Days 4-7 of 365: Midlife Health Reboot

 

Ravioli with beets at Mother in Sacramento.

For four days in a row I got some exercise. You know, because every person on earth says that good health means daily exercise. Ever since breaking my stupid-ass hip this has become a nightmare for my body. I’m feeling bitter right now because it felt good to get moving. I love walking. I love being active. And after four days of being active (and taking ibuprofin before-hand as directed by my various docs) my back is out. My experience for the last 14 years is that I get punished over and over and over again with awful pain of one kind or another every time I exercise. My back has been especially effected since the arthritis in my left knee got bad. The surgeon who I originally consulted with said that increased back problems are common with arthritis in hips and knees because you compensate for the pain and throw yourself out of alignment.

You know what’s tedious and boring? This topic. But it’s germane to my goals.

I refuse to regret walking over Tower Bridge on my brief stay in Sacramento.

What I’m going to have to do is focus on doing strengthening exercises every day for my knees, my back, and my hip. I will take a short walk tomorrow with a friend and not push it.

I’d like to go on record as being so fucking depressed by the state of my body I feel so angry that I tripped and fell 14 years ago because the impact on my health and my life has been shockingly huge.

Watching TV now requires glasses. This is me last night trying to ignore the back pain.

Anger noted and logged. What I know is that this year is going to take a lot of work and that doesn’t mean pushing myself all the time – it means PACING myself. Just as with my mental health, it’s something you work on every day and working on it a little bit every day is how you keep the progress coming. There will be bursts of inspiration and pushing beyond limits, of course. But one key is going to be to ignore most advice from others because while meaning well – most people don’t know all the details that matter because they aren’t my doctors or me.

I still need to work on my wise mind statements. I had to miss the last day of my DBT class due to my back. I think I’ll check out some DBT apps tomorrow and see if any of them are intuitive to me.

For things that bring me pleasure I submit trying new restaurants in new places and this weekend I got my chicks! They get big so fast that I got them Saturday and already they’re developing tail feathers. I’ve missed having chickens so I’m excited to finally be getting a new flock!

This is Lima (as in: Peru). She’s a Speckled Sussex and is 5 days old today.

Having Chickens brings me a great deal of joy. I love the noises they make, I love holding them and feeling their silky feathers, I love watching them take dust baths and strut around looking for tasty scraps. I love it when they follow me around the garden and I love the fresh eggs. Hanging out with chickens was one of the happiest parts of my childhood.

I have to go ice my back again and take more Ibuprofin so I’m logging off for tonight.

Day 2 of 365: Midlife Health Reboot

small succulent plant with bright purple flowers blooming against a wall
Pretty succulent plant seen on my evening walk in the neighborhood.

Today was all about doing my DBT homework which was doing pleasant activities and going through the list of pleasant activities handout and seeing how many of those things I could be adding into my life. If this doesn’t sound like therapy to you – that’s because it seems so weird to purposely put pleasant things on your daily agenda. But if you’ve ever been mired or paralyzed by anxiety and/or depression or other destabilizing emotional issues – you know that sometimes we forget to do all the little unharmful things we enjoy and stick mostly to the more harmful methods of coping. If that wasn’t true, you wouldn’t be in therapy like me and wouldn’t be interested in this shit anyway.

Better Than Bullets, image of small succulent plant blooming against a wall, bright purple flowers
Does anyone of my generation find it pleasant to think about their retirement? You mean like how I’ll be wheeling Pippa all over town in my shopping cart?

In the handout the teachers gave us there are 275 “pleasant events” listed just to give us an idea of what kind of things we might not remember to do/think about when we’re stressed. I found 84 of those things copacetic and also on the list were a bunch of things that actually cause me enormous stress. I’m absolutely aware that the point of the list is that we’re all different and this is just a jumping off point in making my own list.

It’s entirely possible that some people find going to class reunions pleasant while I would rather have a splinter shoved in my eye.

I stopped to take pictures of these wildflowers which I’ve concluded are some kind of tiny calendula.

I’m going to make my own list of 50 pleasant events that are personal to me (in no particular order). If you’re following along and wanna participate – please do! But first, a couple more pictures from today’s adventures.

This is a “pesto” made from kale, chard, and collards that turned out really nice!
Me, doing 2 of my fave things: riding my Vespa and stopping to admire some flowers.

