Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

A Note

Ever since my mother died, I have had trouble singing. I can’t think of anything that is more loaded with emotion, mostly pain. I haven’t set foot in a church in nearly two years, also in my grief. I know damn well that this is temporary, that my love of church will return when my spirit calms. It is important to have a faith community that loves me through good times and bad, people that I can turn to in both extremes. Right now, though, when I walk into a church I don’t see comfort and joy. I see the ghost of my mother’s past. It is not peaceful for me. It is a white-knuckling, stomach churning experience of just trying to get through the service without a complete goose-honking cry of a meltdown. And the thing is, I know that would be okay, too.

It is my own fear of being that vulnerable in public that stops me. Perhaps fear is the wrong word, but anxiety. I am trying my best to keep my head above water, avoiding the things that will actively help me to stop functioning. Walking around in my mother’s inner landscape, even for a couple of hours, leads to me losing the rest of the day. I have to sleep it off in those depression and anxiety-fueled naps that last hours, even when I’m not sleepy. And even in my dreams, I’m thinking “I don’t have time for this.” The clinical term for this is “decompensating.”

According to dictionary.com, there is both a medical and psychological meaning.

Medical decompensation is “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”

Psychological decompensation is “a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions.”

It is funny how incredibly close those definitions are, when you look at the heart metaphorically.

I feel that I should say for the record that I have never had a delusion, although I have come close by taking someone else’s crazy statement and believing it as fact, incorporating it into my reality to disastrous results… What turned their crazy into my crazy was not stopping for a moment to evaluate said statement for objective truth, because in a lot of ways, it was what I wanted to hear…………………

Objective reality slipped beyond my grasp, living in a reinforced bubble created by fantasy. I was living as high as one could possibly be on dopamine without taking a drug to raise it chemically.

Later, when the bubble burst, I came back down to earth. It was an amazing feeling to see life for what it was, instead of my own version. What was happening in the world around me no longer carried a malleable haze.

I present with depression and anxiety, though I’m Bipolar II, so I do get a few hypomanic days now and then. But the highs are not so high. They’re just enough to make me feel like I’m living without depression and can be extraordinarily productive, sometimes foregoing sleep to get things done. Part of this is chemical; the other part is not knowing when I’ll be hypomanic again, and trying to use that time wisely.

I am extremely lucky that my fluctuations in mood just go from not depressed to extremely depressed, and medication makes those swings even easier to manage. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I simply think of the people who are much worse off, the people who have no trouble swinging between suicidal plans and megalomania…. or have poor impulse control akin to buying five cars in one day.

I have no doubt in my mind that I was hypomanic when I decided to audition for the Washington National Opera chorus, but again, it was just being productive. Had I been truly depressed when I learned that the auditions were in a month, self-doubt would have eaten me alive and I would have lacked the courage to sign up altogether.

Which brings me back around to church and my mom. I need to sing again. I need to be in a chorus with other great singers who will raise my own game. I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll learn. In a gargantuan way, this is all about finding a replacement for church choir while I work on my daily ups and downs during the devastation of grief. I know I will still feel it. How can I not since my sister was in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, and I have such fond memories of my mom and Lindsay “on set?”

I counter that with all the hair, costumes and makeup. If I audition and get in, I will have the chance to be someone else for a while. Lots of someone elses if I get a contract for the whole season. The operas happening after my audition are Eugene Onegin, Faust, and Tosca. The links are all to their respective Wikipedia pages, because opera is so much more accessible when you know the story before you buy the tickets.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I hope the writing that comes out of a successful audition is work that brings younger audiences to opera. It is not dead thanks to the old and the rich, but if that trend continues, opera will be less and less popular over time. Opera has such a rich history that I cannot imagine losing it. Lots of them are novels that come to life, and generally more accurate than the movies.

It’s also a great break from technology, as it is entirely immersive. You have to read the supertitles to understand the language translation, or in the case of operas in your native language, to be able to pick out the words from the music. Hard to look at your phone and comprehend at the same time…. plus, the ushers will get mad at you because of the light. If your phone actually rings, good luck. God bless. 😛

I’m not starting singing again with arias, though. Today I did some breath control exercises and sang along to Merry Christmas from the Family (the Dixie Chicks and Rosie O’Donnell version as opposed to Robert Earl Keen, because it’s in a higher key). It’s such a funny song that for the first time in years, as I was singing I felt……. merry. It reminded me of the funniest parts of being a Texan, because if you’ve ever lived there, especially in a small town, you know this family. They live two doors down. There’s a broken swing set and a rusted car on blocks in the front yard. Both have been there since you moved in, and will be long after you leave.

