Thursday, January 15, 2015

Are You Ready to Feel Better?

In July of 2005 I got a very bad headache.  A debilitating headache.  It didn't go away for a couple of weeks so I sought medical treatment.  Long story short, I still have it.  Lots of tests and doctors and treatments later.  No answers.  But that's not what this post is about.

I got the headache.  We tried a bunch of stuff, including Lortab.  It was great and made me feel awesome, but it didn't take the headache away.  And it made it difficult for me to function as a mother and an employee.  So I quit taking it and just didn't take anything for several months.  The headache intensity fluctuated.  If it got too bad, I just took a nap.  The pain meds weren't worth the trade off of being completely non-functional and the rebound headaches I'd get.

But in October of 2006 my headache got bad and stayed bad for quite a while.  I went to the doctor and desperately asked if there was something else we could try.  Wasn't there something that could help that wouldn't make me feel like a zombie?

He said it was time to go to the pain clinic.  Again, that's another story for another day.  But there's one element that needs to be told for this post to have meaning.

In addition to the regular medical stuff we would try with the doctors, they wanted me to meet with their psychologist.  I don't remember his name, and he has since retired.  Let's just call him Dr. Old Guy.

So I met with Dr. Old Guy.  He said we would work on bio-feedback and relaxation.  He gave me a cd and told me he wanted me to spend thirty minutes twice a day listening to it and practicing guided relaxation.  I may possibly have laughed in his face at the idea of two thirty minute relaxation sessions a day.  He said the fact that it seemed impossible to me was just a sign that we were on the right track.  Whatever.

So I did it and came back to meet with him again.  And as we walked into his office for our second appointment he asked me a question that has stuck with me ever since.  Haunted me?  Maybe.  He asked, "Are you ready to feel better?"

It kind of stopped me in my tracks.

Now it could very well have been one of those things that really doesn't mean anything.  It could have just been his way of saying, "Let's get started."

But I pondered it.  I analyzed it.  I agonized over it.

Was there something I was gaining from having this headache that made me resistant to healing and was that why I wasn't getting better?

At the time it seemed ridiculous.  What good was there in a headache?  It had caused so much stress in my life.  It had disrupted so many of my plans.  It would eventually be the reason I had to quit my job.  How on earth could anyone think I was choosing this?  Was I choosing it?

The reason any of this matters all these years later is because of my word for the year.  I chose HEAL as my word for 2015.  And I still hear this question in my head.  "Are you ready to feel better?"

And I still don't know the answer.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Time to Heal

It's a new year.  A fresh start.  Sure, there's no big difference between December 31st and January 1st, but there actually is.  People all over the world are taking this opportunity to examine their lives and decide what they want to change.  How they want to improve.

I love that!  It feels like a moment of unity for our entire species.  That doesn't happen often.

I don't do resolutions, but I do examine my life and look for a new focus.  I choose ONE WORD.  There will be one word that guides my year.  I never know exactly how it will play out.  Some of it is how I change my actions; some of it is the natural flow of life; and I believe God brings people and experiences into my life to help me, because I've opened my heart up to Him in that way.

In the past I've sometimes stewed over what word to choose for the next year.  Other times I just instantly knew.  This was one of the latter.  As soon as I thought about the new year and what I wanted to focus on, a word came to my mind.  Clear and strong and spoken.

Would I go so far as to say God chose this word for me?  Yes, I would.
This year God wants me to HEAL.

The word and a feeling came strongly.  But the feeling was an open one.  Heal is my word, but much of how I interpret that will morph throughout the year.  What I do with that word is largely up to me.

So when I was given that word the first thing that came to mind was working on my physical health (which I think is the direction most people who know me would also go with it).  I have some health struggles that I've sought answers for over the past several years - to no avail.  They interfere with the life I want to live.  They interfere with relationships.  They interfere with who I want to be.

Then I felt selfish.  Always looking at how my life will change.  Always focused on me.  Maybe it's meant to be an outward thing.  Maybe I'm meant to heal others.  Who would I want to heal?  My family, my friends, my parents, the world.  But I don't actually have the power to heal others.  I have the power to help others heal, but only God can truly heal.  And maybe He and I will spend some time working together to help others heal.  I'm open to that.