Angelina’s 50 Pleasant Events List:

1.  Driving my Vespa through the countryside or through pretty neighborhoods

2.  Fostering kittens

3. Going out to dinner with Philip and Max

4. Going out to happy hour with my sister

5. Staying in hotels and watching cable TV

6. Hanging out with close friends

7. Cooking

8. Spotting wildflowers everywhere I go

9. Gardening

10. Seeing the local wild turkeys drift through neighborhoods and chatting with them

11. Watching serial killer documentaries

12. Walking barefoot in the garden on a hot day

13. Wading in ice cold ocean water/walking along the beach with ice cold waves washing over my feet

14. Remembering happy trips: Vespa ride to Oregon, family trip to SLC, Glasgow with Zeke and Tara

15. Driving through countryside with Philip

16. The smell of onions being sauteed wafting through neighborhoods in early evening

17. Sitting on our porch when it’s warm out and waving to neighbors, just hanging out

18. Having a nice hot cup of strong British tea with milk and sugar.

19. First cup of coffee in the morning

20. Listening to the sounds of nature whilst not being accosted by arachnids with personal space issues.

21. Taking walks through the neighborhood

22. The sounds of doves cooing in the neighborhood

23. Falling asleep to familiar television shows

24. Sharing my food and potions and projects with friends

25. Being included/invited to things even though I often don’t participate

26. Sitting at a vintage desk typing just about anything

27. Making lists of – just about anything

28. Kittens falling asleep on me

29. Talking with my kid

30. Playing with essential oils and herbs and potions

31. Foraging for food and herbs

32. Processing large quantities of food for preserving

33. Growing flowers I can cut and bring inside

34. Caring for my roses

35. Being in nature (without doing anything extreme like hiking or spelunking or getting killed by serial killers. Just hanging out on a slope on a mountain is peaceful)

36. Hanging out with chickens

37. Wading in a really fucking ice cold creek on a really hot day

38. Making things for other people

39. Cleaning house (but NOT laundry, laundry can go fuck itself)

40. Open windows on a warm but slightly breezy day

41. Being absolutely still and thinking absolutely nothing – listening to the sounds all around me (doubles as a mindfulness exercise)

42. Eating really amazing food

43.  Opera music

44. Hanging around tidepools chatting up the urchins, starfish, and barnacles

45. The hot dry herby smell of the California hills in summer

46. Helping animals, caring for animals, rescuing animals

47. The sting of nettles (no really, it’s peculiar and I rather like it)

48. Reaching personal goals I’ve set for myself

49. Writing (fiction, nonfiction, bullshit, journals)

50. Showing kindness to people whether it costs me a lot or a little or nothing

It’s time for me to go drink some tea. So here’s my check-in with my goals:

I took a short evening walk

I ate really vibrant healthy food that made me feel good inside

I worked on my DBT homework by stopping to take pictures of wildflowers on my way to the store which is something I really love (taking pictures of wildflowers/all flowers) and by spending time thinking about all the activities that bring me a sense of well being (big or tiny, it all counts).

I tried a new recipe while watching serial killer docs.

I did some deep breathing.

And I’m not drinking alcohol tonight.

 

 

 

 

Day 1 of 365: Midlife Health Reboot

Mug shot taken March 13, 2019.

This is the start line, a moment I want to bookmark for myself so that I can look back later to see how far I’ve come.  Because from here on out the only thing I’m going to be working on in my life is getting my health back – until I achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.

All last year I worked on getting my emotional and mental stability back and after a year of therapy I’m in such a better place than when I started.  I’m still in therapy and I’m going to need to stick with it a little longer to help me reach my health goals. I couldn’t even begin to address my physical health goals until I got help with my emotional and mental deterioration.

I couldn’t write this blog while it served as a tool for releasing the mental Kraken from the deep dark waters of my mental illness.

For anyone not in the know – I got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder this time last year. This is in addition to existing PTSD, Generalized Anxiety, and Major Depression.  The diagnosis, though not expected, wasn’t actually a total surprise. Getting that specific diagnosis gave me a much better idea of what kind of therapy would best address my mental state.

My therapist has been using IFS therapy which has been profoundly helpful and I’m taking my second DBT short course  right now to help support the other therapy.  For DBT to work you have to actually practice it daily. It helps you develop better personal discipline but also requires you to actually use what discipline you already have available to build from.

Me and foster kitten Emery on March 13, 2019.

PLEASE DO NOT OFFER ME ANY DIET OR HEALTH ADVICE AT ANY TIME. UNLESS I SPECIFICALLY ASK A PERSON FOR IT, I DON’T WANT IT.

I didn’t have the courage to weigh myself today but I can, from recent weighings, guess that my weight right now is at 280+/- a couple of pounds.

I have high blood pressure.

I have high triglycerides.

I have bad arthritis in one knee and milder arthritis in my other knee and hips. This causes much pain when I try to be physically active. Sometimes just causes pain, period.