The backyard looks like a garage sale all year ’round. On a serious note, even though they have just short of nothing, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs and the shoes on their feet if you need them, because they know what it’s like to literally have nothing and they’ll do whatever they can to help. There is no better place to live than small town Texas, because even though you can’t take a step out of your house without all 2,000 people knowing where you’re going, that’s not a bad thing. They sniff out trouble like bloodhounds, and just rally around you until it passes.

However, if you are selfish in any way, you don’t belong there. Community comes with responsibility.

Which brings me to another important reason why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth in terms of church. I’m empty. I’m all tapped out. I have nothing to contribute because I am struggling to keep my own head above water.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t bother the church at all. They know that when I’m in a better place, I can do more for the people around me. It’s all my own “stuff” to work out, because I cannot abide showing up to a potluck without a casserole, capiche?

I have high hopes for this opera audition, even though I won’t be crushed if I don’t get in. I know for certain that I am a fourth as good as the people auditioning who’ve been singing arias for years on end (I’m not a pessimist, just a realist). The high hopes come from joining a community in a new context, without the baggage I carry when entering a church. I see the glory of God in classical music, which, to my mind, is running towards spirituality instead of away…. making my way slowly, but surely, back into the world communion.

I am surprised that this has been my reaction to grief, because for the first two or three weeks after my mother died, walking into the sanctuary made me feel as if she were right there, so close I could touch her again. Then a pointed sermon on grief made me absolutely lose my shit with anxiety, just crying and shaking as if exorcising a demon. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see my grief laid that bare. On top of my anxiety, I am quite shy and introverted. If you think otherwise, it’s from years and years of practice at hiding it away. I can have entire conversations that end with you knowing nothing about me, because my go-to is deflection. I ask so many questions about your life that you don’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise to ask me about mine. In that scenario, I can be extroverted and gregarious, because I’m not revealing anything. It also cuts way down on me giving answers I think of as crazy or stupid so I don’t have anything to beat myself up with later.

Trust me, if I was weird to you 20 years ago, I still have the ability to obsess over it. It would be an absolute relief to be onstage as a character in a group, completely forgetting everything in terms of who I am and pouring everything into letting me go for a few hours a night. I am hoping it will give me enough clinical separation to see myself more objectively once the performance is over…. because then, I might be able to turn my anxiety about being vulnerable in public back into needing other people for support, and rising to the occasion of giving my own support to others.

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is on its way. May it be the first step forward onto holy ground.

The Molotov Cocktail

I don’t believe that people don’t listen when someone throws a Molotov cocktail at their own preconceived notions of how wonderful they are.

This quote is from an e-mail reply sent to me when I was explaining a particular problem with which I am internally wrestling to the ground… like I do, in a “hold on, I have to overthink about it” sort of way. It was so astounding in its clarity, such a succinct rocket propelled truth grenade, that I felt it deserved top billing. This is because yes, I can apply it to this situation, but moreover, I can apply it to myself and the journey I’ve taken over the years to become a better version of myself.

I’ve mentioned before that being panicked all the time allowed things to come out of my mouth that never would’ve otherwise, and when someone threw that Molotov cocktail at me, at first I was angry and popped off even more, because in the moment, that’s all I could think to do. But once the cortisol wore off, I did indeed take those words away and think about them, making them a part of my heartbeat and using them as fuel, onwards and upwards.

Things calmed down somewhat naturally, but when I started taking Klonopin,™ the adrenaline I felt during conflict all but went away. It allowed me to shoot water at the (very, very tall) flames. I could sit back and remember the day I wrote that the fire inside me could not be contained with water. I had to bring in a much bigger fire, and then rest and relax in the ash-enriched earth. Before that, anxiety kept my own fire burning, and those words got lost in the middle of the mess. It was a wonderful day when they came back.

In case you’re wondering, I do read my own blog like a stalker ex-girlfriend at 2:00 AM. Mostly because after time has passed, I am so divorced from my own words that they seem as if someone else wrote them. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s about learning to rely on myself and, God forbid, take my own advice. There are some entries where I legitimately say, “that’s so wise. I wish I had written it.” It’s a shock to my system to realize that it was me, just a different iteration.

