Ready for Change (Leave of Absence Part 2)

I read somewhere that you can’t heal where you got sick and I thought about that frequently on my leave. I thought about everything that has happened since moving to Sacramento in 2017. There’s been a lot of good things that happened, like career growth and making amazing friends. There has also been a lot of painful things that happened since moving up here from the Bay Area, mostly involving my ex but also a terrifying breakdown that had me hallucinating for more than a month, being rejected by my birth parents, and the most difficult days battling my warped brain chemistry.

For a majority of my leave, I worked closely with my psychiatrist and therapist to get an accurate diagnosis on my mental illness. As of right now, we are going with Bipolar II with some Bipolar I symptoms. Layer onto that General Anxiety, PTSD, and some concerns with OCD— not enough to get a separate diagnosis, but enough to deserve an honorable mention separate from Bipolar.

After several appointments, over a year in therapy, and blood tests to rule out other causes for my mood (like thyroid), I finally have the most accurate diagnosis I’ve ever had. A sense of relief washed over me to know what I have been experiencing is not something I made up. Furthermore, I can explain my dramatic changes in mood that push people away from me and frequently pushing people out of my life completely. I’m not a reckless inconsiderate ass hole, I’m manic. I’m not lazy, I’m depressed. I’m not ignoring anyone, I’m dissociating and no longer present in my own body. These aren’t excuses, these are symptoms I battle with on a daily basis. Sometimes, I only need to overcome one of these symptoms, sometimes I have to fight against the ones I listed and more.

For too long, I was a victim to my own illness. I let it consume me. I let it hold me down. I’m proud to be at a turning point in my life where I won’t allow my mental illnesses to define me or stop my personal growth—my happiness. Thankfully, I had access to the professional help I needed to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan– 50 MG of Sertraline (aka Zoloft) and 7.5 MG (and still going up) of a mood stabilizer called Aripiprazole with plans to get off Sertraline, which has sent me into a manic episode when I first started it.

The time I wasn’t spending in therapy or working on what I discussed in therapy, I spent trying to clean up my life. I wrote a to-do list of actions that would make my life easier once I returned to work and errands I’d been neglecting to do. I always have to conduct a post-mania or post-depression damage control and cleanup. Going into this leave I was coming out of a depressed episode that hit me right after a five month manic episode. I used this month and a half off of work to get my life back on track and my to-do list was my guide.

The first order of business was to deep clean my apartment. I went room by room. I examined every single item in my home and either kept it, donated it, or sold it. It always amazes me how much crap I have (shout-out to manic shopping sprees). I donated several bags of clothing and returned things with the tags still on. I sold dozens of items on OfferUp and used that money to pay the bills I had let pile up. I scrubbed tiles and mopped floors. I washed every article of clothing and every dish. It took a few weeks to get my apartment to have that crisp clean feeling, but damn, it was worth it.

My next plan of attack to organize and simplify my life was to get rid of my vices. This meant no dating apps, no dating, no social media, no coffee, and no weed. I didn’t want any distractions. I needed to have a clear mind so that I could see how my new medication was working, if at all. I’d already gotten rid of dating apps and stopped dating when my depressed state started in March, so I just made sure not to re-download any apps since I was feeling better– or at least, not depressed. My psychiatrist asked me to stop smoking, at minimum to cut back on it, while adjusting to the mood stabilizer. I had the audacity to ensure she wasn’t asking me to stop smoking because she was a prude, and she in turn, gave me a scientific reason to stop. I bought her explanation and stopped getting stoned. No coffee was easier than I thought since the Aripiprazole significantly increased my energy levels.

My Instagram is my only social media and was difficult to completely stay off of for a month and half. I did it for a week at a time, get back on for two to three days, then off for a week again. My difficulty in staying off of Instagram is not because there is anything riveting happening on it, I am just another millennial addicted to a tiny screen that helps me escape my current time and place (dissociation is a bitch). I just scroll and scroll with no end in sight. The time I spent off of Instagram, my screen time on my phone went down 80% and I was able to read and finish four books (Unnatural Causes by Dr. Richard Shepherd, My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and White Rage by Carol Anderson). I missed reading and think the absence of social media and the introduction of my mood stabilizer finally helped me focus long enough to read.

I wrote on most days. Not just for my blog, but short essays to submit to magazine contests and other essays that I don’t know what to do with yet. I journaled frequently, too. I shared one of my essays with my dad, who has not read anything I’ve written since I was in high school. His wholesome excitement when I asked him to read an essay and give me feedback helped me see that he can be trusted with my secrets I put down on paper. In fact, I spent a lot of time with my dad on this leave. My mom was back in New York taking care of my grandpa. So when I would drive home to help with my loneliness, my dad was there. We did a few home improvement projects together to surprise my mom when she gets back from her stressful trip to NY. I haven’t spent time bonding with my dad like that in several years, maybe 10 years or more– I can’t remember.

With the help of my new medication, guidance from the conversations with my dad, and the self-reflecting I did in the absence of my vices, I realized something important: my job was slowly killing me. Not only did I need to resign, I needed to move back to the Bay Area. My brother and his wife just moved to San Jose from LA. My parents were still in my childhood home in San Jose. My closest friends from my childhood all still lived in San Jose and Campbell. I needed to be with the people that have consistently loved me and shown up for me no matter what. state I was in. I needed to find a job that is less demanding– 60 hours a week with my shifts alternating between open, mid, and closing does not support stabilizing my moods and life as a whole.

I’ve known for two years that I wanted to move home. I would’ve done it sooner, but I made new friends in Sacramento. I didn’t have any friends or family out here, so the people I worked with became my family. They adopted me into their friend groups and into their families. The thought of not seeing them every day at work and outside of work makes me extremely sad. After all, they have been a part of my daily life for nearly five years. Pair that with my fear of change and that’s how I got stuck. I know that my Sacramento family will love me, stay in touch, and spend time with me if I move back to the Bay. I was just never ready to give up our current dynamic and change into the one where I live an hour and a half away.

I’m now at the point where I think I can leave the terrible, lonely, and scary things that happened to me in Sacramento behind while also taking the wonderful relationships I made in Sacramento with me. I know the sincerity of these bonds, something that is rare while battling depression. I know I will remain friends with my protective circle from Sac.

I made the difficult decision to move during my leave. I didn’t know the end result of my time off would be a new apartment in Campbell (same building as my BFF and her baby), my resignation with no new job lined up, and an official last day in Sacramento– 7/31/2021. But I am so excited for these big changes. I’m ready for the next chapter in my life to begin, no matter how anxious change makes me.

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