On This, The Eve of My Thirtieth Birthday

abuse, Authoress, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

“The Big Three-Oh.”

“Everything will be different in your thirties,” they said. My aunt did not even get out of bed on her thirtieth birthday, feeling that the last of her youth had been sapped from her, that her life had become one gigantic downward spiral.

For every count of “Life ends after 29 because you’re old now,” I’ve heard “Life gets even better after thirty.” So where am I now? How should I feel? How do I feel?

I’m still working that out. What I can say is that every single birthday comes as a surprise to me. One of the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder is this vague sense that you’re not going to live a particularly long time. For me, sixteen was when it started–my “sweet sixteen” (which was decidedly not sweet) was a total shock, not because I actively wanted to die or felt that my life was in danger, but because I had never conceived of a future where I would live past the age of ten, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-six.

I often feel as though my story lacks the poignance of, say, a young woman who beat childhood leukemia and views each new year as a gift. Lots of bad things happened in my childhood and adolescence, point-blank-period. Were there times when I thought I might physically die? Yes, of course. But mostly, the first twenty-odd years of my life were marked by a free-floating sense of existential despair, the all-encompassing question of “where am I in the world and what am I doing with my time?” coloring every significant moment.

A person can get used to just about anything if they have to.

When I was seven-going-on-eight, my birth mother tried to kill my grandmother (who, to me, is “Mom”). I was in the house at the time and I heard everything. The whole awful night became one disastrous blur and it’s still hard to suss out all the specifics, even after multiple rounds of EMDR.

But the end result is clear: from that moment on, I was no longer a child. I was damned to live this strange half-life full of anxiety over something happening to Mom, because she was so old and frail already and had almost died once, right in front of me. As a child, I tortured myself when I awoke in the middle of the night, anxiously counting her breaths, watching the rise and fall of her sleeping chest and taking it not as an affirmation but as a question: what if the next breath never comes? As I grew older, that particular fear turned into the fear of something bad happening, period.

What if, what if, what if. Always waiting for that other shoe to drop.

I’d already gotten used to living with this sense of being just a brain floating a few feet above a body, like a balloon being dragged along by an eager child. At eight, I was already detached emotionally from my surroundings. My birthday party that year was small. The year before, photos of my party overflowed with laughing children and bright colors. Eight was different for me. Most of my friends had jumped ship; having a violent alcoholic for a birth parent does wonders to shrink one’s circle of friends, especially when said birth parent goes to actual-prison-not-jail for a couple of years.

So, eight was surreal in the way that thirteen was surreal in the way that twenty-two was surreal. I didn’t have many parties. I don’t really “celebrate” my birthday in any traditional sense, though I’ve made it my custom to take the day off from whatever I have planned and spend that time in quiet contemplation. Or indulgence.

During these times, I wonder at the fact that I am still alive and breathing. This year, I am especially in awe that I am married to a good man and attending a good school and living what is, on paper and in practice, a good life. This year, I am going to be especially self-indulgent: I have plans to make a blanket fort and drink some good wine and snuggle with my fella and our cats.

But I always remember. How could I not? I think back to those old wounds, of handing out birthday party invitations and later seeing them left, trampled, on the ground next to the swing set or stuffed haphazardly into the trash can. I think about all the wonderful things I have now, the wonderful life and the wonderful people in them, and I marvel at the vast improbability of it all.

I am still here.

I am turning thirty, the Big Three-Oh.

I am alive. I am living.

And I am incredibly lucky.

Recap of My (Roaring) Twenties:

At age 21, I got married for the first time. It was a colossal mistake and the entire marriage was plagued by ugly fights and all manner of unpleasant things. I prefer not to think or talk about it because it occupied such a large part of my twenties that I don’t believe it deserves any more air time.

At age 24, I separated from my ex-husband officially, though we hadn’t had any semblance of a proper relationship in a long time. This was the big turning point–I realized that I had nothing left to lose and decided to go to graduate school to pursue counseling, as I’d always had an interest in psychology but had been scared away from the bachelor’s degree program because of statistics. (Numbers are bad.)

26 was a big year for me. I met my husband a few weeks shy of my 26th birthday, got accepted to a graduate program in Madison, and moved into my own place. The divorce was finally finalized that year as well. Be warned, readers–it is easy to get into a marriage but incredibly difficult to (legally) get out of one!

