Mental health rabbit hole

My post on rejection-sensitive dysphoria sent me to Wikipedia. You know what happened next.

I’ve been letting this post marinate since then. It’s a lot of new information to take into account, and there’s a significant amount of overlap among the symptoms of several brain activity disorders. It’s like everywhere I turn there’s a new, better way to describe my experiences.

But I’m also being mindful of how easy it is for research to turn into self-diagnosis. Wikipedia is not a doctor.

Atypical Depression

There wasn’t a Wikipedia article on rejection-sensitive dysphoria, but the original post mentioned atypical depression so I looked that up instead:

Atypical depression. . .shares many of the typical symptoms of the psychiatric syndromes major depression or dysthymia but is characterized by improved mood in response to positive events.

Hmm, this kind of sounds like me. When good things happen I’m happier than I should be with my depression. It’s really like a high.

Atypical depression also features (edited for readability)

Woah, I literally have all of those. This describes me a lot more accurately than regular old depression does.

In general, atypical depression tends to cause greater functional impairment than other forms of depression.

Weird. You think it’d be less.

Atypical depression is a chronic syndrome that tends to begin earlier in life than other forms of depression—usually beginning in the teenage years.

Sounds right actually. I was always sensitive but my highs and lows started to affect my ability to function sometime between 8th grade and 10th grade.

I start clicking through the Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Cyclothymia and Hypomania

Cyclothymia (I just learned) is like bipolar-lite. You have moderate depressed symptoms along with periods of hypomania, which are high-functioning episodes of near-manic behavior.

Why did I continue reading about these? I was mostly just curious. I had just found a new way to think about my illness: atypical depression.

But also, my therapist has described my behavior last summer as “almost manic.” Hypomania basically means “just below manic.” Could this describe me too?

About halfway down the hypomania article I read this:

When a patient presents with a history of at least one episode of both hypomania and major depression, each of which meet the diagnostic criteria, bipolar II disorder is diagnosed.

I’ve had several recurrent episodes of major depression. So if what I experienced last year was hypomania… then it sounds like what I have is bipolar II…

Hmm. Trying to balance skepticism with open-mindedness.

In some cases, depressive episodes routinely occur during the fall or winter and hypomanic ones in the spring or early summer and, in such cases, one speaks of a “seasonal pattern”.

Woah, this describes me so accurately. It’s more than Seasonal Affectedness. I’m like two different people in April-May vs. October-November.

Bipolar II Disorder

So I went to read about bipolar II’s description of hypomania (and see how much of it applied to my near-manic period last summer).

Hypomania is characterized by euphoria and/or an irritable mood. In order for an episode to qualify as hypomanic, the individual must also present three or more of the below symptoms, and last at least four consecutive days and be present most of the day, nearly every day

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity. (Check) 
  • Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep). (Occasionally) 
  • More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking. (Oh yes) 
  • Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing. (Check)
  • Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli), as reported or observed. (Wow yes) 
  • Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation. (Yup)
  • Excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments). (Very much so)

This definitely describes summer 2016, but was I only like that because of the ADHD medication I started taking that May? Was it the high of being able to function on medication? Maybe combined with great weather?

Or is there a different illness that better describes my combination of symptoms? My seasonal highs and lows have been noticeable since high school. Maybe it’s been Bipolar II all along?

I guess I’ll ask my doctors.

Wanting to write

I’ve fantasized about being a writer probably since the end of high school. In spite of the anxiety about writing that came with my undiagnosed ADHD–or maybe because of it–I wanted to artfully wield my pen and conquer the written word.

Also I’m kind of a hipster and I love that hipster shit: Moleskine notebooks, leather book bags, that smell when flipping through the pages of a book. I’ve long envied the Brooklyn/Portland/Oakland hipster lifestyle, sitting in a coffee shop drinking my flat white and typing on my Macbook.

Why writing though?

I’ve read about thirty-eleven books on writing over the past couple years.

The books from my
Okay I haven’t read all of them. But most of them, yeah.

I’m all about meta-writing. I’m a linguist. That’s my thing. Words about words.

Previous attempts at creative writing

I tried writing a novel one night in elementary school. Gave up after 20 minutes. I don’t think I understood the writing process then.

In middle school I wrote bad AU fanfiction in which our favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! characters were in our tiny bubble of a world. I forgot what it’s called when you do that, inserting yourself in a story. Honestly I don’t care to find out. I still have cringey feelings about that time that prevent me from enjoying fanfiction.

I wrote some decent sonnets in 10th and 11th grade. My musically-trained ear and newfound interest in language turned poems into fun puzzles. Plus I was having a lot of feelings at the time, mostly about boys. (That sentence could be used to describe literally any period in my life.)

After the poetry phase I lossed all interest in creative writing for nearly a decade. Then this happened.

A writer’s origin story

Back in 2015 I briefly dated a guy. MFA in creative writing, trying to make it as a screenwriter, worked as an SAT tutor on the side. Not exactly rare in LA, but at that point I’d pretty much only dated STEM dudes. I wanted someone different and he was a ~creative~. Plus he was flirty and had good date suggestions. Yeah, my standards are a lot higher now.