I drink too much alcohol (definitely do NOT ask for details on this – or try to advise me in any way)

THE GOALS FOR THE NEXT 12 MONTHS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

Lose between 80-100lbs in the next 12 months (need to lose 100 but understand it might take longer than a year)

Rein back my alcohol consumption to moderate levels (I know what this means for me but am not going to share that detail for self protective reasons)

Continue to increase vibrancy and variety of diet. Work on portion control and over-all calories. Cook more of the food that makes me feel truly good (mostly Mediterranean style vegetarian food)

Do exercises every day to strengthen the muscles around the knees and hips to reduce arthritic pain as per PT people have suggested.

Continue to work on emotional regulation to support these goals.

Mindfulness/DBT/selfcare practices today:

I vacuumed even though I wanted to avoid it because I knew it would make me feel better if I did.

I did an assortment of other household chores as well. I took quite a few breaks, but it felt good when I could see the difference and FEEL it too.

I made a pitcher of my own blend of hibiscus iced tea for later.

I also made a pitcher of my own blend of chai for icing and while it simmered I did an exercise of being completely present and deep breathing the wonderful spicy steam. It was both grounding and uplifting.

I put makeup on.

I kept reapplying my roll-on essential oil blend Veranda because it makes me feel calm. That’s one of the tools in my DBT box of tools.

I’m off to make a salad for dinner and watch serial killer documentaries. Maybe drink tea. Definitely not drinking any alcohol tonight.

XO

Handling Disappointment Without Self-Abuse

I’m not going to abuse myself any more. I will quash the vitriol I’ve learned to lavish myself with and replace it with a shower of freshly opened carnations warmed in the sun of my garden. I will replace it with the hunger of a bird just out of winter looking for early spring seeds. I will replace it with the love and nourishment I’ve given to the people who’ve abused me.

The words that seep insidiously into my heart every time I think I’ve failed myself or others aren’t MY words. I heard them said to me so often I believed them.  When I stopped being told how small and weak and stupid and slow I was – the part of me that believed I deserved to be punished for every infraction of character, misstep, and stumble stepped up to the task and has been making sure I keep punishing myself just as I deserve ever since.

This is the worst part of abuse. The way you carry on the work of abusers against yourself long after they’re gone or you walk away – their voices live on inside of you.  But now their voice is your voice and you can’t run away from it or scrub it out of you. The longevity and strength of self loathing and self abuse is tremendous.

You can’t undo that shit in a day. Or a month. Sometimes it takes years of painstakingly removing abusive statements you used to think of as truths with a sharp knife, one by one. Sometimes it feels endless. But the amazing thing is that putting that time in will begin to clear your head enough that you can start putting other things in it, better things, wonderful things. Do the work even when it feels like nothing’s changing and you’ll turn a corner. You’ll make a mistake one day and instead of telling yourself your a real piece of shit human, you’ll look at your mistake, figure out how to fix it, and move on.

And if you still feel bad about it you’ll remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone does and that you’ll learn from it and become stronger and better for it if you choose to.

You might not even notice it at first but when you do it’s like growing your flight feathers back.

I disappointed myself today but as the usual self-punishment recording began to play I knocked the needle off the groove and have instead been talking to myself with kindness and patience. I’ve been listening to a different part of myself tonight. The part that keeps the lamps lit on dark nights. The part that insists I grow more carnations because they make me ridiculously happy because I loved smelling them in my mother’s garden when I was a kid. (The garden in the house I loved so much as a kid that I still dream about it today like it’s a person.) I’m listening to the part of myself that knows I won’t be “fixed” in a day, a month, or even a few months but knows that the changes will come on slowly and steadily as long as I keep doing the work.

Tonight I’m listening to the part of myself that knows my true worth.

 

This Dirty Laundry Might Be Covered in BPD

I’ve been in a continually deteriorating mental and emotional state since my brother’s death. Actually, I was already on a slow decline before that but that marked the point at which I started to feel more and more powerless to fix it, fix me, make the good choices, keep up with proper self care, and a whole lot of repressed rage began to rise from the deep. This week I finally got over my fear of returning to the Kaiser psyche department to ask for the help I desperately need.

If you know me pretty well or even really well you may think that my “falling apart” isn’t real dire since I haven’t gone on drunken binges in bad bars, cheated on my husband, stayed in bed for weeks at a time, or show any visible signs of mental and emotional distress. But if you know me really well, especially if you have at any time in our acquaintance read a good amount of posts on this blog, you should have heard me say many times that I’m a master at hiding what’s going on inside of me and lying to you all about it in order to protect myself from anyone hurting me. If you’ve paid any real attention, the signs are ALWAYS evident in my writing or in my complete absence from writing. Or my incredibly emotional verbal vomit.