At 27, I moved down to Baltimore with my now-husband. I got accepted to A Very Prestigious School and began my graduate work in earnest. That Thanksgiving, we got engaged on a rooftop in Boston and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I cried. (Of course I cried!)

28 was more of the same–dragging myself through school, putting in the time, taking as many courses as I could so I wouldn’t have to deal with classes during my official internship. I began my practicum, which is basically baby-internship. While I had previously thought I’d never want to work with substance use, I quickly found that the challenges and chaos of working with a dually-diagnosed population, many of whom are indigent, is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

At 29, I officially began my internship as a mental health therapist. Every day, I fall more in love with the field.

I also got married in October! It was a small wedding and drew from my husband’s Jewish culture. We got married under a chuppah, he slaughtered a lightbulb, we signed a ketubah, and we danced. Oh, how we danced. He taught me a very simple quickstep to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” and I somehow managed not to embarrass myself. The fact that he taught me to dance at all is remarkable and not unlike teaching a dog to walk on its hind legs.

We should be getting our video soon, and I am very excited to see how awkward I looked on camera. At the moment, I Did. Not. Care. All I felt that day was love–love from my husband, love from our family and friends, and love from myself. My god, the love! There was so much of it in that room, and I had never imagined my heart could be so full that at times, it felt close to bursting.

The morning of the wedding was very strange for me. The Tree of Life massacre occurred on the morning of October 27, 2018, and we were watching the news while I was getting pampered and prettied-up for the wedding when the story came on. It occurred to me how small and fragile the world is in that moment, as I watched coverage of terrible anti-Semitic violence while I prepared to marry a Jewish man in a ceremony that incorporated Jewish traditions.

I celebrated Hanukkah for the first time last December, and it was a very solemn affair. Every night, as we lit the menorah in our kitchen and my husband said the blessing, I remembered the horrible thing that had been done. I cried, and then I felt that I had no right to cry, and then I realized I was crying because the world as a whole had started to feel very dark and frightening around the time of the 2016 presidential election. I had thought myself unflappable and quasi-invincible up until that point, when I was forced to face the vast and senseless cruelty of the universe.

But I remember every day, dear readers, that while humans are capable of astonishing cruelty, they are also capable of profound kindness and mercy and joy. Every day, I stubbornly choose joy.

 

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A Wild Blogger Recognition Award Appears!

Authoress, bipolar disorder, endometriosis, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Jeanette at My Life with PTSD & Bipolar: Mental Health Matters kindly nominated me for
Write a brief story about how your blog began. I’ve been running The Dissociated Press for five years now (holy cats, time flies!) and have been documenting my journey to mental health–or at least, relative stability and improved daily functioning. When I started this blog in 2013, my life was a total mess. I was in an unhappy marriage and missing a lot of work because I was freshly diagnosed with bipolar 1 and adjusting to my new medications. I ended up losing that job, which was a major low point.

There have been a lot of low points throughout my blog-writing history, but things have dramatically improved in the last couple of years. I escaped from that unhappy, unsupportive marriage, enrolled in graduate school for clinical mental health counseling at a great school, and got engaged to a lovely, wonderful man.

I still hit depressive episodes from time to time, but unlike my pre-medication, bad relationship days, I take comfort in the knowledge that my life is so much better than I ever could have imagined. I have a wonderfully supportive partner, and his family is incredibly encouraging of me sharing my journey. My classmates have expressed appreciation for my candor, and I’ve been able to help a lot of people through my disclosures.

Advice for new bloggers is something I haven’t really thought about, but my main piece of advice is to write for yourself first and foremost. TDP has evolved over time–at first, it was a place for me to get my thoughts and experiences out into the ether in hopes of finding others who were also struggling.

Also, I like to focus on and directly address my readers as a group in my posts and always try to end a post with a positive thought or insight. It prevents the blog from feeling dreary and helps promote the overall message: recovery is possible, and recovery never looks the same for everyone. Your journey matters. Your message matters. Your experiences matter.

As I’ve gotten healthier and stopped focusing so much on my illnesses (which are still a main focal point of the blog, albeit in a different way), I realized that my relatively small following was a great audience for information about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I realized that everyone, but especially others living with my specific conditions (PTSD with depersonalization/derealization and rapid-cycling type 1 bipolar disorder) could benefit from learning about the latest news and treatment options. I’m building up quite the library of scholarly articles and studies, and if there’s enough interest, I plan to post a few quick-and-dirty rundowns of them.