In order to figure out what God was really asking of me, I pulled inside of myself.  I took a deep breath.  I opened my heart.  And I asked, "What does this mean, this word heal, for me this year?"

And then I wrote:
 - finances
 - past
 - Christmas
 - physical health
 - food issues/habits
 - house
 - garden/yard
 - car management
 - Mother's Day/Father's Day/Parents' birthdays
 - my boundaries/obligations/desires for relationship with my parents
 - mental health separate from my past
 - spiritual health?
 - daily habits/time management
 - relationships?
 - from relationships
 - coping strategies
 - self-soothing
 - self-care
 - household
 - computer
 - writing
 - my relationship with my body*
 - wanting
 - codependence
 - control issues

So, not much.  (Just kidding on that not much thing.)

The question marks were because I'm not sure if He and I think that is an area I need to work on this year or if it's just something I felt I should add (seriously, a moment of allowing myself to be directed by societal expectations; sheesh).  The asterisk is because I felt added intensity from Him on that one.

I know some of these may not make sense.  Some of them don't seem to fit.  But they do.  And they do make sense in my head and my heart, even while they are still left free-floating and undefined - waiting to be discovered.

Because that is part of the magic of choosing one word.  My year is spent in discovery.  How and why does my word apply in this situation, whatever the situation may be?  How does applying my word to this experience affect my growth and my happiness and my peace?  How will this word change who I am?

It's a wonderful journey for me.  Full of magic.  And wonder.  And inspiration.  And challenge.  And failure.  And growth.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year of Creating

2014.  It's almost over.  Where did it go?  And so fast.  It's done and gone so fast.

And what do I have to show for it?

I love to look back on the year and see what's changed.  What did I get done that I wanted to and what plans fell in the gutter?  I especially love this look back since I've started choosing ONE WORD to guide my year (explained here).

Last year my word was CREATE.  I had so many great plans, while still leaving things open to the natural flow of my life and whatever the world would bring my way.  Some of my plans came to fruition.  Others, not so much.

I wanted to draw more.  I did, but not as much as I had planned.
I wanted to create the yard I'd been dreaming of.  I made progress, but not as much as I had planned (thank you hysterectomy).
I wanted to make my room a haven.  I did really well at this (although maintenance is tricky).

I had a list of words as part of my plan.  Some with obvious meaning, others more ethereal.  I created a vision canvas to help guide me.  I hung it on my closet door and referred to it often, to just kind of check in with myself.

I wanted to create:
     - peace
     - stability
     - strength
     - refuge
     - dragonflies*
     - healing
     - haven
     - space
     - calm
     - wellness
     - sanctuary
     - satisfaction
     - fortitude
     - oasis
     - happiness
     - gargoyles*
     - garden
     - structure
     - dragons*
     - wholeness
     - atonement
     - shelter
     - freedom
     - health
     - joy
     - self
     - focus
     - safety
     - divinity
     - dreams
     - escape
     - order

*I didn't want to create dragonflies, gargoyles, or dragons; I wanted to incorporate them into my life.  I love them in a magical way.  They sing to my heart.  I did learn to draw a basic dragonfly that I'm happy with.  I'm still searching for just the right gargoyle(s).  But as for the dragon, I'm not there yet.  I wanted to learn to draw one.  I have some ideas, and a tutorial for a basic one, but no finished product.  I still have today and tomorrow.  Maybe I'll get it done before the year is over.

As for the others on my list, I have had a certain measure of success on all of them.  And that's why the ONE WORD idea works for me.  I don't have to be perfect (perfectionism is a struggle I have).  I keep it very open, loosely defined.  It's a guide, not a restriction.  Even with all the struggles and health issues I had this last year, I'm calling it a win!

I'll keep my vision canvas for CREATE up for a while.  I love the ideas it contains and it makes me happy.  And I'm eager to create one for my new word for 2015.  It's just the perfect word for my life right now.  That will be my next post.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Broke My Therapist and Got a New Diagnosis

Warning:  This post contains possible triggers for self-harm.  If you are not safe, please don't continue.