The truth bomb for me was learning that my anger at the world was rubbing off on people in ways that I both didn’t intend and indeed wanted to inflict the pain I was experiencing. This is because sometimes there were innocent bystanders, and sometimes my yard felt threatened and I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex (at 5’4 and barely 125, the description is apt). I still occasionally say things that have consequences I don’t understand, but so does everyone else. There is no way to predict or be responsible for someone else’s perception of reality. The difference now is that I don’t feel threatened, because most of the threat was my own perception of reality and not external stimuli. It’s my medication, though, that I credit with allowing the anger within me to dissipate, because without the suppression of anxiety’s physical symptoms, I didn’t have time to coolly and calmly calculate my next move. There was no, “I could say this, or I could say that.” It was just the “think it, say it” plan. Sometimes it worked well for me, because for all its faults, it was definitely authentic. I didn’t have time to put on the mask of “everything’s fine.” What really forced me to examine my thought processes was the old axiom that hurt people hurt people… something I knew logically, but hadn’t instituted emotionally. Making the connection between heart and mind had previously eluded me. And while I am still intensely cerebral, I feel that now I am using more parts of my heart than I used to be capable.

This is because once I “relaxed in the ash-enriched earth,” some of the dead spots left by years of emotional abuse as a teenager started to grow back… and I won’t lie, those neurons were at first part of the problem, raising my threat level to DEFCON “OH MY FUCK!.” Though I take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions, I also can’t ignore the context… because as I say often, I won’t make excuses, but I hope I can provide understanding of why something happened, because nothing happens in a vacuum. And that is where writing really helps me, because I don’t generally lay out that context for the people themselves, but on my own. It is not their responsibility to understand. It’s mine.

It is amazing, though, how much pleasure and happiness have come back into my life via self-reflection. People have seen me heal and have drawn their own conclusions, just from trying to explain me to me. I am no longer a tight knot of fear ALL THE TIME, which was my modus operandi for a number of years. Seeing how it was failing me allowed my life to expand, taking a detour when my mother died, but not stopping progress altogether. I just had to find different sources of unconditional love, because it’s the one thing my mother was capable of doing that no one else did (though they do now, because with my friends, there’s a recognition that it needed to be replaced somewhere). My mother was the only person in my life that was constantly on my side, never ever saying “what did you do?,” but “what have they done to my baby?” And this was even after I reassured her I was being a right tool and I deserved every bit of the karma coming around. It just never mattered to her. She was always on my side, no matter how I behaved, and I think that’s a mother’s love in a nutshell.

For instance, I think she’d hate that I don’t go to church anymore, because it’s not a comforting experience. However, I think she would understand, because it’s me. My belief that God is the source of every story ever told, that we are all subtractions of the divine, has never faltered. But when I walk into a church, all I see is her. She’s at the organ. She’s in the choir. She’s sitting in the congregation. She’s pinching my hand hard enough to draw blood when I’m laughing so hard I just cannot keep it together… and if she’s in the alto section and I’m far enough away with the sopranos, she’s giving me the death stare instead. If you’ve never seen my mother’s death stare, you just won’t even know the half of how…… effective it could be. Therefore, every single church service I attend doesn’t feel uplifting. It feels like a knife in my front.

I am sure that as time passes, so this will, also. But I’m not there yet, and if there is indeed a heaven and she is watching, I hope she realizes this… that life is always in forward motion, and belonging to a faith community (or starting one) will happen in its own time.

My theology dictates that there is no heaven or hell, just which one we’re bringing to the life we’re living right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it. I can also imagine, as I do in all things, that I could be wrong. It has been known to happen…..

…which often leads to the examination of how wonderful I think I am, and adjusting as necessary, because I listen.

One Thing

I’m in love. I’ve waited so long to write those words, because it is as if I’ve never said them before. Because I haven’t. Not to me, anyway. I have a gigantic capacity to love other people. It has never occurred to me to love myself that way. What I see in myself now versus even five years ago is astounding progress. I fought many demons, vanquishing some and making peace with others…. letting go of some relationships that seemed healthy and weren’t, and both introducing new ones and rebuilding others. When I was younger, I thought that there would be this magic day where adulting all came together… no matter how many friends I acquired who were older than me and assured me this was not the case.

I don’t think I’m wrong, though, because I had the epiphany earlier that this mystical day was not everything coming together, but the ability to hang on when they fall apart. It was literally my City Slickers moment.curly-city-slickers My one thing… my one thing… is that “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it’ll change.” Everything gets better if you wait long enough, and if it doesn’t, perhaps you’re feeling a tad impatient.

In the past, I haven’t been patient enough. Not with anyone or anything, particularly myself. In a lot of ways, I think this is the only wisdom that comes with age. Winston Churchill nailed it when he said, “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” I think where I got tripped up was not realizing just how far. Some things take longer than others.

