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)

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The Invisible Line

I have told you before about one of my brothers who has been facing some challenges and I have done what I thought was in his best interest while trying to help him, but I have encountered an invisible line time and time again, the line between truly helping him and enabling him in a co-dependent manner (teaching a man to fish versus just giving him a fish) and I have to tell you, it is the most difficult, truly undefinable line that you really don’t even see it. Just like those trip wires that you can’t see as you look ahead and end up blowing you and everything within a pretty significant distance to either Heaven, Hell or just tiny pieces of biological matter. You can only look back and second guess yourself or see the end result of the codependency when unhealthy behaviors and crisis status is the current status each and every day. At what point does one admit that the task at hand is so far beyond their abilities that self-sacrifice will appease the gods that are so angry with my brother? Or do I just put myself, my mental health first and let the chips fall where they may, even if that means I lose a brother or maybe even two? Who am I to think that I have the right to cut the string of destiny to spare my brother pain that perhaps is his lesson, his karma? Where does my responsibility as a sister begin, where does it end? Where does my responsibility as human being with the ability to help begin and end or is that even a real thing?

The best that I can do is go with my gut, as Agent Gibbs on NCIS would say (thank you Netflix binge therapy!!) and do what I think is right at the time, with the resources available and with what I believe to be in his best interest.

There is always a kernel of a Life Lesson in each painful event of growth, so there is no win or lose, only try, but then I think of Yoda…

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So I keep putting my best foot forward, keep my mind focused and keep a sharp eye out for that invisible line.

Swim

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim”Tyler Knott Gregson

My big little brother sent me this quote via Pinterest and as always, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, as if in answer to the questions I’ve been yelling at the Universe lately. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy many things because I have been solely focused on trying to cope using ways that (obviously) have lost a degree of effectiveness. I have been so focused on just “keeping it together” that I have turned blind to simple things that I had once remembered to seek out; tiny moments of everyday miracles happening all around me. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a baby is born far too early and fights to draw each breath, yet he fights, and he lives. People die, yet their spirit and the essence of who they were live on; the deaf can hear, the wounded heal and rise to fight another day. A mother does the impossible everyday, bringing food to the table, keeping her children safe yet aware of the dangers in this world. A father works himself into an early grave so that his children can have a better life than he did. So many miracles, unnoticed when I’m so deep into myself, my “troubles” and my rollercoaster of emotions that are as much a part of me as my curly hair and my tattoos. Living with mental illness, addiction and temptation are my trifecta of Troubles. But there is so much more to the world, to me, to what I want to accomplish and who I wish to become. As with anything, I must adjust, adapt and/or accept what is happens to me, around me and within me, but that doesn’t mean that I should disregard the beautiful insanity that is my world. A world where people are still my friends, even after I have proven myself to be less than perfect and wholly human, a world where a man knows me, good and bad, happy and sad, sane and mad and still loves me. Where I have a son who has every reason to begrudge me happiness, yet wishes it for me abundantly and repeatedly; where a friend sees the crisis and helps in the the best way possible, giving me sanctuary from stress, mental exhaustion and emotional bankruptcy….next stop Complete Shutdown. I was able to avoid that next stop and it’s due solely to my friend’s generosity, which I will try to repay, but can’t imagine how I will be able to.

These last few days have been an effort to get back into the River that is Life and swim, just for the sheer joy of it. Spending time being creative, whether it’s writing, coloring with crayons or just seeking out beauty and capturing it in a photo, stealing a moment in time and keeping it forever, unchanged and unspoiled. Just walking through a park, on a trail, really looking at the trees, majestic and tall, decorated in Autumn’s colors and waving to me with the crisp morning wind shaking their leaves. This brings me back; this slowly cleanses away the grime and dust of depression, that black dog who creeps in and lies on your chest until you know you will never rise again. Nature fights that, gives you light and beauty and life, but we need to be aware, to reach out to it and let its goodness in.

Oh – and swim. Just for the love and the sheer joy of it.

