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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Love Me Tender

 

Wedding Table

A while ago, I attended a wedding as a guest of a good friend and while it may not have been a wedding that I knew a great deal about the bride and groom, I could tell a great deal about their relationship from the vows they wrote themselves, the looks that passed between them, the people who love them and do know their journey and the smiles from everyone celebrating the occasion.

Sometimes I think that marriage is out of style, a throwback to the ancient rites of old, no longer relevant in today’s modern world. Well, sometimes I am wrong. Oftentimes I am wrong and on the count of marriage because it is relevant and it is still part of the rites of old, just as chopping down a tree, dragging it into your home and decorating it for a celebration (Christmas) that is older than time. Perhaps in our disposable society, marriage is too concrete, too clearly defined and too binding. Now, I know many people who believe that a piece of paper makes no difference in whether a relationship is successful or not. While that may be true for that particular person, I wonder why, if the piece of paper is of no consequence, then why the hesitation to follow through? But I digress.

I see marriage as a partnership; the ceremony and that piece of paper are the contract that lays out the terms and conditions of said partnership. For those of faith, it is a contract drafted by God, agreed to and witnessed by friends, family and the representative of God and of that faith. I guess faith is what it really comes down to; do you have faith in your beloved? Do you have faith that you have the strength to deal with the difficult times, the times where you seem to have lost your way? Do you have faith that you were brought together for a reason and have a shared destiny to fulfill? Or are you more comfortable having a back up plan, an escape plan and keeping one foot out the door, in case things get uncomfortable? Whatever your personal beliefs or fears, relationships will always have tough times, bad things will happen to good people and loved ones will disagree; people will try to come between you, society will tell you you’re better off alone, an individual and thereby free to live how you choose. I say there is a grain of truth in most anything said, but do you focus on that grain of truth and make it larger to suit your belief or do you focus on the big picture; the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, the disappointments with the victories? It’s all about choices; choices we make, as well as choosing to do nothing, which is in fact a choice. Do we let our past heartbreaks prevent us from seeking or accepting love? It’s your choice, your decision and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

I always seem to have a really good time when I attend a wedding. Even sober, I have a great time. I always love to dance, even if it’s just doing the Electric Slide with everyone from the little flower girl to great-aunt Thelma, it’s all good. The rooms are filled with so much love from so many people. The love is not only for the happy couple, but I think it brings back memories of their own wedding day and reminds them of how much in love they were, they are and they always will be. For me, it’s an opportunity to show the shaded part of myself that hope lives, love does truly conquer all and there are stories in life that at some point contain the phrase happily ever after.

Xanadu

I’ve had a few rough (emotionally & mentally) days the last couple of days and whenever that happens, I tend to focus on things that I have no control over (I’ve posted on this many times) so when I found myself in that situation yesterday, I felt that desperate measures were required to get me out of the Rut of Negativity and Disenchantment, otherwise known as the State of Bleh. I turned my focus to my upcoming trip, to flights of fancy (Liam meeting me at the airport and sweeping me off my feet into a great big bear hug) and just being away from the day to day injustices and unfairness of Everyday Life in the Imperfect World that we live in. These daydreams (or whatever you choose to call them) were an integral part of my childhood and in my teens, I switched from daydreams to outright escape from reality, courtesy of my friends Drink and Drugs. Now that I am no longer a patron of these ne’er do wells, I have reactivated the creative, non-logical free spirited portion of my mind to allow the daydreams, the hopes, the wishes and the flights of fancy to once again stretch their gossamer wings and take flight, taking my burdens, cares and troubles with them. It worked so well when I was a child and now that I have a much more varied catalog of experiences, places and people, it works even better still.

So, Dear Liam, I am thankful for your easy smile, your height which makes me think of a giant oak, strong and protecting, providing shade from sun and shelter from storms. I think your arms must be like branches on those trees, cradling gently but with a strength that is unbreakable; even though none of these things may be true about you, I believe them, as I see these traits reflected in your roles, in your eyes and in who you are. So therefore, you are my Xanadu, my place beyond time and space, where I can be safe, loved, protected and adored. Thank you for that, Liam and thank you for not taking out a restraining order on me (yet!)

Kubla Khan
BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

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I am Anita’s Daughter

My mother has been my hero, my dearest friend and my biggest fan. She was also the one who was (unfortunately) the recipient of my rage, toxic mood swings, the childish behavior. She has witnessed first-hand the destructive powers of the demons that dwell in my unquiet, brilliant, mad, mad mind. She has seen me through thick and thin, even when I have tried to hide the dark times, the times when there was no light, no way out of the darkness. Her faith, unconditional love and absolute refusal to give up on me are the only reasons I am here today, alive and relatively well. Mom did not allow me to feel sorry for myself, nor did she allow me to use my “magical mad mind” to be an excuse for not realizing my potential. She could see the woman I had the potential to be, she knew the gifts that had been bestowed upon me and believed I had strength in me that would carry me through whatever life gave me, so long as I kept faith.