I have deep-seated anxiety, so before I started taking medication for it, I burned it as fuel for impatience. Everything was first priority, whether good or bad. I felt terrible every time a plate dropped, because whether the dish was large or small, it was a personal failure. I was one of those people who would feel equally bad about forgetting to bring something to a party and getting divorced. Forgetting to bring charcuterie and traumatic life events carried the same weight.

Stopping the physical reactions of anxiety with medication helped my emotions slow down. Once it kicked in, I had to reexamine my mood & behavior, asking myself what I was getting out of constantly being upset about everything. When I could get through a day without brain race, shortness of breath, and tachycardia (generally all at once), I had so much more time on my hands….. during which I learned what was worth worrying about, and what wasn’t. The things other people did and said in their interactions with me couldn’t affect me as much. If I am now in any sort of conflict, I don’t fly off the handle, because the trigger for it is gone. What made me a loose cannon was my body going into fight or flight (or freeze) syndrome. Conflict looks so much different when you don’t feel like you’re going to die in the middle of it.

I feel that I have stopped reacting, and have started responding. A reaction is just the first thing that comes to your mind, and a response is formulated. Not experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety has given me some much-needed perspective, because not everything is riding on my first thought. I have time to second-guess myself, and third guess if necessary. Nearly a hundred percent of the time, my reaction and response are in opposing positions. Most people don’t get to see my reactions, because I wait to speak until I have a response. This is a good thing, as often my first thought is ridiculously impulsive in the wrong direction.

Falling in love with me has been the joy of seeing myself achieve calm, even in the midst of chaos. I admire myself for the coping mechanisms I’ve been able to implement so that I “have a backup generator when the electricity goes out.” I’m proud of my persistence in working very hard, for long hours, in a job where I have a chef that builds me up and hugs me every day.

It’s nice to have a “work husband” again after Knives and I “broke up” (I got a different job). Well, technically, Chef is more like my “work big brother,” but I’m not sure that’s a thing.

I’ve been in the dish pit a lot lately, because that’s where I’m needed, and Chef jokingly said he’d put me back on the line if I could name the five French mother sauces. Fortunately, the ticket machine went off, and he forgot…. because I could name three off the top of my head, but the other two escaped me. I woke up in the middle of the night and texted him. For the record, I did not have to use Google. The answer just came to me in my sub conscience and not while I was on the spot.

If you’re wondering, the five mother sauces in French cooking are:

  • Hollandaise (egg yolks, lemon juice, butter)
  • Bechamel (roux, dairy)
  • Velouté (roux, poultry stock)
  • Espagnole (roux, beef or veal stock, tomatoes, and mirepoix)
  • Tomat (roux, tomatoes, pork stock, mirepoix)

And yes, I can make all of them, even without a rat in my toque…. though some days I might wish for one. For now, I’ve gotten all the wishes fulfilled that I need.

For instance…. I’m in love.

 

Four and a Half Brownies

I’ve been playing on my computer since I woke up, failing to realize that the clock was ticking on taking my next dose of medication. My head started to hurt in that old familiar way, and I thought, “I should write about this…. just a stream-of-consciousness entry as chemicals flood my bloodstream.”

I generally need to eat before I take any meds, particularly Lamictal. I look in the fridge and the only thing I’ve got left is four and a half brownies. I get out a paper towel and take all of them upstairs, where I proceed to inhale them like an angry Dustbuster.

I open my blog post editor and get out my pill bottles, which brings us to the present. I have just taken Lamictal, Lexapro, and Klonopin. That means, at this very moment, I feel as if I am capable of tearing out my hair. I will not, and wouldn’t even if I hadn’t taken my meds. The feeling, though, echoes from a scene in one of my favorite movies:

Distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Works every time.

Well, actually….. there’s nothing that can distract me enough from this kind of pain to just let it go. A corner of my mind will be stuck there, wondering if I am about to cry or vomit, or better yet, cry and vomit. It seems physically impossible, but I have done it on multiple occasions. The best way I’ve found to explain the type of physical pain I feel during withdrawal from my psych meds comes from the eighties. Remember those tests of the emergency broadcast system that would come on your TV, and for what seemed like eight hours but was only in reality about 20 seconds the most annoying sound on earth blared loud enough to clear your sinuses? Now, imagine this sound coming from you internally so you can’t lower the volume:

The longer I go without medication, the louder the sound gets, and the louder the sound gets, the more violent my physical reaction. When the medication kicks in, everything becomes blessedly quiet. I am grateful that it is not just a dimmer switch and I don’t have to live like this all the time. Withdrawal creates the worst physical symptoms of my mental illness, because when I remember to take everything on time, I am generally very happy and healthy. All the highs and lows are gone, so I can get on with my day and not think about being sick anymore.

