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)?


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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!

Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar.

a cure for what ails you, Authoress, explanations, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I am in the throes of my first major depressive episode in over six months. I know exactly what caused it—money problems, worrying about my grandma (who is now 91, essentially nonverbal, and raised me on her own, which basically makes her my mom), frustration over the slow divorce process, trying to figure out what’s going on with my headaches—but remained wilfully ignorant of the warning signs because I hoped it would pass.

I finally accepted/realized what was happening in my brain last night. I’ve been really horrible to myself lately in terms of inappropriate guilt and self-loathing. I’ve been blaming myself for a lot of things, most of which are completely out of my control. Once again, it’s not that I’m unaware of these problems. It’s that I have no idea what to do with the insights.

But I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will pass. My depressive episodes tend not to last very long—usually a month or two, and I’m about a week and a half into the really bad phase of this one. The final divorce hearing is on November 5th. Last night, my ex and I had an appointment at Green Path to figure out the debt situation, which is bad but not as bad as it could be. My fella’s coming back from his latest business trip tomorrow night. I’m one step away from completing my graduate school application; all I have left is the personal interview.

And I’m reminding myself of my plans for the future, too. Once I have my license, I plan to work as a counselor for a while, then go on to pursue a Psy.D and possibly a degree in Criminology as well, just for kicks. It’s looking more and more likely, given the progression of my various illnesses, that I won’t be able to have kids by the time I’m ready—and even if I’m able to retain some shreds of fertility, it’s probably not a good idea because I have so many health problems that are heritable. In other words, I have no reason not to go ridiculously hard at the school/career thing.

Once I’ve attained a certain level of credibility, I want to combine my love of/talent for writing with my passion for psychology (and, of course, fighting the stigma) and gain access to a psychiatric hospital with the goal of eventually writing a book about the hospital, perhaps some of the staff, and most importantly, the patients.

I want to tell their stories. I want to show people that we’re really not that scary. Even when our brains are doing some freaky and perplexing things, we still have hopes and dreams and fears and all the other little things that make neurotypical people “tick.”

I want to paint a picture of the hospital to prove that Hollywood has it wrong—I had the opportunity to tour the state hospital in Independence, Iowa as a senior in high school and found the facility stunningly different from what we’re fed through popular media. I’m tired of cringeing every time I hear the words “multiple personality disorder” on TV or see a straitjacket Halloween costume. I’m tired of being “The Other,” and I suspect most of you are, too. I’m tired of being seen as exotic and dangerous and unpredictable and sort of otherworldly just because my brain tends to misfire sometimes. I’m tired of having my struggles used for shock value. I’m tired of seeing symbols of our oppression used as fashion statements by the oblivious.

I want to fix that obliviousness or die trying. This is the one topic that has gotten me consistently fired up, regardless of my mental state. Even when I’m so far down that I can barely get out of bed, I can still muster up enough passion to call out the horrifying things I see, to correct the misinformation, to have a meaningful dialogue where I and the other person walk away feeling as though we’ve learned something.

As a nihilist, I reject the concept that anything has any inherent meaning; therefore, I don’t believe in the idea that anyone has a “calling.” That being said, I find this to be a very hopeful philosophy because it means each of us can choose our path in life. I believe that the things I’ve been through, the abuse and my brain chemistry and the various horrors I’ve seen, were formative in such a way that I feel compelled to devote my life to psychology. I guess this is how theists feel when they decide to become members of the clergy.

At the very least, I have to believe that my suffering (though I hate using that word because it feels incredibly maudlin and self-absorbed) has meant something. I have to believe that it’s redemptive and that it’s not too late for me, that my life has meaning. I constantly look for motivators, little signs that I’m meant to be here and that my existence has a purpose. I think that when a person is pushed to their absolute limit, they either try to find a reason to stay alive or they completely give up on life. I’m not ready to give up.

I am tougher than Chinese algebra and I am going to be okay.

The End.

Authoress, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder

There are some topics that I find too personal to discuss on here (which seems ironic, given all the things I’ve written about), but this one’s important even though it’s still raw and very painful.

About a month ago, my husband sat me down and told me he was tired of working on our marriage. He had fallen completely out of love with me and had begun feeling that way two years ago. His rationale for not telling me was that it was painful for him and he wanted to figure it out himself before saying anything.

Naturally, I was pissed. If I’d known sooner, we could’ve had a shot at reconciling, or at least I wouldn’t have had the bomb dropped on me so late in the game. The delay is the hardest part because it feels like the worst possible betrayal. In the beginning, it hurt more than the realization that I had been raped in a previous relationship. It hurt worse than decades of verbal, emotional, and occasionally, physical abuse at the hands of various people. And it happened the day I received the offer for my current job (a temp position as an administrative assistant).