I’ll say it again: I learned when I was pretty young that if I tell people how I really feel, what I’m really thinking, or if I’m honest about what I do to myself quietly just out of sight – people don’t know what to do with that shit. They look at you like you’re a walking disease. AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT I SEE AND BELIEVE THEY’RE DOING. I used to tell friends the truth and the awkward silences were the worst. The worst. They made me feel like a piece of scab that just fell off a dead person’s body. Then I’d shrivel up into my hideous self and want to die. I’d want to get the fuck out of my body and be fucking done with human beings. Be done with this whole crappy festival of shit that life is in which I have no place.

I learned when I was pretty young that people hurt you more if you’re honest with them about who you are, what you’re really feeling, about the urges you’re suppressing, about the things that make you angry, the things that make you not trust them. So I learned to bottle that fucking toxic shit up inside  myself where it periodically claws its way out of my mouth and then I have to spend time doing damage control – apologizing to people for the hurt I caused them or the inconveniences I’ve caused them by suddenly bowing out of commitments or plans. Or for being a thoughtless asshole.

Half the things I think would be/have been so hurtful to people I love and value that I spend a lot of energy trying to work around core beliefs that would lose me friends and loved ones. I say that out loud all the time on social media, in person, on my blog. I say “I’m specifically not saying what I’m thinking right now because it would hurt so many of you” and a bunch of people chime in and say it wouldn’t hurt them but I know they don’t know. And because I love and value quite a lot of people around me I’m motivated not to hurt them. But this shit is constantly boiling up and exploding inside me so it hurts me and I don’t want to be in my body any more and I want to not exist because this shit is so awful and I can’t take any more of this extreme noise in my head and these emotions that don’t fit in my corporeal self.

If I let my truest real thoughts on things out I don’t think there’s a person I know who wouldn’t feel alienated or hurt. And I don’t have these thoughts or beliefs because I’m a truly bad person. I’m not. I think my core beliefs about the world, about humans, about life came out of the mud of my early life experiences. And I can’t openly discuss some of the most formative and damaging things without hurting people I love too. So I’m constantly trying to say things in the least hurtful way I can.

I’m willing to bet that if people I know are reading this some of them are thinking “She’s wrong, her opinions might be different than mine but they won’t offend me” and you want to know what those opinions are.

My psyche appointment this week went really well. My new doc has referred me to dialectical behavioral therapy classes, long term individual therapy, a new med, and eventually wants me to do some EMDR. She also told me she thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder. So this week I’ve taken a crash course on BPD and learned a ton and also have that feeling when someone finally figures out what all this awful toxic shit is that lives inside of you and tells you there’s a therapy that can help it and so for right now I’m living and breathing this new information and basically doing a personal assessment of what the new doc said. Does this really fit? Is this really how I am? Except that mostly I’ve just been reading the DSM (4 and 5) and watching lectures and vlogs and going “Oh holy fuck!” and “Whoa – shit! THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE THIS WHOLE TIME AND HOW COME MY FIRST DOC DIDN’T EXPLAIN HIS NOTES ‘PERSONALITY ISSUES’ 15 YEARS AGO BECAUSE THIS WAS IN FRONT OF HIM AND OH MY GOD I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHY HE SAID THAT AND WHAT HE MEANT!”

Friends and family have questioned this diagnosis.  I haven’t ever been arrested or gotten in physical fights with everyone around me or screamed and yelled at them or overdosed on drugs or prostituted myself or been homeless or broken laws or been promiscuous or lost control in any of the obvious ways most people with BPD do. I get that I don’t present as a person with BPD on the surface. However, when I was younger I had showed a lot more of the acting out behaviors associated with BPD. And then I learned that I was lonelier acting out than I was shoving that shit deep down inside me where no one but me has to fucking look at the abyss of fear, anger, disappointment, loneliness, distrust, anxiety, hugeness of emotions.

But no one who knows me can honestly say they haven’t noticed that my moods turn on a fucking dime and that those mood swings are a daily and hourly thing. Even I can’t hide my shit that well, and anyway just look through my facebook time line and all the evidence of constantly shifting moods is right there. Documented for all to see.

I’m up one minute then I have a two minute conversation with some asshat on Twitter who reminds me of my time in McMinnville and suddenly I’m sunk in the trauma of my terrible loneliness of living there and I’m upset as though it all happened yesterday instead of six years ago. Then two hours later I get distracted by the mild weather and I start feeling good again or Philip is late coming home and I’m texting him and he doesn’t respond within five minutes and I’m in angry/anxiety mode and I’m not texting him every minute because I don’t want to make him angry with me and I don’t want him to know how I’m already angry because he isn’t answering my text THE MINUTE I SEND IT. I stifle my feelings and I try to work through them because I know they aren’t rational or reasonable. I know this so I fidget and try not to notice that he hasn’t answered my text in 26 minutes (yes, I’m always counting the minutes even though I don’t like to admit it) and when he finally gets back to me I try not to lose my shit at him because I know this is my crazy-ass bullshit and I usually don’t lose my shit on him.