But that’s not where we are right now. I haven’t even begun to feel a twinge of relief. The good news is that I don’t have to take any additional medication. My brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I don’t need a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory on top of it. Sometimes I do think of Tylenol and ibuprofen as my “dessert,” you know, just to put a cherry on top of the sundae, but it doesn’t matter. My psych meds aren’t going to kick in any faster because I took something for the headache, and because the headache is psychiatric in nature, the painkiller won’t do much. I know this because when I’ve been truly up shit creek because I’ve left the house without medication and taken painkillers and anti-inflammatories on their own, I would have had equal luck getting rid of the pain by throwing five dollars against a wall.

I swallowed the pills this time before I started shaking, so I got that goin’ for me. It’s involuntary when I’m in this much pain. My brain feels like it’s trying to pull itself apart, and my body reacts by trying to “get away from the noise.” Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

Q: Why do bagpipers walk when they play?
A: To get away from the noise.

or…

A. Moving targets are harder to hit.

I can tell that I’m not depressed because wit can still make an appearance. It’s just withdrawal, and that’s a relief. Managing Bipolar II is hard enough without having to deal with mood swings…. and by that, I mean it’s hard enough staving them off. I don’t have to be in depression or hypomania for Bipolar II to be a total pain in the ass.

It’s not unlike a physical disease, though. Diabetics have complicated lives without symptoms, just maintenance alone is enough. I know myself well enough that I would much rather deal with the inconvenience of maintenance than the full-blown effects of going untreated.

The way my college psychiatrist figured out I was on the bipolar rather than unipolar spectrum was that I was getting way, way, way too much sleep, and then for about three or four days a month, not able to sleep at all. My productivity level was through the floor, and on the days I couldn’t sleep, would shoot through the roof, where I would try to fit in as much activity as I could before the next wave of depression hit.

Before my Bipolar II diagnosis, I couldn’t understand why I was taking depression medication and never getting any better. My behavior changed dramatically when a mood stabilizer was added to what I was already taking. I was able to sleep normally, and the world looked quite different. It was in color all the time, instead of when the color channel decided to flip on after a series of black and white shows… but never fun ones, like I Love Lucy. Every day was akin to the worst Perry Mason rerun on repeat.

It’s been 10-15 minutes, so any time now, I will be back to my regularly scheduled program. I’m not feeling as much better by now as I thought I would, so perhaps it’s time for a hot shower.

I have brownie crumbs in my lap.

Talented

So far, I have four kitchen jobs under my belt. Though I’ve enjoyed every single one, something is different at this restaurant. I have a feeling it has come from age and experience, as well as taking a break from cooking and then jumping back in. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter where I worked, I’d be more dialed in to my body and my emotions than I have had the ability to be previously. To make a very long story short, my stomach used to be in knots all the time with “stuff” left over from being a kid, and now it’s not. So maybe that’s the biggest reason I’m at the top of my game now. I’m not constantly thinking of something else, allowing me to be more present…. a double entendre because it’s a gift to be able to show up for my own life.

The knot in my stomach was so severe that it’s been staggering to me how much brain power I’d been dedicating to it, and how big life is without it. Not necessarily to the point of being a totally different person, but not the same, either. More like carrying forward the pieces of me I liked, and saying goodbye to the ones I didn’t.

The biggest difference I notice now is reaction time. In the kitchen, it’s extraordinarily fast, because everyone already has my attention and they don’t have to work for it. I’m not constantly distracted. In my personal life, my reaction time is much slower, in terms of genuinely thinking deeply before I speak. I am no longer on the “think it, say it” plan. Hey, it worked really well right up until it (really, really, really) didn’t. But that was then and this is now.

I think the proof in the pudding is that my lead line cook says that I’m talented. I have thought I was talented at a lot of things, but I wouldn’t necessarily have put cooking on the list… and by that, I don’t mean flavor. I mean the absolute insanity that is a professional kitchen. I do have a laser focus that I didn’t have before, as well as better living through chemicals (Klonopin). Why is medication important? I have anxiety naturally without adding on cooking dinner for 2-300 people a night. It has physical side effects, such as shortness of breath and heart/brain race. While the medication doesn’t solve emotional issues, it does keep me from getting physically worked up, which is a lot of the battle with anxiety. I know I have trouble continuing to churn out food when I feel like I can’t breathe and I’m going to pass out…. wouldn’t you?