Again, I can’t thank Jeanette for this nomination–it came out of nowhere and I feel very honored about the whole thing and appreciate being recognized for my work. Validation and recognition for what I’m doing always feels nice! Also, the badge image is really cute.

My Picks for Nomination:

The Global PTSD Survivor Blog

Bloomin’ Uterus (a blog about endometriosis, which I also have)

Ruth at PTSD – Accepting, Coping, Thriving

 

 

Keepsakes

Authoress

Grief is a funny thing.

My mother and aunt have been gradually cleaning out Grandma’s house, which means that once a week or so, I’ve been receiving boxes of my childhood books and toys. They’ve also chosen to throw in our Christmas gifts for this year, and I’ve been instructed to open them whenever I feel like it.

I was going through one of the boxes a few weeks ago and found a pair of small presents. Intrigued, I started to open one, and then I saw the label. “To Jess; Love, Grandma.”

I basically lost it. I haven’t really cried much since she passed, but it hit me that I’ll never get another gift or card addressed from her. It makes me feel silly because she hasn’t personally addressed anything in years–she had Parkinson’s, so someone else always did the writing for her. But it made me realize that she’s actually gone; that she won’t be there when we go home for Thanksgiving, or around when I get married and graduate. Again, I know she wouldn’t be able to come to Baltimore for either of those things, but the knowledge that she won’t be around to hear about these events, that I won’t be able to call and tell her about them, really gets to me.

I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that opening those presents won’t make her any less dead. They won’t take away the fact that my other maternal figure is gone.

I think I’ll open them today. My mother told me that they’re a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers Grandma bought when she was on her honeymoon (all the way back in 1947!) and it might be comforting to see them on display in our apartment.

 

Grief is a funny thing.

28.

Authoress, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Today is my 28th birthday. I generally don’t put much stock in them–it’s just another day when you get past a certain age, in my opinion. But my fella made today really special (breakfast and a mini scavenger hunt to my gift!), so it’s the best birthday I can remember.

Birthdays are significant to me for one reason: they’re proof that I’m still alive. It might seem silly to most people, but as quite a few of you know, those of us afflicted with PTSD tend to also be plagued by the belief that we’re just not going to live very long.

For me, this feeling of dread started when I was in my mid-teens. I thought I wouldn’t make it to sixteen, then nineteen, then twenty-one…and here I am at twenty-eight, having endured three lifetimes worth of horror and survived it all. Every year on this date, I take a moment to marvel at that.

It’s kind of incredible. And you, my readers–all of you–are incredible for hanging on and being alive. Remember that when the bleakness starts to press close and you feel like you’re buried above ground. You are still here, and you should be so proud of that.

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

The Big Bad Blues, they’re a-comin’

anxiety, Authoress, bipolar disorder, major depression, personal experiences

The Blues are back in town, and unfortunately, I don’t mean the Snooks Eaglin, ramblin’-soul-man-with-a-guitar type. Thanks, winter!

Don’t get me wrong–I am loving the Maryland weather. The winter has been mild, but when it’s 70 degrees one day and 30 the next, oh man, that’s like hitting a brick wall doing 90 miles an hour.

I like to imagine that there’s some kind of a party going on in my brain. I  picture my synapses and neurons and all those delicious chemicals that enter my body in pill form each morning to keep me sane, dancing around in a conga line with lampshades on their heads before passing out with permanent marker on their faces.

The party bit isn’t what troubles me. That feels okay and decidedly un-manic these days. It’s the afterward, that insidious unraveling of the good-times and how they fray bit by bit until all that’s left is the worst kind of loneliness–the loneliness that is you and your brain and nothing else.

There is a vast emptiness that comes with depression. When I decide to stay up after Paul has gone to bed (because our sleep schedules are pretty different–he has day classes, mine are at night), I’m often struck by an aching loneliness. Even though I know he’s fifteen feet away in the bedroom on the other side of the wall from me, a dark antsiness sets in. It’s not because we’re not together, because I can be my own company and take care of myself. It’s how frightening it can be in the quiet of the apartment when the day is done but I’m not tired enough for bed and while my brain isn’t especially active, the emotions hiding just beneath the surface start to make me feel bad for no reason.