 

A Walk to Remember

Yesterday I participated in the Out of Darkness walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). This is the second year I have walked and both years I have been overwhelmed by the emotions that accompany me on it. There is so much love in the crowd, not just for the loved ones they have lost but for those they wish to keep alive and protect against such a destructive, secretive and shameful act. I say shameful because that is how society (in general) sees it; a coward’s way out, not thinking of those who are left behind, selfish. What they don’t understand and should thank God they don’t, is the pain. The unrelenting pain of simply being alive; the thoughts that drive one to believe it IS hopeless and NO ONE cares, there is no other way and this is THE ANSWER. Depression to me is a magnifying glass to the tiny imperfections and doubts every person has; those who do not suffer from it can put those doubts into perspective, focus on the positive and realize it’s all pretty much good. When under the influence of depression, there is no perspective, no light, no tunnel, no nothing but blackness and sense of doom. This is why it’s so important to be vigilant with our loved ones, family members, friends and even people we just know. Our society seems to encourage independence and if you know me at all, you know I’m all about independence but there is a time and a place for everything and when dealing with depression, independence should take a back seat to seeking help and triage. Get talking with someone, whether in a phone call, Skype, tin cans attached by string, smoke signals, Morse code or Ham radio; the way in which communication takes place is not important, only that it happens.

The men and women of our military are coming home and the numbers of suicides by service members is growing and that is a number we cannot afford to rise any further; these men and women have put themselves in harms way for their country, for us. We need to be there for them. I’m not speaking of the government, although that is the obvious choice, if our world was fair and just and if their priorities didn’t begin and end with their benefit, the stroking of their egos and caring for their own personal agendas. I’m speaking of you and me, Joe Citizen. We can donate to causes that we know support them, we can spend time volunteering, writing letters, sending care packages and being a thorn in the side of the government until they do the right thing, recognize they have a mental health epidemic and get off their fat, entitled asses and take some action.

Sorry – bit of a rant there, but it is something that I have witnessed first hand; the devastation resulting from lack of action and heads deeply buried in sand or up their collective asses. The damage to families, friends, fellow service members and society in general is impossible to grade or measure, as the ripple effect will continue through lifetimes yet to come. Children who will be born without a father to raise them, a father will never get the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle, a mother will have to bury her child, a son will know mother only from stories and photos; this all doesn’t have to happen. We can get OUR heads out into the sunshine, take a deep breath and try in whatever way we are able to fight the good fight against not only suicide, but mental illness left untreated, people suffering because they are afraid of the shame and ridicule associated with mental illness STILL. For God’s sake, it’s almost 2016 and although we can clone sheep, genetically modify food and update our Facebook status every 3 seconds, we still cannot come to the place where we treat mental illness like it is – an illness. Not a personal choice, a personality flaw or a bad strand of DNA, it is an illness just like any other. Cancer used to have the same sort of stigma attached to it but we’ve gotten past that. I would like to write someday that we have gotten past all the negativity surrounding those who suffer with depression, anxiety, mania and all the other flavors of mental illness. We are not to blame and we cannot simply think happy thoughts, suck it up and put on my big girl panties or just get over it. Tell someone who is suicidal to “Get over it” and they will, just not in the way you had in mind.

This walk is a walk to remember; to remember those we have lost, to remember that it effects people of all walks of life, races, religions, social and economic classes and levels of intelligence. This is what its name implies, bringing the issue and those who suffer out of the darkness and into the light.

For more information on mental health in general please visit NAMI.

For more information on our service men and women, please check out the Wounded Warrior Project. Sorry – I tried to add links but couldn’t make it happen.

Thanks for stopping by!

Clean Up on Aisle 23

One of the things that I dislike the most about getting off track is cleaning up the mess that I’ve made whilst (great word, isn’t it?) being off track. Getting behind in my assignments for school, putting off things that shouldn’t be put off, such as filing tax returns, getting the oil changed in my car and taking care of myself. That encompasses a huge part of my Eternal To Do List, as I’m sure it does for every person on the planet. How best can I plan so as to ensure success? That is the question of the moment for me. I’ve tried with varying degrees of success before but situations, times and attitudes change, so I can’t keep using the same tactic every time.

Exercise has long been the one thing that I cannot seem to successfully make a part of my every day life and it is without a doubt one of the best things I can do for myself and my mental, physical and social health. I’ve tried many times, but always with a half-assed effort and the petulant attitude of a rebellious 9 year old asked to clean the toilet. Not exactly jumping with joy and enthusiasm. Well, now I am a little more willing to admit that I do not always know what’s best for me and if my past performance is any indication, I should really seek assistance in this area. So today I am calling about some ballroom dance lessons I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m going to see if they offer something in the summer I could take since I won’t have school. That will also get me out of the house, so that would be doubly-good. (Not a real word, I’m pretty sure but I like it)

The other part of the clean up goes to forgiveness. As I told you in a previous post, I ran into someone that used to be a friend and I am still feeling the ripples of that episode of Freak Show Comes to Your Life and it had reignited some smoldering flame of Yuck that just needed a little stoking to once again become a raging wildfire of Bad Feelings in me. More like Unresolved Issues that I have zero desire to face, put to rest or especially forgive, if it involves me communicating with said group of Ill Will bearers. But I also know if I don’t forgive, I will be the one who suffers, not them. So this is one of my big clean up items. I look forward to it less than I do cleaning a toilet in a frat house of 20 guys with chronic diarrhea. Sorry for the visual, but that sums it up.