The new diagnosis is Bipolar II and doesn't really have anything to do with me breaking my therapist.  It's something that's been tossed around as a possibility a couple of times in the past.  I think we're calling it semi-definite now.  Enough that I'm trying a new medication for it.  We'll see if that does anything to change my life.

But the real reason for this post is the whole breaking-my-therapist thing.

Let me start off by saying how much I adore my therapist, Dan.  A lot.  He's amazing and has helped me so much over the years.  He's seen me through some very difficult stuff and walked me through the dark corners of my life that I didn't want to go into.  I would recommend him to anyone.  Well, almost anyone.  Anyone who needs help but doesn't have a problem with self-harm.

You see, along with being a hero, my therapist is a person.  Just a regular human being.  With issues.  I know.  Therapists aren't supposed to have issues, huh?  But they do.  And he does.  And self-harm is the one I triggered.

For anyone who doesn't know me well or hasn't read my blog much, self-harm and I are old friends.  She's helped me get through some really heavy times.  (Not sure why I called self-harm female, but let's just run with it.)  Generally I'm a scratcher.  I use a broken plastic spoon to scratch myself (usually my arms) until I get through several layers of skin and it welts up and bleeds and stings really good.  I say good because to me, in those moments, it feels good.  Don't ask me why.  It doesn't make sense in my logical brain.  It just does.

I'm not good at knowing what will set it off.  It just happens.  I go months without doing it and then WHAM!  Out of nowhere I'm slicing my arms open.

Only this time I maybe should have seen it coming.  I've been fighting a nasty depression (with a couple days of hypomania thrown in, just for fun).  I went quite dark a few days.  Started isolating myself.  Quit getting dressed or leaving the house.  Stopped communicating with people.  Not a happy place.

I don't know what the straw was -- you know, the one that broke the camel's back.  But something happened and I knew I was going to hurt myself.  And being in that dark place when it started coming on, the idea of asking for help didn't occur to me.

But this time I didn't need to scratch.  I needed to burn.  See, it's like getting an itch.  And it's a peculiar itch.  An itch that will only be well scratched with the proper technique.  Sometimes that's the spoon.  Once in a while it calls for the curling iron.

Almost before I knew it I had a nice, big, second-degree burn on my arm.  Ugh.  I'd gone so long without doing it.  I'd been able to wear short sleeves without worrying about traumatizing my kids or others.  And then BAM!  All down the toilet.  Dang it!

Yes, it felt better in the moment.  Yes, it took away the itch.  Was it worth it?  I don't know the answer to that yet.

But then I had a therapy session.  Therapy only works if I'm honest with my therapist.  So I told him and showed him.  He wasn't happy, but we were functioning.  We were even making some progress.  Until near the end of the session.  When I, in the interest of honesty and knowing it was something I should tell him, told him I was thinking of using a blade.

And it triggered him.  And he lost his therapist brain for a bit.  And he called me a coward.

I completely shut down therapeutically.  I refused to look at him.  I started crying a lot.  I told him I was done and wanted to leave.

He could tell things had gone off the rails and tried to fix them a little, but it wasn't going to happen.  He asked when my next appointment was (because now he was very worried about me; it's never a good sign when you leave a therapy appointment in a more fragile state than when you entered).  When I told him it was in two weeks he said that was too long.  He looked at his schedule for the next week to see where he could squeeze me in.  It was packed full.  But he had an opening for the next day.  Would I take that one?  Whatever, just get me out of here.

I called my husband and told him what had happened.  He could hear how bad I was.  He tried to talk me through it.  I said I was safe (therapy code word for not-going-to-hurt-myself).  I said I was just going to go home and go to bed.  Maybe watch some Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He offered to come home.  I said he didn't need to. 

Apparently he didn't believe me, because he showed up a couple hours later (he has a two hour commute).  I needed him more than I thought and spent the rest of the night next to him.  Then he took the next day off work so he could come to my therapy session with me.

I don't often want outside help.  My husband is many things, but my strength is not usually one of them.  This time it was.  I needed him to be my buffer with my therapist.  Also not a good sign.