I have proven to myself time and again that it’s not the medication that’s making me a better cook. I don’t have to have it… as in, it’s not an emergency if I’m out or I’ve forgotten it that day (not true with my other drugs)…. that being said, I do feel that it’s very helpful on a Friday or Saturday when the sound of the ticket machine is interminable… like being put into a football game when the other team is already fifty points ahead and it’s only the first quarter…. or for the readers outside the US, like being put into a football game when the other team is nine goals ahead in minute 10.

Medication allows me to win by minute 90, because I am not intimidated.

I’m not intimidated by much anymore. Losing my mother is probably the worst thing that will ever happen to me, save losing anyone else in my family. Definitely the worst that has ever happened thus far. From that perspective, anything in the world that happens is probably better, so why be afraid? I lived through that grief, though I didn’t love it.

My friend Wendy coined that phrase for me years ago when she said, “Leslie, you just have to live it. You don’t have to love it.” I was in deep grief about something else, before I really knew what grief was. It was like hitting rock bottom and then finding out once I got there that it was false and there were still levels underneath.

The trick is using grief to propel you upward, which takes more time than you would think. Technically, if you’ve never lost someone close to you, but you think you know what it will be like and how long it will take you to recover, the reality will in all likelihood punch you in the face and you’ll lie on the ground dazed for twice as long as you thought you would…. wait, triple that… and then realize that you’ll never be the same person that you were, you’ll just have found a new normal.

Apparently, my new normal is being talented at cooking in a professional kitchen- something which I neither prepared for nor necessarily wanted. It just fell into my lap and I went with it. IT jobs weren’t forthcoming, and I knew I would have a blast, so why not? I expected to love it. I didn’t expect it to love me back… not to this degree, anyway.

Part of the love I have for cooking is knowing for sure that I facilitate happiness. There are very few get-togethers between friends that don’t involve food, and whether it’s friends gathered at my table or strangers getting together at my restaurant with their own loved ones, it makes no difference. The talent is the same.

 

What Am I Going to Be Weepy About Today?

One of the universal signs of Aunt Flo’s arrival is that I can start crying immediately for no reason at all… or I just make them up as I go along. Menstruation, depression and anxiety are such a lethal combination. It becomes heightened awareness of everything I actually have to cry about, although the impetus is generally nothing and expands into everything. I finally got tired of not knowing when this was going to happen, so I found a period tracker online and signed up. I also track my ovulation, because sometimes that causes cramps as well, when I am tricked into thinking “it’s time,” and it’s not. I used to have a premonition of the big arrival, and it has gone away through the use of so much Aleve and Tylenol.

Why I didn’t think of this before is obvious. Why track it when I don’t sleep with men? Why track it when I’ve been abstinent for over three years? Why track it when women’s sperm count is incredibly low? 😛 As I used to tease Dana, my then wife, “maybe boxers would help.” Of course, this was when we were thinking of trying to conceive, and after that, it was just an inside joke…. because in the Lanagan family, if it’s funny once, just run it into the ground.

I also hate changing my usual underwear. I generally go for boys’ boxer briefs because they double as knock-off Spanx. I find tampons incredibly uncomfortable, so there’s really no way around having to wear those sexy “Granny panties” we all buy at Target.

As I have said before, this blog is about my own journey, and you’re invited. I’m not trying to exclude men, but I think it’s important to reach out to other women with this entry. Women are the majority, so saying “most Americans get periods” is entirely accurate. And, in fact, I am not entirely excluding men. There are plenty of men that get periods until their transition to male is complete, an awareness that most people just don’t have, but should. For transgendered men, they also have the ability to get pregnant, so unless they’re actively trying to conceive, it’s important for them to track as well.

