck, I’ll even manage to find a way to make it a little better for others as well. And who knows, maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll even manage to find a couple pebbles of happiness for myself.

Symptom: Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is a negative symptom of Schizophrenia and can be present in Schizotypal disorders as well. It is when a person shuns social contact and spends large quantities of time by themselves, largely ignoring the world around them.

I think, for much of it, this tendency is closely tied to social anxiety. After all, we tend to avoid what we fear and brings us discomfort. But that’s not the whole reason behind it. At least for myself, sometimes I just get so tired or so distracted that social interaction becomes more of a burden than a pleasure. It simply takes too much effort. My brain, like a sore muscle, screams out for rest so it can recuperate.

For myself, I often have periods of time, a day or two usually, sometimes up to several weeks, where I can’t stand the thought of looking at another human being. During those periods of time I find communication, even by text, extremely difficult.

Usually, these periods of isolation coincide with depressive periods. I’ll huddle in my room, in front of the computer, immersing myself in fiction. Sometimes I’ll spend days just playing video games. Other times I’ll binge-watch TV or anime series or Youtube videos, or spend every waking hour just reading mindless, fluffy romance novels. Just anything that keeps my mind turned off, away from reality. If one pastime fails to distract me well enough, I’ll move on to another before I have to think too deeply on what it is I’m doing.

Any time I find myself under any kind of pressure, I risk lapsing into this isolation tendency. Exam periods were especially harrowing. I had to retake a couple exams, but somehow I managed to get through them in the end.

Too much social contact can also be a serious strain. I get exhausted just by being around a lot of people, even when I don’t have to talk to anyone. Talking to a lot of people over a period of time seems to be especially draining though. Even just spending too much time with family can leave me exhausted and irritable, to the point where simply having another person just quietly breathing in the same room becomes unbearable.

I’m extremely introverted by nature, and so I actually need some time to myself, to recharge and relax.  Otherwise I end up mentally exhausted and stressed out. Generally, a day or two a week, without social obligations is enough to keep me going, so I try to plan around that.

My most recent bout of social withdrawal, was likely brought on by too much social contact. I just simply couldn’t bear the thought of seeing, let alone talking to another human being. I felt almost like I’d shatter, if I did. Thankfully, usually after a couple days, or sometimes a week or two, depending on my level of exhaustion, I perk up again and become able to face the world once more.

I think, there are several points to keep in mind about social withdrawal. One is personality. If you have an introverted personality like mine, you might benefit from more time alone. But too much time alone isn’t good for anyone, regardless of personality.

During my worst time, I spent weeks by myself, hardly speaking a word to anyone. During that time, I found my speech greatly deteriorated. When I finally did speak, I spoke slow and haltingly, spending more time searching for words. My more psychotic symptoms became more pronounced, I felt increasingly detached from my body and the world around me. The more time I spent alone, the harder it became to simply set foot out the door. I was “lucky” enough that my local supermarket was open 24/7 at the time, and so I’d do my grocery shopping in the middle of the night to avoid other people as much as possible. I could hardly function day to day and that’s when I finally realized, I couldn’t keep going at the rate I was.

This leads me to another point to keep in mind: Day to day function. If your social withdrawal impacts your day to day life negatively, if you find your mood deteriorating, find tasks such as grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, showering etc. increasingly more difficult, that’s obviously a big problem. Any time you spend alone isn’t in and of itself a problem, as long as it doesn’t affect your quality of life and your relationships.

If you can, holding up your behavior before and after getting sick can also be a good idea. Were you much more social before you got sick? If so, then the social withdrawal most likely due to your illness. As with any symptom, proper treatment might greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate it. Although, it goes without saying, that restoring a ruined social life is very hard work. Like most any course of recovery, it takes time and practice. You don’t generally start running the moment the cast is off your broken leg either.

Like our muscles, our brain requires use to function properly. This includes the parts of our brain governing language, speech and social skills. The more they’re used, the better and easier it becomes.

Since my biggest bout of isolation, I’ve come a long way, simply by interacting with the people around me, weekly talks with my psychologist, frequent visits to my dad and the like. I was also very lucky to get into a social skills training group, where we meet every week and take up various problems we face in social interaction. We’ll take a problem one of us faces and together discuss strategies and ways to overcome it.

For instance, maybe someone is facing a pending family gathering and is nervous about seeing family members they haven’t seen or talked to for ages. So then we’ll talk about what makes the person nervous, the negative thoughts they face like: “They’re not going to like me” or difficult questions like: “What do I say if they ask how I’ve been?”, “do I tell them about my illness?”, “if I don’t want to talk about it, what do I say if they ask?”

Usually, by the end of it, we’ll have a plan of action for the person and a whole host of good tools and ideas for everyone else.

To summarize: Social withdrawal may be a symptom of illness, but it’s only a problem if it’s bad for your relationships and quality of life. If it does become a problem, it can be treated with training and working out good strategies. Cultivating good relationships is crucial for a good quality of life regardless of illness, health or personality.

 

Lastly, these are, as always simply my own thoughts and experiences. I am by no means an expert and my experiences may not completely reflect yours. Take what you can use and leave the rest.