Usually when I take my husband to therapy with me it's because he's having a problem (we see the same therapist) or we're having a marital problem (which still usually means he's having a problem).  So as we sat down in the therapist's office he asked if there was a marital problem.  I said that we were fine.  He asked if Bill was there as support.  I said yes.  Then I looked him in the eye for the first time since he'd called me a coward and through my tears said, "I don't feel emotionally safe with you."

I chokingly explained what had happened the day before, thinking that maybe he didn't understand what he'd said or didn't mean it that way.  He said, "Yep.  I did."  Then he went on to defend it with the idea of challenging a patient.  Using the relationship between patient and therapist to push the patient into something healthier.  He said self-harm was a deal breaker for him.  It was his Achilles heal.  He said sometimes people forget that therapists are people, too, and have their own issues.  This was his.  If I couldn't commit to not do it anymore maybe it would be a good idea for him to refer me to someone else.

I've been seeing him off and on for over eight years.  The idea of starting over, of having to explain everything - my whole life story - again to someone new, was not appealing.  Was exhausting to just think about.  But I was pretty sure I couldn't work with a therapist that I knew saw me as a coward.  Someone I wouldn't feel comfortable telling when I self-harmed.  And I knew I couldn't say I was done.

I told him I needed to think about it and let my husband spend the next forty minutes asking about Bipolar II (really, just to get our money's worth; I had made the decision).  Then my husband ran out of questions.  It was time.

My therapist apologized for using such a "harsh" word.  I looked him in the eye again and said, "It wasn't harsh.  It was demeaning."  He just nodded.

We all sat in silence for a minute or two.

Then I looked him in the eye and told him I needed him to refer me to someone else.  I told him I've never not seen him as a person.  I never thought he didn't have issues.  But I have my own issues and I can't carry his, too.  I have to carry the issues of too many people in my life.  I can't carry his.

So he said he would refer me out.  He said his feelings weren't hurt.  He said I could come back if I ever needed to.  I understood completely why he reacted the way he did (I know what it's like to be triggered).  We patched things up amazingly well and respectfully.  I left with a recommendation from him (Jason) and a promise from me that I would get medication for Bipolar II ASAP.  And with a heart that was breaking, because even though I knew it was the right decision I was so sad about leaving him.

My husband and I left his office and I immediately set appointments with the new guy.

Lest I leave you with a bad feeling about my therapist, there is more.

He called me later that night to check on me and make sure I was okay.  I was.  I was actually doing great.  Much better than I'd been in days.  Because I'd done something very brave and very hard to stay true to my own needs.  I was riding a bit of a high from that.  He also said that what I'd said, about not carrying his issues, had stuck with him.  He'd been thinking about that a lot and would continue to do so.

Then he called me a few days later to apologize.  He said not only had he handled the first appointment horribly, inappropriately, but he'd botched the second one, too.  He said it's never okay to call someone names.  He acknowledged that he'd not been in his therapist mind at the time.  He said he'd spoken to some colleagues about it and understood a bit better.  He said to force me to transition to a new therapist while in the midst of a deep depression was completely wrong of him.  He said he knew that he'd shut me down when I needed to be heard.  And he was so sorry about that.

Then he said he'd also talked to his colleagues about his issue.  He said he understood self-harm better and how to see it as a symptom and to treat it as such.  He said he thought we'd done great work together over the years and still could.  He said he thought he could work with me, that he liked working with me, and wondered if there was any way we could repair the relationship.  Would I be interested in coming back?  Seeing him again?

I thought about it for a few seconds, but the decision was easy.  Because just moments before he'd called me I'd gotten out of a session with my new therapist.

I thanked him for his apology and gladly accepted it.  I told him we had done lots of good work together.  And then I told him I'd just met with Jason and wanted to try that course for a while.

He said he understood and that I would always be welcome back.  I told him it was nice to know I had a parachute, should I need one.

Will I go back?  Honestly, I think eventually I probably will.  I want to see what this new therapist has to offer.  Maybe he can help me kick the self-harm thing for good.  Maybe he can help me want to.  He thinks he can.