At this point, I’m not sure where to go. We’re living together as friends and it’s mostly working out, but I still cry almost every day. I’ve lost my passion for pretty much everything; my goal of returning to school and eventually earning a master’s degree in counseling seems impossibly far off, and the fiction project I had been so excited to work on has fallen by the wayside.

Most of all, I feel stupid. I feel stupid for not detecting his feelings. I feel stupid for wanting a family, a spouse, a stable home life. I feel like those things aren’t possible for someone like me because I’m so sick and damaged. Rationally speaking, I know that these thoughts are bullshit, but I’ve found that thoughts and feelings rarely match up.

I feel like sick and damaged people only fit with other sick and damaged people, and I know from experience that those relationships can be pretty unhealthy. I feel like anyone “normal” is going to be repelled by me, that they’ll become sick of the melancholy and the moods and the chronic physical illness just like D. did. I feel like a huge energy drain, but at the same time, I am indignant.

This is irrational and unfair, but I feel like anyone who gets tired of being exposed to my illnesses is a little weak. Try living a day, just one day, in this body, and then tell me how difficult it is for you to be on the outside looking in. But I also know that loving someone who’s in so much pain, especially when the pain is emotional as well as physical, can be trying and depressing and just hard at the end of the day.

D. thinks he knows best and is recommending as much distance as possible to help me get over it/him, but that just makes me feel abandoned (something I’ve expressed to him). It’s hard for me because he’s had two years to process and I was just told a month ago that my relationship of six years (marriage of almost-four; our anniversary would have been this December) is over, and I had no say in the matter at all.

I’ve been through worse, and that’s precisely why I’m beating myself up for having such a hard time with this. I’d appreciate some tips for healing; I feel like you guys “know” me well enough at this point to offer some helpful, heartfelt advice. And, as always, I appreciate all of you.

Remission?

abuse, Authoress, endometriosis, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

 

Also pictured: Beast-baby Dorian T. Catsby on his king-of-the-house perch

I can’t remember the last time I was sad. Granted, my memory’s not great, and there was a lot of crying last week because of all the trauma that was suddenly dragged to the surface, but now that I’ve made my peace with that—or at least, beaten the beast back into its cage, tucked safely away deep underground—I feel good. Not hypomanic- or manic-good, but balanced, settled. Things aren’t going the greatest right now, but at least I have the concrete knowledge that they’re going to get better sooner rather than later.

Current medications:

  • 200 mg lamotrigine (Lamictal) taken twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/at night (usually around 6:00 or so).
  • 1 mg tabs of lorazepam (Ativan), as needed. Since the myoclonic jerks I began experiencing when my Effexor dose was too high have begun to subside, I’m finding that I don’t need this as often.
  • 300 mg lithium taken three times a day, two in the morning and one at night
  • 125 mg venlafaxine (Effexor), taken in the morning
  • 50 mg hydroxizine for sleep, one to two capsules as needed

This regimen seems to be working well for me. I’m sort of scared that it’ll just stop working, which is what I’ve experienced in the past with psych meds as well as endometriosis treatments, but I’m trying to stay positive.

Speaking of endometriosis, I met my new pain doctor on Thursday; he and his PA are both excellent. She spent some time asking about the nature of my PTSD and then informed him, and he actually asked if it was okay if he examined me before inviting me to hop up on the table. That was a whole new experience for me, and while I don’t really like being treated that gingerly, it was obvious that he was making an effort to make me feel comfortable, and I appreciated that.

I had some trigger point injections done yesterday morning; the knot of muscle was located very low, well below the bikini line in my general pubic area, but I didn’t feel nervous about him touching the spot or doing the injections. Because of my initial impression of him, I found it very easy to trust him implicitly. First impressions matter.

Right now, I’m in quite a bit of pain…about a level 7, which isn’t fun but is something I can tough out. As D. has told me, I’m “a tough old broad, a bad motherfucker.” Several people have suggested I buy the Pulp Fiction wallet and after everything I’ve been through with the pain in the last few years, I just might. It feels like a cautery knife is running back and forth through my lower abdomen, but my mother assures me that this will subside in a few days.

In the meantime, I’m keeping busy—cross-stitching, reading Ruth Reichel’s food/bipolar mother memoirs, and bothering the beast-babies, as usual.

Readers, what do you use to distract yourselves?