Thursday, July 3, 2014

Metaphors

I imagine my life in a series of metaphors.  That habit has grown as I've kept this blog, lived the last year of my life and had to explain a lot more than I used to what happens in my head.  To share with someone who doesn't understand mental illness, even well-meaning people who just can't wrap their heads around it, a metaphor can neutralize buzz words and offer a more relatable explanation.

As I delve into this next level of my . . . I struggle for a word here.  Recovery?  I've accepted that recovery, for me, is not a reality.  Treatment?  I suppose this fits, but it sounds so clinical and the path of my life, of my "treatment," hasn't been sterile the way that those words connote.  Perhaps I will just say care and hope that the remainder of my words are able to better convey my feelings.  As I delve into this next level of my care, I'm stuck feeling like I'm starting from scratch but with a history that belies truly beginning.

You see, I'm about to see a psychiatrist for the first time in more than six months.  I'm also seeking a new diagnosis.  Seeking?  Yes.  Although I have suffered the same, obvious symptoms of depression for years, when I stopped rushing through my life and started living with some awareness, it became clear to me that a diagnosis that I once greatly feared for its stigma may very well provide me the relief that my several stints in therapy, in the hospital and on various anti-depressants have failed to.

I have to take a deep breath before I type these words.  I have said them to many close friends, but those people support me and won't judge.  They won't stereotype me when even I have stereotyped.  I believe I am bipolar.  I think it's been missed for years because I have only sought therapy in the midst of my very worst bouts of depression.  Once I feel better, I stop treatment.  It makes it difficult for a professional to recognize the ebb and flow of the cycles of mania to depression and back.

I won't pretend it hadn't weighed on my mind in the past.  In fact, when I first started the longest stretch of therapy that I've ever received, my first explanation was that I thought I might be bipolar.  It was quickly dismissed because, admittedly, I was living a very stressful, unsupported life with a history that explained a simple diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorders.  It was readdressed as I started my hospitalization and I simply said I didn't know.  I acknowledged to my psychiatrist there that I certainly fit the criteria, but that I wasn't sure.  It's easy to find something you relate to in a list of "symptoms."  Everyone could.  So, we watched and waited.  Unfortunately, I stopped watching and waiting.  I obediently took medication that didn't do enough for me, until I decided it wasn't doing enough and then I quit taking it.  I made massive changes in my professional and personal life, all of which alleviated a lot of daily stresses I was previously experiencing.

When I stopped with the medication and ultimately with any therapy at all, I stopped being present with my mental illness.  I was focused on other things, celebrating unrelated victories, growing my life in other ways.  But for me, that meant ignoring what was happening in my mind.  Then I started crying again.  I spent too much time sleeping.  I started to pay attention again.

So I'm heading back into this variety of self-exploration.  I need some relief from the mess in my head again.  I'm going to give it more time and see it through.  So what's with all the metaphor talk?  What's the big deal?  I imagine it like a broken bone that didn't heal right.  It feels better than it did when you broke it.  You can walk on that leg again, but every time that you do, you notice it's just not quite right.  You have some pain, and you've lost some of your range of motion.  It's not unbearable, but you know it will get there eventually.  You know that to fix it properly, there going to need to rebreak the bone.  And you know that it's going to really hurt to go back in.  You're starting from scratch in that you've got to start at the beginning (with the broken bone or the life stories) and yet you've got scar tissue and baggage and all that plays a role in this starting over.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflecting

When I considered the title of this blog, I was thinking in terms of looking back.  Ironically, as I've been contemplating my feelings as this anniversary arrives, I think the reflection refers to that which I see in the mirror.  I'm looking at the same face, the same fears, the same darkness that I saw a year ago.  I have made changes and grown stronger, but I'm still so totally broken.

I've cycled back through depression, to recovering, to healthy and back to depression.  I did well when I worked at it constantly, which required that I step away from my life constantly.  As I drew back together again the pieces of my life, pieces of that recovery, the tools, fell by the wayside.  I have slipped back.

