Deja Vu/Vuja De

It was a year ago, around this time on the calendar when I finally admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist that everything was most definitely NOT fine and a change of venue was in order. My doctor, being the good doctor that he is, referred me for psych evaluation and an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) to deal with the immediate concerns and to eventually get my mood rightened and myself back to the land of brilliant Technicolor, instead of the shades of black in the world I was living in. Well, fast forward a little over a year and guess what? I’m back in the same place, with the same therapists and doctors, cafeteria style lunches and rooms with uncomfortable chairs, lots of Kleenex boxes and people with stories, like me and very much unlike me. My immediate thought upon having to tell my doctor YET AGAIN that I was losing my s**t was not one of “Atta Girl!” but more like, “Seriously? Didn’t we JUST do this?? WTF is wrong with you, loser??” because my first thoughts are always from a place of extreme judgment and an unrealistic goal of perfection, no matter the circumstance.

Now, I wouldn’t say that to my worst enemy anymore than I would say it to someone who was doing another round of chemo or radiation in an effort to destroy that which is trying to destroy them. Treatment is treatment; the disease may differ, the course of treatment may differ but the goal is the same, to provide relief of symptoms and improve the health of the individual, thus improving the quality of life. Mental health is really no different, although much less one size fits all. Mental illness and those who battle depression, mania and other disorders are as different and varied as any selection of human beings can be; one person’s burden is another’s blessing. There is no absolute 100% guaranteed course of treatment and whatever course is selected, the patient must be able and willing to follow subscribed course of treatment, which often if not always includes eliminating substance (pick a poison, alcohol included) abuse and implementing a medication program that includes a cocktail (pardon the pun) of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and perhaps a little Antabuse thrown in for the hard core alcoholics. The patient must be willing to give up those self-medicating methods and switch to the psych meds, which usually come with a hefty side of side effects, weight gain being at the top of the list and covering all manner of ailments including, but not limited to: psychosis, permanent facial and/or body tics, blindness, headaches and possibly (of course) death by suicide, because some of these drugs have induced suicidal tendencies in certain groups, such as adolescents and the elderly. Go figure. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but every rose has its thorn, as we learned from Guns ‘n Roses/Poison.

If you’re still reading and still awake, I commend you. 

Back to the present time – I am back in the land of black and bleh, trying to find my way to the light and a coherent, relatively calm mind so that I can make some decisions that will hopefully keep me from having to return again at this time next year. I have a great many decisions to make at some point in time and I want to choose wisely and make choices that are good for me and my health. It’s easy for me to say that (I’ve said it over and over again) but the execution is where I falter. I guess if I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do instead of what I NEED to do, that could lead me to an unwise choice.

For all of you who have sent happy thoughts, well wishes and in reached out to me in general, I want you to know I feel the love. Seriously. Those of you who are thinking about me but haven’t reached out, I assure you, I still feel the love. You are the difference between me giving up or carrying on; your belief in me is my sword of truth, fighting against the lies and untruths that hold my spirit hostage, trapped in a dark and dismal mind. Your love and support brings a light to the darkness, a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to come back to the land of the living and love. I have talked to many people who have no family, no friends and oftentimes it is because their mental illness/addiction issues have exhausted the supply of people willing to lend a hand or support that person. Some people have a limited time only offer of assistance and once that window is closed, there are no more. I understand the reasoning behind this; if you are trying to save a drowning person, but don’t know how to swim yourself, you will both most certainly drown. Dealing with mental illness is neither pretty, Facebook post-worthy or fun. It tests  your limits, your love and your own mental stability. It’s like a fire you can’t get too close to or you end up with some pretty serious burns. It’s a rollercoaster ride you don’t remember buying a ticket to ride, a storm that was born of sunny skies and fluffy clouds; sunny and bright one minute, dark and destructive the next. It can tear apart the closest family, take away your best friend and leave a wake of destruction miles wide and years long. Knowing this makes you and your continued support all the more precious and appreciated.

Shooting thoughts of love and gratitude to you. Wish we were there (Half Moon Bay)

IMG_0711

 

Knowledge is Power

I just had my final exam in my Geology class and considering that I thought the final was next Saturday, I think I passed, at least. Now I have next Saturday off and I can’t begin to decide what to do with that free day.