Except for when I do. And not that long ago I lost it on him AND my friend Sid (and peripherally) my friend Denis too because Philip went out with Denis and then wasn’t answering my texts and then when he finally answered them he mentioned our friend Sid was there too and I can’t even remember the circs that made me so upset but I felt betrayed by them all for excluding me and for not responding to my texts and I was so angry and betrayed and even while I tried to control those feelings I couldn’t. I lashed out. Then I went out to dinner by myself to my favorite place and ordered my favorite meal and the whole time I’m so fucking angry and hurt and I cried in public while I ate and that made me feel worse because then I wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to punch myself or take my intestines out of my body and let them drag behind me as I crawled back home.

For ME that experience was horrible and it took me a long time to come back down from that emotional place and though I didn’t hurt myself, because I’ve worked hard not to act on those urges, I felt like a disgusting worthless piece of shit for having freaked out on Philip and our friends. These are friends I love like family. I was full of shame for my behavior and the shame I felt was worse than the anger and hurt that made me lash out. That shame is like a soul scouring pad and the mental and emotional flagellation that follows any acting out on my part is perhaps one of the biggest reasons I work so hard not to lash out and instead I shove that shit as deep as it can go.

I’ve got a lot I need to spill because it’s like the lights got turned on in my dungeon and now I can see all the leeches crawling up my legs and the shit on the walls and I’ve got to put things in their proper place because I think now is the time a lot of pieces of my mental health come together and I can potentially clear the way for a better rest of my life.

Sometimes Labels Offer Freedom

Depression and anxiety shape a lot of my life. People say not to let your illnesses define you, don’t cling to labels, break free and be whatever you are – whoever you are – without shame or excuses. You’re weird and that’s okay. You’re a little funky, no problem, some people like that kind of funk. You’re kind of creepy how much you think about death but we’re all kind of cree-

Don’t bother finishing that sentence. People cheerfully say this kind of shit and inevitably they trail off, turn back to the cheese plate with small talk when they realize they’re out of their depth with me. Can’t tell you how many times people have casually asked me about the scars on my arms before realizing they were walking down a dark mental alley full of human piss and dirty memory.

I was officially label-free for the first 32 years of my life. I wouldn’t go back to being undiagnosed for anything in the world. Being diagnosed isn’t a magic bullet you can take to the heart to be reborn fresh and clean-spirited, but it can give you important context for your experiences of life. Being diagnosed with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder validated a lifetime of being “off” to others for me. It validated the slow sadistic torture life felt like for me on most days. Particularly in my younger life.

My mental illness isn’t an excuse for bad behavior but sometimes my mood disorders weigh heavily on the choices I make. Knowing what’s interfering with my rational thought and the regulation of my moods helps me live a better life because I have developed self-awareness, checks and balances, and an honest dialog with myself.

One of the best tools having a diagnosis of mental illness has given me is being able to recognize the broken mental records my brain keeps playing that tell me I’m a piece of shit failure, that I’d be better off dead. I’m not sure I’ll ever shed my difficult relationship with my corporeal self, but navigating through suicidal ideation (mostly passive) has become safer and I can cycle through it faster knowing that these feelings are part of the way my brain was created and my life experiences have cemented – that this fight to live that I’ve been struggling with for 35 years isn’t a moral failing. Some people are born with holes in their hearts, I was born with glitches in my mental operating system that can be life threatening but most of the time is just irritating and requires a lot of maintenance.

I don’t believe in regrets but sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and explain everything before I’d done serious damage to myself. I wish I could give my younger self the therapy, the meds, and the diagnosis that ultimately saved my life. Things I was able to get because of the healthcare we had at the time.

Not everyone needs a diagnosis to hang onto their parachute. Not everyone needs meds or therapy to survive the tortures of an unbalanced mental state or the ravages of abuse or war. They are blessed to fly free without the structure of support I need and I don’t resent them for finding their way when I can’t.

But for those of you who are letting go of your safety nets, and to those of you who never had them – the thing I want more than anything else is for you to get the support you need in order to wake up every day and know that you have it in you to get dressed, stand tall (ish), and be the person you honestly are in the most meaningful and satisfying way possible. Or just to stay alive and enjoy something every day like a hot cup of coffee or hugging your kids or kittens.

We’re going to kick the mental illness stigma to the gutter one day at a time, one case at a time, one life at a time.

Head above water my darlings!