As always, I will keep fighting.  I will stay brave.  I will try very hard not to hide, not to retreat, although it is against my baser instincts.  I want to hide and to sleep and find a safe corner to bury myself in.  Thankfully, I have a good life and that life will continue.  I hope to continue to move forward as life moves forward.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fear

I received a certified letter in the mail today.  I nearly threw up.  It's been a very long time since I've had to face my past.  As I have cocooned myself in beautiful, positive, supportive people and experiences lately, much of the negativity in my life has naturally fallen away.  Although I remain me, deep to the core, much of the cynicism that plagued me has also departed.  I have embraced what feels like a whole new world and it has been cradling me in this wonderful space of comfort and, dare I say it, trust that things not only will get better, but are better.

Then I walked in the door tonight from another transformative day of yoga and friendship to find this glaring piece of mail.  I was horrified that my husband had to sign for it.  I felt violated that the separation of my former business' post office didn't protect my home from this stuff invading it.  I cried and I paced.  My husband offered to open it for me.  He says he doesn't care what it says.   I know he knows, he has always been here, but I didn't want him to see it on paper, the accusations of an entity that knows nothing of me or my struggles.  And while I have come into this place that I know is a better, righter place for me, I know that whatever it says, it will shake me loose again.  I don't want him to see how far I have fallen.

So, in a moment of blind bravery, I opened it, like jumping over the cliff knowing that there's deep water there, but not quite sure how badly it will hurt when you break the surface.  Although I am not surprised by it, the harsh language and threats, meant to spur my action, were still devastating.

In this journey that started now nearly two years ago, I've found what is often most painful is what everybody doesn't know.  I'm not offered the opportunity to explain my past, my pain or my deep, deep regret.  Instead, I am judged on my face with little inquiry and less understanding, and the oversimplification of the words "dishonest conduct."

No part of me defends the impact my past year has had on those near me.  But I can't help but be a little bit broken at the characterization of what has been an incredibly painful, but never dishonest period of my life.  Tonight I feel like my safe space has shrunk and I'm trying so, so hard not to let this topple me back into oblivion.  I had no idea how still totally wounded I am and how easily my happy could be penetrated and attacked from the inside out.

I hope I will be brave and strong some day.  I hope I will truly and completely overcome not only this mental illness that still lurks in the dark corners of my soul, but also the year that I lost to all of this, the year that came storming back into my life tonight.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Yoga :)

What a weekend!  I've already described my struggle to surrender and while I certainly haven't mastered such a momentous lesson, I have wholeheartedly embraced the intention.  In fact, after a difficult night Friday, I have had the most incredible weekend.  While I hesitate to call it a transformation, because that might suggest that the journey is over, I am experiencing what I have to call the start of one.  

I returned to my yoga mat on Saturday and had an amazing practice on Saturday morning that challenged me, strengthened me and reminded me both that I am capable and deserving.  This morning, we worked on a series of poses, breaking them down and practicing them.  Then we taught each other, thirty-two sun salutations in all.  For those of you who don't practice yoga, that's roughly twelve poses repeated thirty-two times in a row.  It was both brutal and absolutely beautiful.  Working my body and my mind in that way brought so much joy and peace.  

I had some wonderful conversations with some women who are fast becoming friends whose insight I so admire.  I had some realizations about my body, that I carry my stress in my shoulders and that I don't really even know how to let it go, and my mind, that when I harness joy and actively cultivate it, I can maintain it, even if the face of darker moods.  I also committed this next two weeks toward surrender and yoga.  If you're looking for me, I'll be at the studio.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Surrender

So much has happened in these last two weeks, emotionally, that I'm not sure where to start.  I've had a difficult time.  I'm enrolled in yoga teacher training at a fantastic studio, with an incredible master teacher and a wonderful group of fellow students.  The last time we met, our master teacher walked us through an exercise and meditation that was supposed to help us overcome a suffering.  Because it is the area of my life that feels most unsettled, I chose "career."  We were to write "I feel" statements on the left side of the paper that reflected how this area of our life was causing suffering.  For example, "I feel disappointed because I'm no longer practicing law."  Or "I feel ashamed that I am not contributing financially."  