When I started this program, I thought I was doing it to just prove to myself that I could actually finish something I’d started (haven’t had much luck in that particular area in a long time) but as I celebrated my first year, I realized I was learning more about me, my relationship with my “cohorts”, how I work with other people in a group setting and how I handle time management, stress, deadlines and difficult content. The second year of the program I lost my focus, started feeling like I just couldn’t do it, it was too much, etc. You know, those negative thoughts and irrational fears that strike when you are least prepared to fight it off. I am now looking back to find where I went off track and regroup to meet the challenge of my third year. I love learning, I love meeting new people and I love finding out that I am smarter than I give myself credit for, more dedicated and willing to do the hard work to get the reward.

As I look beyond this program and into what I will do with all of this knowledge, I see endless possibilities of travel, teaching and trying to realize my potential. I believe that the greatest reward one can have is to serve others; not just in the personal service of say, a waitress or butler; but to help someone learn, grow and be relieved of their burdens, to educate themselves about their demons (everyone has them, be it mental health issues, gambling, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, physical/emotional abuse and neglect). In this regard, I feel that I have much to offer, simply from my personal experiences. I am eager to proceed into the next year of my education, with a renewed sense of purpose and much gratitude for my cohorts who have helped me, encouraged me, given me a hug when I was close to tears and above all else, believed in me.

Food Circus, Dad and Veterans Day

Whenever I was in trouble, or in need of a heart-to-heart discussion (need as defined by my father) it was known without saying it that said discussion would take place where all Important Discussions should take place and that would be Food Circus. Now, to the uninformed, this may conjure up images of people selecting their meal by pointing to whatever cage held whatever type of dinner. This is in fact incorrect. Nor is it an “End of Life” circus where performing animals are the main course. Food Circus was a collection of International Restaurants (think American International) that included German, Italian, Filipino (Anna Banana’s) and a Hof Brau (not the same as the German restaurant) and a gift shop that made transfer t-shirts that said cute things like “Kiss Me I’m Irish” or “Mom and Dad went to California and all I got was this stupid T-shirt” type of stuff. A florist, a gourmet grocery store, (Corti Brothers) a watch repair shop, a donut shop, awesome candy store (Snook’s Candies, now in Folsom, on Sutter Street). Last, but not least was Jumbo’s Coffee Shop.
Our family would go there after church on Sunday for donuts and coffee (orange juice for the little ones). When I was in my Rebel Without A Clue days, I worked with Dad on a business venture and we would take breaks at Food Circus (or Food Zoo as Big Brother #3 renamed it) because of course my dad smoked and back in the 1970’s you could smoke wherever you damn well pleased. So it was cup of coffee, 3 cigarettes, a refill cup, then 3-4 more smokes. Needless to say, Dad got 110% out of me those days. I was wired for sound and all he had to do was give me direction and turn me loose. That was the beginning of my love affair with cigarettes, coffee and going fast, in general. Food Circus is now The Marketplace at Arden Fair mall and has a very nice restaurant, movie theaters, a couple of chain-type restaurants and looks nothing like it did then. But I can just close my eyes and I can be there again, sitting across the table from my dad, listening to his day and comprehending about 10% of what he said and filling in the blanks by reading his face, his body language and listening to his tone. I can smell the strange yet familiar scent of all those restaurants, the burning coffee left on the warmer too long, the cigarette smoke blending with the men’s cologne and the ladies’ perfumes, vying for attention. That was where I received my education, the gifts that my father bestowed upon me, little pearls of wisdom lost on a teenager so certain her parents were irrelevant and knew nothing about Life as she knew it. I’m grateful every day that I grew out of that phase and spoke at great length with my father later in life. My father outlived Food Circus and we moved our talks to different places, but those days will always stay with me and I will treasure them for the gift they were.
My father served in the Air Force and I believe that his life wouldn’t be what it was without the life experience and education he received while serving. This Veterans Day I would like to give thanks to those who fought for us, before many of us were even born, so that we could enjoy simple yet profoundly precious moments like those I had with my father. Thank you is not enough; I don’t know if there is anything that words can say to express the depth of my gratitude, but words are all I have, so thank you. All of you.