 

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Letter to Self: Your Place at the Table

The thing about now is that it instantly slips into the past the second you register it in your cornea and your brain. Now barely exists and yet it’s the most important fraction of time in our lives. What you feel now is going to change. Change is one of the few constants in life. Yeah, you want to shout out for change to fuck itself. You seem determined to undermine yourself just as soon as you understand on a cellular level how desperately you need to change. I understand. It’s really important that you know I’ve been there where you are now. I’m offering no judgement against you.

Your value isn’t contingent on being perfect, being wise, being healthy, or being happy. So push all that crap off the table and start over. Your value is contingent only on evolving into the best self you can be. Not as you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Others don’t matter here. Here is where you build your own damn yardstick. You did this a long time ago. You did this when you first felt yourself slipping out of your own skin in shame and degradation. You sat up, you realized that the yardstick you’d been measuring yourself against was a fucking joke, a horsehair whip to make you bleed. A horsehair whip you took from trusted hands that told you you deserved it and you had no reason not to believe it.

You sat up and broke that horsehair whip in half and threw all the empty yardsticks in the trash and began to build your own. Remember how long it took you to do that? Years. It wasn’t overnight. It was like remaking yourself in a new image. In a new frame. You had to hammer yourself into it every day, remind yourself that you weren’t the worthless piece of shit you heard others say of you. You sat up and demanded your place at the table of life, with your own silverware, your own place card. And it took so much strength to make demands instead of accepting life as an invisible spirit.

Things feel as bad as they did back then but you got through that. You need to remember that you got through it stronger than you started off. It wasn’t because of anyone else. You wanted to die almost every day but you hung on because you had a wildflower’s roots clinging to the cosmos through the poorest soil. All of this is to say that you’re there again and the only way you’re going to move forward is if you sit up and demand your place at the table.

Take Your Own Arrows

cremains

I went to my first therapy intake in years the other day. All the hours of my life cried out to be seen and heard and accounted for. I’m never in therapy at my darkest moments so I come with some unintentional armor guarding my heart and my entrails. It takes so little to dent the anger-tempered metal.

It feels important to tell every psychologist that my dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and that though it filled me with doubt about the order of the universe I did it because I was too scared not to. The words always dry up in my throat because it’s ridiculous to tell anyone that I have, in true fact, vacuumed a lawn.

I know I could use a silent ear regarding Zeke’s death. I’m not sure what I can say when a thousand things are always trying to speak at once through me in a giant coagulating mess of noise. I miss him. I think the hardest thing is that I expected to die before him and yet, here I am. I would have taken every pain in his stead, but that’s not how life works. I have to take my own arrows, collect my own offal in pails arranged carefully under a thousand leaks in my body.

I believe our personal power and our greatest weaknesses always stem from the same source. The things that make us vulnerable also makes us strong. Perhaps I think of it in too simplified terms for some, but for me it comes down to the idea that light can’t exist without dark, that cold is meaningless without heat, and good has no context without bad. I even named my company after this concept; sugar and pith – the sweet and the bitter. I don’t believe in fairy tales because they’re obsessed with vanquishing the dark so that light can prevail, but morning is nothing without dusk. Fairy tales are incomplete stories, bastards of the truth which is ultimately more rewarding as well as devastating than fantasy.

I need a therapist to help me swim to the bubbling sunlit surface of water from a thousand feet deep in the alien darkness full of changelings and dancing muscles. Can therapists do that?

The greatest gift in my life has been the long slow discovery that I’m not alone in this dark.

It’s peopled with a thousand spirits kin to me. When I stop struggling to swim and let the waves tow me under I can hear all of them speaking with buoyancy at the same time; with joy and love and the fear stripped from them like it was nothing more than thin streams flooding porous tidal stones.

Can there be reconciliation for as many selves as I have been?

 

Suicide Contagion

the furry hat

I haven’t been able to truly write in ages. I don’t even know how long it’s been at this point. I just started to write again before my brother died. I was starting to work on Suicide for Beginners and then I was thrown into such a terrible wave of my own shock, depression, and grief that I couldn’t wade through without getting lost. So I drifted further away from the page until it felt dangerous to try to access this project.

You can retreat from things that call to you for a while, maybe even for years, but eventually their noise gets to be so loud you can’t hear anything else above them. I don’t feel ready to write about suicide and all the people who opened up their veins to take my survey and yet I feel an incredible responsibility to my tribe to sit down here and find my way because it isn’t just my thoughts and experiences needing sharing, it’s so many other people’s voices and experiences that need to be held up to the light of love and empathy.