So, about halfway down my first sheet of paper (I completed five), I began having a panic attack.  It's the first I'd had in months, unfortunately, it wasn't the last for the week.  I had to leave the studio and go outside because I was gasping for air and gagging.  Thankfully, I didn't throw up and, after a few minutes, I was able to return to the exercise, with the shakes and the sweats being the only outward signs left of the episode.  

Once we had completed the exercise on the left side of the page, we were to oppose those "I feel" sentences with their positive counterparts.  So, for example, "I feel satisfied that I've chosen to pursue my passion for yoga" or "I feel proud that I am able to pursue my dream and my family does not need my financial contribution."  After that, we meditated as a group, performed a burning ceremony and went on our way.  Unfortunately, despite the support most people felt during the meditation, all I could think of was how I couldn't believe I was back to having panic attacks and that I hadn't realized that my feelings about the situation were still so raw.  Perhaps more unfortunate than that, the result of the exercise was to rip wide open a gaping wound that I had forgotten was there.  I spent the rest of the week sobbing on and off.  I had two more panic attacks.  I slept and sulked and accomplished nothing this week, which only makes me feel worse.  

I walked into yoga last night and it was palpable how wrong I was feeling.  I couldn't sit still or focus.  I couldn't look anyone in the eye.  In yoga, we talk a lot about energy.  There was no doubt I was emanating self-loathing, sadness and fear.  I shared my experiences of the week prior through tears that threatened to choke me at times.  As always, I had the support of the group around me.  I felt better to get it out, but still broken by all the intimacy and honesty.  My master teacher, who inspired my two wrist tattoos, "vulnerable" and "powerhouse," suggested a third:  "Surrender."  

She is right.  I grasp so tight onto this life I thought I cared about leading.  It was a life that made me miserable, that bordered on self-abuse.  There were weeks at a time where I slept only 3 hours a night and sustained myself with Red Bull and coffee.  I was so far gone in my own head that I barely remember anything.  We didn't even really celebrate my son's birthday last year, and I usually go all out with handmade invites and homemade cakes.  What am I holding on to?  It is fear that drives us to hang on to what we know even when we know it isn't right.  So my intention this week is to explore surrender.

The irony about surrender is that it is the opposite of what I thought my life was about, never giving up, never saying never.  I could do everything, and for a while I did.  But that's not a life and it didn't last.  So instead, I will be working to let go and surrender to where life that is trying to lead me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Deeper waters

I've been treading water lately.  Although I hadn't been feeling like I was getting worse, it has become clear to me that I'm no longer getting better.  I am getting substantially worse.  I've slipped back into deeper waters.

I find myself wrapped tightly in negative emotions.  I can't let little injustices go and they eat me from the inside out.  I can't take normal, childish behavior from my children in stride.  I can't stand noises, whether it's several at a time or a single startling noise.  Every time one of my children knocks something over, falls down, bumps into me or nearly tumbles, I practically leap out of my skin.  I can't stand to be around people, almost anyone.  I don't want to leave my house.  I don't want to cook.  I don't want to shower.  I don't want to move.  

But for the endless string of stay-at-home mom obligations, work and teacher training, I might not move.  I have stopped enjoying any of it.  Even snuggling on the couch with my children has become a chorus of complaints because they can't sit still, agree on a cartoon or be quiet enough for me to tune out completely.  I spend the days aching for bedtime to come and the evenings lamenting the day past, all its failures, and dreading the next day, knowing I won't manage it any better.