But I don't imagine he can possibly solve all the problems that keep me crazy.  My life is not simple and shows no signs of letting up any time soon.  I imagine I will work with him, get better for a while, leave therapy and try to make it on my own, and eventually crash and burn again (I mean that like a plane going down not depression and self-harm).  And when I do I will look for that comfortable place.  That worn pair of pants.  Because Dan and I still fit.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Have to Write

Have to write.
Can't.
Stuck.
Hurts.
Wound so tight.
Things a blur.
Unsure.
Lost.
Choking on thoughts.
Flailing.
Drowning.
Pinned at the bottom of the sea.
Looking up.
Wishing.
Waiting.
Believing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Depression Looks Like

Earlier this year a friend of mine asked if she could take my picture.  She's spending the year focusing on the importance of the people in her life, A Year of Faces.  I was one of many she'd asked and declined at first.  It was a very dark time in my life.  Not a time I would look my best.  I explained to her where I was emotionally and asked if I could participate later, when I felt better.

She said she understood and, of course, we could wait if I wanted to.  But if I was willing, she'd like to capture where I was right then.  The darkness.

And I knew it was right.  I needed this to happen.  Even though it wouldn't be pretty and even though it was difficult, it was also so important.  I agreed to do it.

She sent me some pictures she'd found on the internet of depression.  Some were very stylized, very artsy.  Some were blank stares.  Some were silhouettes.  I understood why people associated these with depression.  And these might represent depression for some people, or even me at some times.

But not this time.  None of these came close this time.

This was my darkest time, at least the darkest I can remember.  This was the most painful depression I've ever had.  And the most unrelenting.  Months and months of pain and numbness and isolation and fear and loneliness and sadness and confusion and anxiety and guilt and exhaustion.

The day she came I was wearing the same pajamas I'd been wearing for three or four days straight.  My hair was dirty because I just didn't have the energy or will to shower.  She was the first person I'd invited into my home in weeks.

She asked me to tell her about my current struggle as she took photos.  She was gentle and kind.  She listened and asked questions.  It was an important moment.

She used one photo for her project.  I've been saving the others for the right time.  Today is the right time.

These photos are difficult for me to look at.  They hurt.  But people need to understand what depression is and I believe these will help.

Thank you, Karen, for capturing a hidden moment that needs to be seen.

My fingertips are pressing on the spot where I've had a headache for nine years.  When I cry, I tend to furrow my brow; this makes my head hurt worse.  I press on that spot to try to get the muscles to release and relieve the pain.  It helps a little.
Depression makes me feel incredibly vulnerable.  I have no emotional energy to protect myself.  That's part of why I isolate.  So often, when I am with other people, I feel the need to defend or explain myself.  When I am in a depression I just have nothing in me to do that.  I have no strength or will to draw boundaries and defend them.  It's easier to just be alone than to feel like a rag doll at the whim of those around me.  I often find myself in the fetal position in an attempt to seal myself off from the world and keep myself safe.
Sometimes my depressions are emotionless.  I feel nothing.  Most of the time it was like that.  Dull.  Blank.  Empty.  Nothing.  Other moments were like this.  Gut-wrenching.  Crying from the deepest parts of myself.  Falling to the ground sobbing.  Unable to stop shaking from the shredding of my soul. 
And this is how I felt so much of the time.  For months and months and months.  Like an empty shell.  Depleted.  Like everything that made me who I was had been taken away.  Worthless.  Like I had nothing to offer the world.  Without hope.  Without purpose.  Gone.  Lost.  Alone.
This is what depression looks like.  It's not a bad day.  It's not when things go wrong.  It's when the world is pulled out from under me and I am plunging to my death and I just don't even care.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Facebook Fast

A week ago tomorrow I was done.  Absolutely finished.  I couldn't stand one more minute on Facebook.  So I decided to take a break.

I didn't start out planning to be off for a week.  Just a few days to cleanse my system.  It was making me anxious.  I was feeling social pressure (that probably wasn't even there but was just in my own head).  I felt compelled to like this or comment on that to make sure she knew I was reading her stuff or he knew I still paid attention to his life or she felt like I liked her.  Seriously, it was ridiculous.