I just heard the expression “suicide contagion” for the first time and it makes me feel incredibly angry and protective of my tribe. This is the same ignorance that made people believe that listening to heavy metal could make you commit violent crimes. It implies that people are so suggestible that a song or a tale of suicide can inspire a person to do something completely out of character that they would never have done if it weren’t for someone setting the example for them first.

Let me tell you that no one, NO ONE, commits suicide to be cool or make a point or to cease to exist unless they already had the urge, the impulse, or lacked the self preservation of mentally healthy people. So check yourself and your fucking dreams of contagion to explain away your heartbreak at losing a loved one to suicide.

I don’t honestly know if finishing my project will make a difference but what I do know is that I can’t sit back and not fight for all of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. So many of us are more scar than flesh. So many of us are hanging onto thin threads for lifelines even though we have, collectively, such an incredible long list of people we’d give our whole selves to protect and love.

Not sure I’ve ever truly deeply loved a person who wasn’t mentally compromised to some degree and brilliantly lovely.

There are so many things to fight for. None of us can fight for everything every day. What an overwhelming burden it is to live in such a broken world. What an overwhelming thing it is to live at all. What a terrible burden it is to be born and have to carry this heavy mantle of imposed expectation to make of this abbreviated time on earth matter to other people.

Suicide isn’t contagious. Mental illness isn’t contagious. If someone you love seems to “suddenly” succumb to the influence of some depressed person or is inspired to kill themselves because someone they admired killed themselves – you need to get honest and understand that this person you love was already dreadfully conflicted and haunted.

“Contagion” is an ugly word. “Suicide contagion” is a hideous and ignorant expression.

I don’t know how to safely access enough of myself to work on Suicide for Beginners but it’s abundantly clear that the work needs doing.

Tonight I tried to open my Scrivener files for “Suicide for Beginners” and there was nothing. I have to start all over. Maybe this is for the best even though it makes me want to punch things.

Good night, tribe. I won’t abandon you. You’re always here in my heart. We meet in strange dream landscapes experienced sleeping and awake.

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When Self Care is the Hardest is When We Need it Most

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Cultivated purslane going to seed. I saved a bag of the seed. Hopefully it’ll grow true to the plant – not sure it will – this is what often stops me from saving seeds in my small garden, worries that the seed will not grow true. I don’t often plant hybrids, I do plant all OP (except for my beloved Sungold tomatoes, those are hybrids and might not even be OP) but I have a small garden space and often grow multiple varieties of a vegetable a year. Cross pollination in a small garden is a real issue. But I’ve decided to save a few seeds anyway. Purslane, red Orache, and summer squash this year.

I have not been taking good care of myself. For ten days we didn’t drink too much. Then we went right back to drinking lots of beer. I don’t exercise because of how much it always hurts my feet or something else. It’s always something. I have been eating way too much cheese. The only thing I do right any more is to drink lots of water. I also still eat a lot of produce, but this is largely cancelled out by all the cheese. I don’t sleep well (though I never do, so is that even worth reporting?) I’m depressed and anxious all the time without any breaks in it to come up for air. I wasn’t taking my meds regularly for a little while but at least I’ve really cracked down on that and for the last couple of weeks have been very consistent with taking them every day.

So little writing for all of 2016. This is the worst thing of all. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to the desk and be disciplined about writing no matter what. That’s why I’m here this morning. Earlier in the year I was working hard on my survey and by the summer time, when I started to actually sit down to write, all the energy I had was sucked up by work, which I quit, and then sucked up by trying to re-boot my business because Philip got laid off and I couldn’t find a job. No writing. Then I tried writing but it was all about my brother and grieving. Anyway, I got on a single track before he died and couldn’t get off it. Every time I sat down to write I would end up on the same track, saying the same things every single time. No matter where I started off, I’d end up in the same place. So I just stopped writing at all.

Yesterday I woke up really late and felt like garbage  because I stayed up ridiculously late and drank an insane amount of beer while watching Leonard Cohen videos on youtube. I was angry with myself and then I had a very rich, way too rich even for me breakfast that made me feel even shittier. So I got out into the garden. For over an hour. I pulled up all my tomato plants, the dying zinnias, the summer squash plants, and the woody rosemary that never recovered its last trim. I planted a baby rosemary in its place. I picked the first few ripe radishes which my mom said were almost too hot to eat. They aren’t a hot variety so it must have been the growing conditions. I also harvested a bunch of our everlasting spinach. I planted my boxwood plant in the side yard bed finally (I will be topiarying it), got our cape gooseberry planted too. I got completely covered with soil and for the first time in a long time I felt a little better.

Why is it so hard to get myself to do things I know are important to my mental health? Once out of the habit it’s so tough getting back into it. Yet when I do – I feel so much better. It’s creating the daily habit that has to happen. Once you do, it creates a momentum.