Today I spent most of the day sleeping, yelling or crumpled in the corners of my house sobbing.  My children are frightened and even my dog is wary.  The adults in my life don't know what to say.  My kids lend support like, "I still love you when you yell at me, Mommy," and offering a beloved toy.  They are such selfless and honest gestures and yet it doesn't help, which makes it so, so much worse.  

I'm sinking and the water is deep.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Victim

I'm super mad right now and although the thing that precipitated my absolute frustration is a totally "normal" thing to get upset about, I'm on the verge of a panic attack raging.  In trying to get my head around why I would be SO mad about something that, ultimately, has resolution, it's because, frankly, it's just not fair.

Today I was involved in a car accident with an individual driving across the parking lanes of a parking lot, while I drove, properly, down the aisle.  Because I was watching for cars backing out in front of me, I didn't see the driver come barreling toward me from my left, that is, until I ran directly into the passenger's side of their door.  This person was in the wrong.  Right?  That seems fairly clear.  Three other things aggravated the situation.  First, it was the end of Kaia's day of celebration for her fifth birthday.  We just wanted to get home, enjoy some cake and relax and we ended up stuck for over an hour.  The stress wasn't welcome.  Second, the driver didn't have a valid license.  Last, the car and driver were uninsured.  To top off the frustration, the officer couldn't ticket the driver for the driving error because we were in a private parking lot.  The driver later called me to ask for my insurance information.  Really.

So, yes, this is one of those things that all well-meaning people love to call "normal."  You freak out about how you treat your kids?  We all do that.  You're normal.  You don't love being a stay at home mom/work outside of the home mom?  We all feel that.  You're normal.  Not only does this accomplish the opposite of supporting a person struggling with these questions, as it minimizes the importance placed on them, but it suggests that everyone walking around has any idea what it's like to live in my head.  That was an off-topic rant, but in my defense, I admitted that I was pretty angry already.

So as I've rolled this over in my head tonight, because sadly, I can't shake it, it occurs to me that it makes me feel like a victim with no recourse.  Not only has this driver forced me to pay a deductible to my insurance company under my uninsured motorists coverage to pay for the damage their actions caused, but they come after me trying to get my insurance to pay for their damages?!  I have the sick feeling that a lawsuit is brewing and I hate accepting the stereotype that the kind of person that would drive like an idiot, without insurance or a license would also be the kind of person who would try to get anything from anyone they think they could....victimize.

I've worn the victim shoes before.  I am not brave enough to walk through that story in this kind of public forum.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it was and when I recalled it for various therapists and psychiatrists and friends, it has been.  What's left behind is an ember and, given the right environment, a twinge of similar feelings, regret for my role in the matter, for not having stopped it or not having been able to, frustration at the price I paid for their action, disappointment that people can be so unfeeling, it's like a fire fed with gasoline.

I'm not really that mad about the accident.  That's what insurance is for, right?  And frankly, my car doesn't even really need to be fixed.  But I didn't have insurance for some of the lessons that life has taught me.  I wasn't prepared for the losses I've suffered at others' hands.  It makes it very difficult to trust and it amazes me how quickly I can be thrust back into a state of terror at the control others have the ability to exert over my world.  There are beautiful and inspiring quotes about how people only affect you in the way that you let them, by reaction, by behavior, etc.  It's just not true.  Sure I can control whether I'm angry or sad, but I can't undue damage, neither physical or emotional, simply by having a good attitude.  I rarely feel like a victim.  I'm strong and I don't care to let others impact my life, but sometimes something bigger than your inner strength can handle happens and it leaves a permanent scar.  Those marks resurface now and then and this is one of those times.

Tonight is the first time I've taken a fast-acting, anti-anxiety medication since I stopped taking my daily medication.  I feel weak and I feel out of control.  I'm frustrated that I feel like I let someone drive me to this (ha ha, pun sort of intended) space where I'm recalling old wounds.  I can accept and live with the choices I've made, but I really struggle to accept the actions of others that have changed my life so deeply that I can't just let a simple fender bender go.