I remember telling him I admired his dedication, sitting down to write for hours every day. Nearly a month went by before I asked to read his work.

Warning: Never have sex with a writer before reading their work. As you can probably guess, I learned this the hard way.

The piece was a script for the pilot episode of a web series. The director loved it, apparently.

I’m gonna save your eyeballs, I won’t post it here. But you should know: YOU CANNOT HIDE A GUN THERE. No, not even a Derringer. Also if that’s how you write your women, I do not want to date you. I do not want to know you. Just, ew.

And I thought, “Well damn, I don’t even write fiction and I can write better than this.”


Even before meeting MFA guy (do you think he really has an MFA? Maybe it was all a lie…) I had already been frequenting /r/writing and /r/writingprompts, but after this weeks-long rage-induced critique-fest, partially encouraged by Becca and Ashleigh agreeing with my criticism, I started sponging up all the writing resources I could.

Soon after the pilot episode episode I started my internship in El Segundo. On that hellscape commute from the the valley I listened to Stephen King’s On Writing on audiobook. It’s fantastic. I published a post about it on my old blog. Here’s an excerpt:

What stood out to me the most wasn’t the inspiration or the magic that created King’s novels. There wasn’t a lot of magic happening. It was the pure hard work. He worked his ass off, submitting stories all through high school and college. He collected all his rejection letters and hung them from a stake on his wall. He didn’t cry and give up when publishers failed to hand him a life of success on a silver platter.

The story of Stephen King isn’t one of creative inspiration. It’s one of blood, sweat, and determination. I’m sure he had a lot of latent talent (wow that’s fun to type). I’m sure he was a top-notch wordsmith from the beginning. But his success came from the work, not the talent.

As I’d learned from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, good writers aren’t innately talented. They’ve worked at it. Which means I can work at it.

Why do I want to work at it? Because I’m tired of these TRASH CISHET MEN writing and producing TRASH FICTION when there are so many talented people whose stories never get told. I have stories worth telling!

Just remove men from all media for a few decades. We need to correct for the historical imbalance.

Morning Ritual: Hey I’m walkin’ here!

I don’t know why that eyebrow can’t cooperate.

I got up at 6:30 today and walked at 7. Be proud.

This walk is an important step toward establishing a morning ritual.

The benefits of morning routines are well-established. Your fave successful person has one. Google it.

But routines are just so…routine, you know? Just the idea of a routine makes me feel trapped. A cog. It’s very uncool.

But ritual? It sounds so much sexier to my illogical monkey brain.



I made a list

Yesterday I wrote a list of things I might do in such a ritual:

I never started drawing in my notebooks like this until I started using emoji in text.
  • Wake up ☀
  • Bathroom 🚽
  • Change and take pills 💊
  • Run one lap 👟 (around my neighborhood)
  • Stretch and write ⌨️
  • Gratitude and intentions ❤️

The word “ritual” got planted in my head thanks to @mysticxlipstick‘s full moon and new moon rituals. I’ll talk more about spirituality in a future post, but doing these rituals felt kind of good.

Now I realize that rituals are natural human behavior, not necessarily tied to religion or spirituality, but initially I was hesitant to buy into the woo and give it credence.

Rituals are natural

As it turns out, I’ve been doing rituals my whole life. As a latchkey kid in middle school and high school I used to come home, pour a bowl of cereal, and read the newspaper comics my mom left on the dining room table that morning. I needed this time to decompress from being surrounded by loud annoying kids all day before even thinking about homework.

A lot of my rituals over the years have included food. My first quarter at UCSB I’d roll out of bed, go to my 9am lecture MWF, get breakfast solo at the dining hall, and then shower and prepare for my day. I didn’t think of it as a ritual at the time, but this routine gave my (undiagnosed) ADHD-addled brain time to start up in the morning before asking it to deal with people.

Rituals can be used for anything. Some rituals are a coping mechanism, as we often do in mourning. They can be a celebration, like lighting the candles at Hanukkah. Religious examples are everywhere, but there are plenty of non-religious rituals like a sportsball team huddling at the beginning of a game, or a family sitting down together for dinner with or without prayer.

My goal is to establish helpful rituals I’ll look forward to and enjoy, because then I’ll actually do them.

Why this list though?

Here’s the list again:

  • Wake up ☀
  • Bathroom 🚽
  • Change and take pills 💊
  • Run one lap 👟 (around my neighborhood)
  • Stretch and write ⌨️
  • Gratitude and intentions ❤️

Well “Wake up” is kind of crucial. “Bathroom” and “Change and take pills” are pretty self-explanatory. The rest I’ll explain in separate posts, so you’ll have to wait and see.

DBT and how it can help me

DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy.

A dialectic is a philosophy concept dealing with opposite ideas that can be simultaneously true. The opposites in DBT are acceptance and change.

Radical acceptance in DBT teaches to “acknowledge your present situation, whatever it is, without judging the events or criticizing yourself.” The change comes in the form of learning new skills and changing behaviors in order to work toward your goals. The ultimate goal in DBT is building a life worth living.

Continue reading DBT and how it can help me