Transgendered men get pregnant for all sorts of reasons, the usual being that their wives aren’t capable, so they offer. It’s convenient in gay relationships as well, not having to use a surrogate.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I am overwhelmed when I’m on my period, because unless I’m in the kitchen, I tend to flood out emotionally. I’m not generally irritable, but weepy and need contact comfort, which currently is snuggling with my Postman Pat doll. You can’t get the one I have anymore- my parents bought it for me when I was eight and we were on a trip to London. It’s one of the few things we were able to rescue from our house fire when I was 12, and I am entirely grateful for “him” now. He’s big enough to be the little spoon when I feel like hiding under the covers. I kind of want to put him away for safe keeping because he’s so rare that I don’t want him to unravel. For this reason, I started a birthday (Sept. 10th) wish list on Amazon in which I added a large stuffed dog. It looks incredibly lifelike and not something that looks like I  have wished I was still a toddler. But no lie, the Gund Grover was appealing. I added it to the list and then took it back off, because I realized quickly that I would get embarrassed by it and give it away, like I did with my Alf and bigger-than-life SpongeBob dolls. I shouldn’t have given SpongeBob away, though, because I remember clearly being in the ER at Inova Alexandria in 2001, when Kathleen brought him to me and I wept into it for most of the day, when there weren’t enough beds and the doctors just pumped me up with morphine and set me in the hallway.

That is an interesting story in and of itself. When I finally “got seen,” I was having abdominal attacks that looked just like appendicitis, and I was minutes away from being prepped for surgery when the doctors realized that wasn’t it. I had a hole in my esophagus that had become infected. I was actually born with that gap, but since it had never become infected before, I’d never noticed. But, I was doubled over in pain, and since it wasn’t like there was room (or even appropriate) for Kathleen to climb into bed with me, SpongeBob was an excellent second choice.

Why yes, I know I’ve revealed I’ve been married and separated twice. Thanks for noticing. It’s not painful or anything (/eyeroll). The reason I’m not officially divorced from either of them is that one is a civil union in Vermont and one is a domestic partnership in Oregon. For the civil union in Vermont, it was 2001, when it wasn’t even recognized in other states, so the legal advice we got was to just let it lie, the idea of national marriage not even on anyone’s radar.

Dana has said that she’ll file in Oregon, and as long as I don’t contest it, it will just be over. That was long, long ago, and I am still waiting……………. I should really take matters into my own hands, but I haven’t for two reasons. The first is that I’m really hoping for some follow-through on Dana’s part. The second is that honestly, I just haven’t cared enough. Why that is, I just can’t say. I could spitball a number of reasons, but it would be just that; I’d only be guessing, not knowing for sure. The one thing I do know is that it’s taken me years to get over losing her, so with no one on the horizon, it just made sense to put it on the back burner and wait it out. I don’t feel like it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m fully prepared to receive said dissolution. It’s more like waiting to close a really great chapter in my life and move on to the next one.

I don’t know if the rules have changed for dissolution in Vermont or not. In 2002, you had to live in Vermont for six months before you could file, and neither Kathleen nor I thought that was a good idea. “We’re not getting along, so of course we need to move to a place where most of the time it’s cold and dark.” For that reason, I am surprised I lasted in Oregon as long as I did.

But now that I have two failed relationships with legal complications under my belt, I am gunshy about ever getting married again. It is now my view that commitment and loyalty don’t need a piece of paper…. and as long as there are no health insurance or federal and state tax implications, I think that advice to myself is sound. If a wedding is important to my next partner, should I be so blessed, she’ll get one. But that doesn’t mean we have to file a marriage license. Being supported by our community is way more important to me than getting the government involved. I feel as if I’ve already been there, bought the t-shirt… and now it’s way too small…. and the tag itches. Besides, it’s already got stains on it. I don’t want to wear it anymore if I can help it.

One of the things that really bothers me when I am in the throes of being weepy is that I can’t believe I have two divorces under my belt when all I really wanted in the beginning is to marry my high school sweetheart and be together for fifty years…. Ten years after we broke up, having been friends the whole time, she accidentally gutted me in a Canadian Starbucks when she said that she regretted not being able to be partners as adults, because she thought it was something at which we would have been good. My inner 18-year-old cried big alligator tears that night. But during the conversation, I managed to hold it together, even though my insides were screaming. Most of the screaming was due to, “I treated you so badly when we were young that how dare I come back and ask for forgiveness.” My inner monologue was just wailing that she’d taken away my choice to forgive her or not.

However, the angst didn’t last long, because I think what was supposed to happen did. She used to be the friend that knew me best in the entire world, and then years later inexplicably unfriended me on Facebook and stopped answering my e-mails. It was truly painful being ghosted by someone who’d been an enormous part of my growth and development, with no explanation as to the whys and hows. I can’t think of anything I specifically did to offend her, so to this day I have questions.