My body is really craving greens and vegetables. More than I’ve been eating. The other night I roasted some cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots with some rosemary salt. I ate a big bowl of them with ketchup but no cheese. It was so good! Another dish I made is one I’ve been wanting to make for a while – I made pulau rice. My friend Rohini gave me some of her favorite packaged spice mix and told me two methods of making the rice and it turned out so well! I didn’t have any frozen peas which I really wished I’d had but it still turned out great with carrots, onions, and potatoes diced small. Then I made a palak paneer to go with the leftovers. I have made paneer before but didn’t feel like doing that and I don’t know where to buy paneer in my city (probably could get it at one of the Asian markets but I haven’t checked yet) so I ended up using this cubed feta I had in the fridge. I hadn’t used much of the feta before because it was really dry and kind of chewy. Good flavor, but not what I wanted for my salad or couscous. So I used it in the palak and it was so good! It was tangier than paneer, but texturally very similar. I used a garam masala blend I made from scratch last year but never used. So it was a little old but it was really tasty!

That’s the kind of cooking I’m craving. I can’t be attempting totally authentic Indian food or Greek food, necessarily, but doing my take on them is where it’s at. At least my spice blends were authentic. (The one I made was from my vegetarian Indian cookbook by Monisha Bharadwaj) I especially love spinach dishes. Palak paneer, spanikopita, and spinach quiche are a few favorites.

I can’t be on facebook as much as usual. I have way too many people I love on there to stop checking in and hanging out a little, but I’m skimming past political and ranting posts. I’m bypassing as many angry posts as possible. If I soak up any more of that I risk letting more passive suicidal thoughts to take root in my spirit and heart. I can’t afford it. If anyone thinks I’m a cop-out or don’t care about all the people hurting right now, all the scared people out there right now, all the abused and threatened people – then you don’t know me AT ALL. If there is anything in me to contribute to the world to make it a better place, to help people become safer – then I have to shut everything out for a while. Dead people can’t help make living people safer or heard or lift them up. That’s a fact.

Unless you’re religious, then I suppose you always turn to dead people to lift you up. But never the less, not even Jesus can vote or march or step in to literally give you a hand when you need one.

For mentally ill people to be of service to others, they have to take care of themselves and that often means shutting out the noise. That often means disengaging for long periods to recharge. Our batteries do not hold charges for very long.

I feel guilty so much of the time not being able to do more, needing to be in retreat mode so often. Honestly, when I’ve gotten myself to a better place, I don’t know that tackling political things is where I’m needed most anyway. I need to get back to my Suicide for Beginners book because those of us with serious depression and anxiety need intersectional support more than most people. We have a lot to offer others in empathy and action and support, but not when we don’t have enough of it ourselves. Depression and anxiety don’t give a shit about your gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, they hit people across all lines, across all borders both literal and figurative.

I have to keep acknowledging the guilt that I’m not stronger than I am and keep letting it go. I’m strong in ways that aren’t necessarily evident. But if I don’t take care of myself, that strength is inaccessible to everyone, including myself.

So, if you’re like me and struggle with serious depression and anxiety, please let me entreat you to do a little check – are you practicing good self care? Or have you been neglecting it like I have? What is the self care you need to practice? (Feel free to literally tell me in the comments) If you’re not practicing much self care at all, or worse, like I have been doing – you are being self destructive (even if mildly), how about doing one thing for yourself today that you know will help you feel better and stronger that you’ve been neglecting to do? Don’t worry about ALL THE THINGS you should be doing, how about just do ONE thing today that you haven’t been doing?

Today I got up, grabbed my cup of coffee, and headed upstairs to my computer to write a post. A post that isn’t about death, or politics, or the hatred that’s consuming the world. I wrote about the thing I did yesterday that made me feel so much better for a little while. And in doing so, I have (today) done something else that I’ve neglected for so long I don’t even recognize myself anymore – I wrote a post before doing anything else. No matter what else I do today (or don’t do), I will have done something today that I need to do every day.

About the writing – I believe that all writers (and I believe this is true of all artists) sometimes must go through fallow periods. Periods of time when they aren’t writing but are just experiencing life. You have to recharge your writing brain. It used to be that I would write at least a blog post or a journal entry every single day even if I wasn’t writing poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. It was a discipline that kept my writing muscles flexed. But regardless of whether or not you continue to write little journal entries, there are periods of time where you must let ideas germinate, or invite new ones in by going out and doing things and getting out of your head. Just as fields must lie fallow to rest in order to regenerate and be able to support more demanding plants in a later season or year.

But I have lain fallow long enough. It is now unhealthy for me to continue to eschew the writing. I have to find my way back. But I can only think about today or I’ll crumble. Today I wrote.