I have said before that she was the strongest woman I have ever known and that still holds true. Sadly, dementia came in with silent steps and stole her away from all of us. Slowly at first, leaving us with questions that had no answers, until one day, I was not recognizable as Michelle or even as her daughter. But even with that diagnosis, my mother remained loving, caring, gentle and pleasant to all those around her. We don’t know what happens to our loved ones who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s or any other memory-related disease/disorder, but I prayed that she was in a good place within her memories. Now I know that she is where all God’s faithful children go, where she will be reunited with those who have gone before her. You can call it Heaven, call it The Other Side, call it whatever you like, but I know that all of the sacrifice, all of the turning of the other cheek, the prayers, the sleepless nights and the rosaries and penance she offered up are now being returned to her on a grand scale. She believed with all of her heart and soul that by living a good life here on Earth, she would be rewarded in the afterlife. I can’t say that I understood that philosophy growing up, but as I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I tend to think I understand a little better now. It’s not even so much about going to Heaven, but is more about looking within to discover your riches; extending your hand, not in asking or demanding something, but in giving. Giving comfort, giving the touch of human kindness; living by the Golden Rule –
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That means when you see someone who is having an absolutely horrific day, instead of jumping to judgment *hugely guilty of that, I am* give that person the benefit of the doubt; they had a hard day, lost a loved one, found out they have cancer or just feel like they are unloved. Make the effort to put yourself in that person’s place and know that the last thing they need is to be judged. They need understanding, compassion and yes, even love. Not to say that you need to go up to the person and be all, “Hey baby – how ‘bout I rock your world and make you forget all your troubles??? but just to think of sending them love, peace, calm and acceptance. It sounds like cheesy, new-age goofy stuff, whatever. The bottom line is – it works.

I can’t tell you how many of my friends who met Mom told me that I was so lucky to have such a loving, accepting mother. They were not so fortunate; their mothers competed against them, made them a real-life Cinderella (without the ball, the fairy godmother and prince) or punished them for being beautiful, intelligent and kind. Seems like one of those Grimm fairy tales, but I have witnessed such interactions and always feel so sorry not only for my friend, but for her mother, who I think may be simply repeating what her mother did to her. My mom was a breath of fresh air to these girls and her kindness is remembered to this day. Not to say that Mom was a saint; she had a wicked temper, a sharp tongue when needed and rue the idiot who thought he could mess with her children, any of us. I remember her telling me that she had that same response when anyone messed with her brothers. I guess I take after Mom in more ways than I had thought. That fierceness is born out of love, absolute, unconditional and pure. There is no substitute, nothing can take its place; it can’t be faked, it is something that comes from within.

Money can’t make it, power can’t take it, hate can’t break it. Let us not forsake it.
Love.
Love is all we need.
Love is what I think of when I remember Mom;
Love is the legacy she left us all.
Share it, speak it, tuck it in your heart and keep it.

Mom was the best example of what true faith, unconditional love and a mother’s devotion looks like, lives like and loves like. If I can be a shadow of what she was, my life will be an absolute success. I will strive to be more loving, less judgmental; I will strive to find forgiveness, not only for others, but for myself. I will continue to learn what it means to be a good person and not turn my eyes when I see someone in need. I won’t be perfect, I won’t always bite my tongue or hold back those snarky thoughts, but I will make the effort. When it seems the task is too great, I will remember you, Mom. I will remember your sacrifices, your strength of belief, your faith in God and your family. I may falter, I may find myself off course and I may even fall, but then I will remember that I am Anita’s daughter and I will get back on my feet, dust myself off and keep moving forward. I know you are with me, your words are in my mind, your love is in my heart. I am never alone.

Friendly Fear

I have been trying to get a handle on some serious anxiety I have around returning to work next week and in the process, I have come to realize just how powerful fear can truly be. In feeling my feelings, I have had the most difficulty with fear/anxiety; for whatever reason, it’s the one feeling that I cannot intellectualize or rationalize my way out of. It is the one emotion that has driven me most of my life. Fear of rejection led me to avoid relationships; fear of failure kept me from following my dreams and fear of judgement kept me from sharing those dreams and even most of my thoughts. Fear of feeling my feelings led me to my addictions, which led me to despair and a great deal of self-loathing.

I wish I could say that I have learned to embrace my fear, but that is not the case; at least not yet. I have come to understand that fear is not the enemy. Rather, fear is the first step on the journey to personal enlightenment and inner strength. If I can work through the fear and learn what is the driving force behind it, then I may potentially be able to develop the skills to see the lesson that it is trying to teach me. For instance, within my fear of rejection, there exists a perfectionist view of what a successful relationship consists of; if I am not perfect, then I cannot have a successful relationship (this is my flawed logic) so the lesson is that nothing is perfect, all relationships have their own challenges and the end of a relationship is not necessarily a failure. Understanding that all successful relationships have at their core the desire of both parties to hear the other out, be willing to be flexible, forgiving and most of all, honest. Not to mention being respectful of the other person, their feelings, insecurities and of course, fears. There is more than one lesson to be learned inside that particular fear. If I run away or close my mind to the possibility of having a relationship, I will never learn and as a result, not grow. But the fear will.

Hence, the title of Friendly Fear. I am learning that Life is a series of lessons and I am the eternal student. I will be a student for the whole of my life here on Earth and perhaps even beyond that. I will return to work with my friendly fear, a plan of action and a whole lot of deep breathing and centering. It will be interesting to discover what lesson is to be learned this time.

Breathe, breathe deeply, breathe out and breathe in. Fear please leave me, hope please come in. Lesson to be learned, show yourself to me; strength to learn and faith to see.