The Winds of Change

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails”

William Arthur Ward

I came across this quote back in November and wanted to write a post around it but couldn’t figure out how to convey what it says to me, specifically. I’m going to try now, so bear with me.

I’ve long believed that I was powerless over circumstances, that I was like a leaf in a storm; at the mercy of the wind, with no say in where I would go. I went along with whatever the group mentality was, never questioning whether it was what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be with. By doing this, I set up myself up beautifully for great disappointment and the role of the ever-suffering victim. I gave away my choices, my voice, my power and then couldn’t figure out why I was always so unhappy; why I had no sense of self, no idea who I was. It has taken me many years and a great deal of wrong turns, heartbreaks and utter despair to realize that no one had made me a victim, except myself.

Now, that’s all fine and good, but what could I do with that great revelation? We’re talking a lifetime of identifying as a follower, how could I un-learn all those behaviors? How could I reclaim my voice, my power? I had no clue, but I did know that if I didn’t try, nothing would ever change, except to possibly worsen. There is another saying regarding a long journey and it beginning with a single step; that is exactly what I had to do. One step. One different thought. Turning left instead of right, speaking up instead of suffering silently, making one decision to change one thing. They all add up. Just as a bad habit is formed over time, the same is true of a healthy one. I had been living this way my entire life (40-something years) and I would have to have great patience and determination if I wanted to change.

Now, a little over a year free from alcohol and I have found my voice, I am slowing realizing the extent of how much power I gave away and am in the processing of getting it back and then some. I have a greater sense of self, of purpose and of value. Needless to say, every day isn’t like a scene from some ridiculously happy and upbeat musical, but it’s good. The challenges will always be there, although their form and delivery may differ, I will still have to find the strength to make good choices while allowing myself to be human. The words “failure” or “victim” can never be used again when I’m thinking about who I am, what I am. I am a fighter and I will fight the good fight until I can no more. I am looking forward to each next day, each new lesson learned and each victory celebrated. I will keep steadily on my course, my mind focused on my destination, eyes open for whatever beauty appears and gratitude in my heart for the people that have loved me through thick and thin. And if the seas get rough, I’ll adjust the sails.

Giving Thanks

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.  ~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you will have a day filled with not only food and thanks, but family, friends and community. It’s very easy to let this day be the only day to reflect on our lives, the blessings and bounty that we have. Just as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day shouldn’t be the only day we let our parents know how much they mean to us, giving thanks should not happen only once a year. I have gotten in the habit lately of running through all the things I am thankful for each morning before I get out of bed. The simplest things we tend to take for granted are the often the things that mean the most. Our health, our home, family, faith and of course, our means of making a living. Material things often are represented as the most treasured, when in reality, they mean nothing if you have no one to share them with or if you are sick or dying.

I feel that it’s very important to not just run through the list of things I’m thankful for, but to actually give thanks to those who I’m grateful to have in my life. All too often, people are starving for words of encouragement, gratitude and just to know that they matter. So, first and foremost, thank you to those who have served in the Armed Forces, their families who all too often have lost their loved one, not only to death, but to the trauma of war and the devastation upon their psyche. Without them, we would not have the luxury of freedom to speak, to live, practice our faith or to even have a choice. Thanks to the teachers who accomplish the impossible on a daily basis; educate and encourage young minds. Often, they are the role models who make the most difference. The rebels who refuse to settle for mediocrity and dare to be different, to challenge what defines them; they keep us from growing complacent. Thanks to those who have had the courage to share their stories of struggle with mental illness, who have faced discrimination and ridicule, yet still found the strength to speak up and demand to be heard. Thanks to those who have fought for equality, who cast a light on the oppressed and downtrodden. Thanks to the dreamers who shared their vision of the future and thanks to those who see the good in all mankind and refuse to believe that all is lost. Thanks to you, my dear readers, for your encouragement and your continuing support of me and my writing. I couldn’t do this without you.

Take a minute today to share with someone how thankful you are to have them in your life and what they mean to you; it could make a world of difference to you both.