I look at this like laundry or dishes; you will always have to wash clothes and clean dishes. I will (by nature of being human) always have clean ups on Aisle 23 so I might as well suit up and get to it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

This Someone

As I stand inside my mind

The colors of darkness I do find.

The blackness of extreme depression

Brought about by lack of possession

of clearer, lighter, brighter thoughts

of sunshine, beauty, things I have not.

To see the sun halfway in the sky

Think of it as rising to a greater high

See it not as setting, as to an end,

but rather a new day, ready to begin.

If the colors in this mind

Were lighter, sweeter, more sublime

I believe I would have achieved

the inner peace of which I’ve not yet received

Is there hope for this to be?

Can I ever truly love this person that is me?

Will I ever feel that happy glow from gorgeous dreams

Of touching clouds, embracing sunbeams?

Or will I always be so tightly wrapped

in heavy blankets of gloom; so completely trapped?

I do not wish to feel forever down

To hear only the drumbeats of lonesome sound

But change is pain and pain is growing

I cannot keep this all from showing

In weighing the fears of what is to be

Against the measure of this person that is me.

Can I rise above the fears that bind me

and let the truth at last find me?

The courage to do what must be done

is hidden deep within me,

this someone.

-October 1993, Gulfport, MS

Better Living Through Chemistry, Again

Today I realized that there is a reason why doctors (shrinks/psych docs, etc.) want us “chemically special” people to stay on our psych meds. It’s mostly because if we don’t, we tend to go a little bat-shit fucking crazy. My special brand of b.s.f.c. is my temper (see previous post about the Incredible Hulk) and my innate ability to see the funny/crazy/stupid things and comment on them in a (I’ve been told) highly entertaining manner. Combine those two fabulous talents and you end up with a really angry, funny, scary woman. It’s no wonder I haven’t had tons of men clamoring at my feet, begging me to marry them and make them the “happiest man in the world”. Yeah, you see it.
So, today at work, I was doing my very best to muzzle that mad, crazy, funny woman and get her to SHUT UP so we could keep our job and not call undo attention to ourselves (you do know by now that it is not single-occupancy in my mind, don’t you?) when, much to my dismay, a rather (ok seriously) snide comment flew out of my mouth. Oops. Did I say that???? It wasn’t the worst thing I could’ve said and it wasn’t said within hearing of the subject of said comment (at least I don’t think so) but it did help to illustrate in glorious Technicolor and Dolby Surround Sound that my filter had gone the way of my meds; outta there. Which leads me to this post. I know I haven’t posted in a long, long time, but I thought today I would try to channel some of my inner rage in a more positive, less fallout kind of way.
The flip side to the incredible anger is an equally incredible sadness. If I ever want to make myself cry, all I have to do is go to Facebook. There, I can find all the happy couples, the vacationing families with their matching outfits and cute poses in front of every scene imaginable. I can locate ex-boyfriends that still have my heart and find out that they have remarried, had more babies, vacationed in Italy or just gotten shitfaced at a friend’s wedding. All of this is wonderful and some part of me is happy for them, but another bigger, louder part of me thinks, “That’s all fine and good for them, but it’s not for you. You have your independence, your solitude and you can leave the toilet seat down until the end of time. Celebrate that!” Yeah, I do have those things. But I think the root of this deep sadness is the feeling that I had that and I let it go. More to the point, I set fire to it, destroyed it and made sure it was good and dead. At the time, it made perfect sense and it was the best thing to do for all concerned. Now I am starting to believe that was my one chance at happiness; that was the one man on the face of this wretched planet that loved me with all his heart (until I broke, crushed and basically shredded it) and I threw it away. Damn. My Bad, In a BIG WAY.
Of course, I know (logically) that there is more than just One True Love. I also know that hiding out in my apartment, binge-watching Netflix and investing my emotions in characters in a story is no real way to find love, or even quality of life. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet and you’ve got to risk leaving your safe place and venture out into the cruel world to find what’s you need to feed your soul, give you a different view and possibly expand your horizons, challenge yourself and GROW. The only thing I’m doing by hiding out is allowing my fear to grow and God knows, it doesn’t need much help from me. It grows just fine so long as I give it lots of darkness, isolate myself away from people who may tell me that they are concerned about me or God forbid, have someone they’d like me to meet….eek!
Yet, it doesn’t do any good to have the knowledge and not act on it. So, my first step is to get back on my meds (I promise I will, Michael!) my experiment in going med-free has not been a total failure, as it has shown me how much of a difference they make in the quality of my life. I wish I didn’t have to take them, but I would bet that the diabetic wishes he could eat candy bars and not have to worry about his blood sugar; the cancer patient wishes she didn’t have to do chemo, etc. In the face of everything going on in the world, my problems are certainly First World problems, as my son would be quick to remind me.
That’s all for now. Love and light to you all.