I was not feeling peace.  I wasn't acting; I was reacting.  I wasn't being true to myself.  And I am not okay with that.

So I announced my departure and went away.

And very soon I was anxious about being away.  I missed it terribly.  And I started to wonder why.  I started to examine my feelings and their causes.  Why was I uncomfortable being away?  What was it that Facebook was fulfilling in me that pulled me back even though it had been causing me negative feelings?

So I spent the next few days watching my own behavior and paying attention to the pull.

This is what I learned.

The thing I missed most was knowing what was going on in my friends' lives, especially within my own neighborhood.  I missed knowing when a friend was having a bad day or hurting.  I missed knowing who was having a birthday that day.  I missed knowing when someone in my neighborhood needed help.  Facebook has opened up communication in a way that just wasn't there before.  People share more.  I can get the info immediately or whenever it's convenient for me.  We can have a communal conversation over several days.  It's awesome like that.

But the flip side of it is over sharing or people sharing things I just don't want in my life.  Political/religious disagreements.  Posts with the F word.  Griping/whining in a victim-y way, with the same complaints over and over with no intention to try to make their own world better.  Pity parties.  Sexual images and/or status updates.  Non-stop selfies.  Contentious behavior of all kinds.  And certain people who just rub me the wrong way no matter what whom I hid from my feed but then they show up anyway because one of our friends in common likes or comments on their post.  I didn't miss those things.

Of secondary importance, I felt like I lost my voice.  My ability to communicate with the world was severely diminished.  Many times a day I wanted to share something and didn't.  I think this was the most important area for me to evaluate and an area I still need to work on.

I've always been curious.  I find many things interesting and always have.  Growing up I used to talk all the time -- ALL THE TIME!  I made people crazy.  I could sometimes sense it but didn't understand why.  The things I was saying were so interesting (I thought).  I don't remember how old I was when I finally understood (but it was probably much older than I should have been).  I don't remember what happened to precipitate it, but I remember distinctly realizing that I didn't need to share every thought that popped into my head.  In fact, it made people crazy that I did that.  It was truly an awakening moment for me.  It's taken years for me to learn to be quiet, because my brain never shuts up.  (It was many more years after that before I learned that other people want to share, too, and it's so important to listen.)

Facebook has been this lesson all over again.  I find so many things interesting in a day.  I have so many thoughts that I think are incredibly clever.  So many observations I find fascinating.  So many news stories I think are noteworthy and/or important.  I want to share them all.  And some days I know I'm sharing more on Facebook than others want to read/know, but I just can't stop myself.  I can hear people rolling their eyes at me when I post the third news article in a 15 minute time span.  To all of you who are my Facebook friends, please know I do try and I do censor and you aren't getting half the things I want to share.  You're welcome.

And it would be bad enough if that were my only sharing problem, but it isn't.  I started paying attention to the status updates I wanted to post.  So often this last week I found myself wanting to post snotty or complaining status updates.  The kind of communication that has become so much a part of our society.  The kind of communication that takes place on so many of today's TV shows that it's just become how we communicate with each other.  The kind of communication that's flippant and sarcastic, that we've all come to accept as appropriate humor.  The kind of communication that isn't Christlike or kind or sincere.

I don't want that to be my communication style.

Facebook is just too easy and quick and removed.  I don't have to think through, censor, or see the reaction to my thoughts the way I should.

I also missed seeing the updates from my daughter who is on a mission and knowing she's still okay.  That was hard on my heart.

There are lots of other things I missed and lots of other things I didn't miss at all.

So am I ready to get back on?  Kind of.

I still don't feel sure of my ability to regulate my behavior in a way that will bring me peace.  So I'm going to ease into it.  Tomorrow I will begin reading Facebook again.  I will communicate through the private message system about important things.  I will like my missionary daughter's posts so she knows I'm seeing them.  But I will not "like" any other posts.  I will not comment on any other posts.  I will strive to be an observer for a while as I continue to examine my thoughts and feelings.

When I feel like I can be true to myself and behave in a way that brings peace to my heart, I will participate fully again.  Until then, I'm going to practice observing and listening.