Sometimes I get shivers, but on the inside. It’s like having someone reach out from inside your organs and tickle your ribs, disconcerting and uncomfortable. It makes you want to cry for no reason, but then when you try, you find that you can’t. There is no catharsis. There is only waiting and distracting yourself until it calms down or you go completely mad (and sometimes both, by turns).

These are the Big Bad Blues, and it seems they’re back in town.

Sometimes they show up only at night, and only for a day or two. It’s unavoidable; no matter how well-medicated and well-adjusted you are, things are going to slip in through the cracks from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast. My body and my mind are like a drafty house in that way. I take care to shut the doors tight, to put plastic on the windows and check the vulnerable spaces with candle flames to see where there’s a leak, but in the night, little wisps of cold sometimes slip in and wrap around me. If I don’t catch it early and fight back with whatever’s within grabbing distance, I begin to feel as though I’ll never be warm again.

Then there are the ones that come in the late afternoon, just before sunset, when the shadows stretch long and the light begins to turn golden in the before-dark time. The Golden Hour, I’ve always called it, but it doesn’t mean anything good. I have about a thousand theories as to why this time of day gets me down harder than anything else, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with that information once I figure it out or how the insight will make me feel better. For now, all I can do is turn my head away and get through it until it passes and the calming near-dark comes.

When I start to feel like this late at night, I slip quietly into bed and read for a while. The proximity to someone I love who loves me back is comforting, and whatever book I’m currently reading relaxes and distracts me. When I get to feeling low, distraction seems to be the only thing that can snap me out of it. I spend a lot of my time hanging out by myself in the apartment with the cats and my textbooks, but having something to do keeps me sane. It’s the nothingness that’ll get you, and it will get you every single time.

I’m pleased to report that I woke up today (albeit much later than I wanted) feeling just fine. At present, I’m working on reading ahead a week or two for my classes, though I’ll inevitably forget to cross it off in my planner and then go back to it on the appropriate week and wonder if a mysterious ghost-highlighter has gotten hold of my books. It’s actually a good source of humor and plus, it’s always a relief to realize that you have less homework than you thought.

And I know I’ve been promising-promising-promising that series, which at this rate will be out by sometime next year. (I kid! I need to make some sort of research schedule for each day, though, because I am spectacularly unmotivated and there always seems to be some other thing that grabs my attention.)

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

News Day Tuesday: CTL Update!

Authoress, News Day Tuesday

Hi, readers! Today, I’d like to discuss some personal news, as I’ve spent a good portion of the day working as a crisis counselor for my first-ever shift with Crisis Text Line.

At first, I was petrified–there are some pretty intense conversations happening on the platform at all times, and the topics range from suicide to self-harm to gender and sexuality issues and everything in-between. My supervisor was awesome about giving me feedback and helping me brainstorm how to respond when a texter had me stumped.

Though it’s a little frustrating to not be able to give direct advice (crisis counselors are there to listen and help the texter problem-solve for themselves, which is not dissimilar to Carl Rogers’ person-centered therapy), it is hugely satisfying to watch someone go through the steps of opening up about their feelings, acknowledging their own strengths, and using those strengths to come up with a plan to help with future crises. I’ve found that I really love entering the darkness with others and that I have a knack for coming up with the right things to say to gently guide a texter toward a solution without spoon-feeding it to them.

Granted, it’s only my first day, but I decided to pick up an additional two-hour shift this evening to get more experience. It’s fantastic to feel this excited and passionate about something, and I’m taking it as further encouragement that counseling is what I’m meant to do with my life.

Have you considered volunteering at a crisis center/crisis line, readers? Which one? What have your experiences been like (from either side)?


Like what you see on Dissociated Press? Check out and “like” the Dissociated Press Facebook page for even more posts, links, and news articles!

Reflection: Grad school so far.

Authoress

I’m entering my third week of grad school (online-only this semester because of the move) and man, it’s been a wild ride. I’m only taking two courses–Lifespan Development and Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy, both of which I’ve had before in undergrad, so I’m familiar with the content. It’s a good thing I’m not struggling with that because the workload is something I was unprepared for, having been out of school for five years now.