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.

257 Days and Counting

Yep. 257 days since I last drank. That’s less than a year but feels like more than a lifetime.

I remember the first time I had a drink; it was Mickey’s Big Mouth beer and I was about 13 years old. I liked the bottle more than I liked the taste, but I drank it nonetheless. I eventually graduated to California Coolers, then Bacardi 151. I immediately enjoyed the effect. The numbness, the fuzziness of the mind, the emptying of the worry bin inside my head. I drank only occasionally, but always with the same result, a welcome brain buzz and immediate mood shift. It wasn’t difficult for me to obtain back then, I could stand outside the local liquor store and at most, it would take me two attempts before I was successful.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I really needed to drink. When I was living in Mississippi, I would drink a bottle of White Zin every night for about two weeks. (I know – White Zin??) I used it for the same reason I always drank; to numb and to not feel. Eventually, I was able to adjust to life away from my hometown and family, but I still drank. Just not as much and not at home. I have wonderful memories of living there, but they all centered around being at a bar, going to a bar, buying alcohol, drinking alcohol, having drunken walks on the beach, drunken intense, soul-searching conversations that I could barely recall the next day. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was starting a pattern that would later come back to haunt me. Me + Drink = Good Times. I can’t recall the exact date, but somewhere during this part of my life, I got the idea that I wasn’t fun, smart, good-looking and/or interesting unless I had fueled up with some form of alcohol first.

Fast forward to 2011. I am now hitting happy hour in any day ending with “y”. I set a limit of how much I was going to drink, then would blow past that in the first hour. I’m coming home, but not remembering the drive there. I’m waking up in the morning and not remembering the entire evening. I knew on some level that I had a problem, so I tried to establish as many safety nets as I could. Drive home, then walk to a bar close by, so I could walk home and as a bonus, more alcohol consumption as a reward for my “responsible drinking”. Other useless rules included: No shots, all shots, 2 drink minimum, 1 hour maximum….the list went on and on, along with the drinking. The only thing that was constant was my drinking.

At last, I had an intervention of sorts; it was really just one very important person, telling me how much he was scared of losing me, scared I would kill myself or someone else. He was trying to say it in the nicest way possible, but I could hear the embarrassment and the underlying anger, laced with fear. My son. My grown son had to tell me, his mother, that I was out of control and heading straight for an epic fail. The nagging voice in my head that had been whispering the same message agreed wholeheartedly. I had other clues that my mental state was not improving and all this self-medicating was serving only to fuel my ever-increasing rage and rising manic state. So, I made a call to my psychiatrist and told her that I was finally ready to get serious about my ridding myself of my out-of-control addictions.

After 7 weeks of intensive outpatient treatment and countless AA meetings, I better understand why I drank so much, how it had a negative effect on my attempts to manage my mental illness. I was able look back at that time and shudder. I shudder to think that I drove, that I lost countless hours, days, nights and whole weekends just because I didn’t want to go through the temporary discomfort of facing my fears and doing the hard work to get right with myself. Life is truly what we make it and I am determined to make mine count. Live each and every day mindfully and honestly. I don’t want to be numb or try to avoid discomfort. Discomfort is what tells me that I need to make a change or I need to move on. It’s a necessary evil, for lack of a better term.

I’d like to say that the hard part is over, but I’m done lying to myself. I think the worst is over, but there will always be difficult times, with or without those crutches. I will trust in myself, know that I have more strength than I could ever imagine. If I feel weak, I know what to do to gather my strength. If I feel lost, I have friends and family to help me find my way. I have AA and all the wealth of experience and support that offers. Most of all, I have my self worth and a clarity of vision that help me to see what is good for me and what is not. I have the courage to speak up for myself and the strength of will to walk away from what is not good for me.

This year, I will celebrate one year of sobriety the month before my 45th birthday and I know it will be the best birthday I’ve ever had. I look forward to living life without the burdens of shame, fear and self-loathing. I raise my glass of Hansen’s Natural Soda and toast to living the good life.

Cheers!