She did reach out when I posted on a mutual friend’s page that my mother had died, but after that one conversation, she was gone again. I didn’t even know you could message people who weren’t your friends, so after that, I completely blocked her. It isn’t that I don’t love and value her. It’s that seeing her comments became too painful to ignore…. something that I have done with other friends as well. It’s not about my feelings for them, exactly. It’s that seeing their faces/comments on social media, especially when Aunt Flo is telling me to cry about everything, is just a painful reminder of things ending badly.

The last time I got really, really angry was when I specifically asked Dana to leave my family and me alone after insisting on no contact with me directly, then liking a picture of my sister and me on my sister’s Instagram account. But did I do anything about it? No. I pretended it didn’t matter and just ignored her. But pretending is the key word, because obviously it bothered me enough to write about it…. this was about 30 days ago, so you can guess why it got to me…………

Perhaps Dana thinks it’s been long enough that these things don’t matter… but there are parts of that relationship I’ve had a hard time forgiving, and I’ll never forget. The first is that a relationship that was so mutually beautiful still ended in a fistfight of enormous proportions, the result of keeping so much bottled that it got violent when the Mento eventually dropped into the Diet Coke. The second is that Dana’s parents live relatively close to me (within 40 miles or so), and when she came to visit them, she made a point of telling my sister through social media (they don’t actually talk, because when someone hurts me, my sister also burns the bridge). I got butt hurt that she didn’t reach out to me directly and then I realized that e-mail goes both ways. I sent her a short e-mail saying that if she wanted to see me, I was open to it, and if not, that was fine, too. What I got back was an e-mail from her sister that said not to contact Dana again through any means. The double standard is rage-inducing, so I literally took a chill pill and got on with my life. I figured if that was the kind of behavior I could expect from her, I didn’t need that temperature in my life, anyway. I think I was shocked more than anything else, considering that when I first moved to DC, we talked a few times and it went well.

But the last thing I truly have trouble forgetting (although forgiven) is that she didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I didn’t need her there as my emotional support person. I already had “my person” there for that (thanks, James). I also wasn’t using my mother’s death as an excuse to reconnect with her romantically, because not only would it have been wildly inappropriate, I didn’t want it (not then, not ever again).

We’d had a great conversation when I was waiting to go to the airport, a distraction I sorely needed because at first it was crying, and then it was laughter until I was crying again, the kind of laughter where you’re just shaking in silence while tears and snot run down your face.

I continue to feel it was about respect for both me and my mother, and it was surprising to me that she was willing to be my friend for a few minutes, but not enough of a friend to come to the funeral of her former mother-in-law of over seven years…. and that a friendship of over four years before we ever got involved was not enough of a reason to just be there…. and not even for me directly. Just to look out into the crowd and see her face as I was giving my eulogy would have been enough.

And, of course, being weepy makes me miss the contact comfort of my mother’s hugs even more intensely than usual, because there’s nothing like needing your mom when you’re in pain and she literally can’t be there…. won’t be ever again.

I count on my friends who are mothers to fill that void, because as I have said before, they love differently than everyone else. It is enormously comforting to be in the room when they’re with their kids and soak up the mother love radiating through the room…. and with the exception of infants, remembering when I was those children’s ages and how my mom was (and what she was to me) at that time in my life.

The last thing that truly dogs me during these few days of ALL THE FEELS at once are the mistakes I made when not being as careful with Argo’s heart as I should have been, because it invariably leads to what could have been…. and how most, if not all of the destruction of that friendship was at my own hand, and I just feel that shame over and over, even though I’ve talked about it with therapists and have coping mechanisms not to get stuck in those moments, reliving them and empathizing with the pain I must have caused. There’s plenty of context, but not excuses. I hope I’ve taken enough responsibility that something like it will never happen again. It was painful enough the first time around to stop that behavior cold. Losing such a beautiful woman, inside and out, with my own cortisol and sin was akin to cutting out part of my heart with a dirty knife. When I am truly depressed about it, I think of all the things I shouldn’t have said and all the things I wish I’d said instead. Maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to, but I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that it is a regret I will continue to carry, never truly letting it go because the reminder that I am capable of causing pain to others when I am not careful with my words doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when the feeling that I can’t forgive myself rises from the ash.

Not being able to forgive myself is so much harder than forgiving others for what I perceive has been done to me. I am so much more infinitely tolerant of other people’s words than I am of my own.

It has caused me to become extremely withdrawn, so that when I’m around others I am reminded to think deeply before I speak, or let the moment pass and not speak at all…. and when I’m alone, thinking that it’s better that way because I cannot possibly hurt anyone if I’m not talking at all….. limiting what one friend calls “crazy spatter.”

Which will be infinitely worse for the next four to seven days.