Every day, I set aside two or three hours for work. Mondays are reading days, primarily. Both of my classes are heavy on Blackboard discussion posts, so I usually knock out a few of those on Mondays as well. My Theories class requires participation on four separate days, so I try to space out the rest of my posts throughout the week along with my papers.

Lifespan’s discussions are pretty research-heavy (as in, find an article based on these criteria and summarize it), which is something I’ve always hated. Thankfully, the summaries only have to be a paragraph or two, but I always overshoot in terms of length on all my written work because I have no idea how to thoroughly break down a twenty-page study into a paragraph.

All told, I probably spend about thirty hours or so per week on school stuff, so I’m thankful that Paul is willing and able to support my lack of a job right now–there’s no way I’d be able to maintain my mental health/overall sanity along with a full-time job plus the school stuff. My only concern is that I won’t be able to find another school in Baltimore that will take me sans the psychology undergrad (despite grad school credits in the field).

My plan once we move is to take a semester off to scout out schools and perhaps get back into the tutoring game to earn a little cash on the side. Aside from that, I’m just trying to chill out and get ready for the big move in a few weeks!

How are your summers going so far, readers? Are you taking time out for self-care? I hope this post finds you lovely and healthy as always.

Risk! follow-up

Authoress, housekeeping

Good afternoon, readers!

So, unfortunately, my Risk! demo wasn’t a great fit for the show–it spanned too many years, which I completely understand. It’s hard to condense twenty-odd years of living with/growing up with bipolar disorder into a neat 15-to-20-minute package that’s not overwhelming to listeners. However, Kevin was incredibly gracious and complimentary about the whole thing and encouraged me to keep telling my stories, which I appreciated.

I am definitely not giving up! I’ve discovered a couple of other podcasts that I might pitch to, and as I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to check out some local storytelling groups after I survive the upcoming move to Baltimore. In the meantime, please continue to reach out to me. I recently recovered my email address for this blog and promise to be better about responding to your emails in a timely manner (I discovered two lovely messages from December and was absolutely mortified, not to mention concerned that I’d missed the boat on those).

I’m also working on a schedule of sorts for this blog, with the help of my wonderful fella. Big things coming, readers! Stay tuned. Stay lovely. Stay well.

New Risk! Story!

Authoress, call for submissions, news and goings-on, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

Happy Caturday, readers!

Just wanted to post a quick update to let you know that I’m still here and that I finally got it together enough to whip up a demo for the lovely Kevin Allison of the Risk! podcast. I performed in the Live from Milwaukee show in November and he approached me shortly before Christmas to see if I wanted to do another story on growing up/living with bipolar disorder, which I instantly agreed to–unfortunately, life kept getting in the way and I kept procrastinating. Fortunately, the demo is complete and I’m just waiting on my potato-quality internet to send it off. 🙂

On a more personal note, I’m relocating with Paul to the Baltimore-ish area in about a month and a half and am really looking forward to scoping out the advocacy and storytelling scenes down there. Also, I really want to branch out and start interviewing/gathering stories from other people living with mental illness, so if anyone’s interested in participating, definitely reach out.

Big things ahead, readers! This girl is hungry.

Risk!

abuse, Authoress, ptsd, relationships

On November 14, I had the honor of participating in the Risk! podcast live show in Milwaukee. In my story, I talked about the abusive relationship I was in from ages 17 to 19 (tw: there are some kind-of graphic descriptions of rape and abuse). You can check it out here!

I’m not really the most social person and am still pretty shy, so I was extremely nervous about the show. I mean, I didn’t even know I’d been raped until years later, when I learned that rape isn’t just when you scream “No” at a stranger in a dark alley and they force you to have sex with them anyway. It takes so many different forms, and all of them are very real, very legitimate, and very damaging.

But knowing something and believing it are two very different things. I was worried that people would come up to me and go, “That wasn’t rape,” or “That wasn’t even that bad!” Instead, I got an outpouring of support and spent about an hour after the show greeting and connecting with a lovely group of people.

All in all, it was a super-positive experience and it kind of lit a fire for storytelling in me that I didn’t even know I had. One of the women who approached me after the show mentioned a Madison storytelling group, and I might look into that once I get situated in my new job and finish the last of my boring, soul-sucking post-divorce adult stuff.

Have you ever told your story publicly, readers? I’d love to hear from you!