Wrinkles in Time

As I have said previously, I suffer from more than one mental illness and I have cerebral palsy. I have also said that in my reading, I have learned that cerebral palsy can create mental illness, so my physical and mental maladies are most probably related…. and always have been, because my CP was caused by what doctors call “insults in the delivery room.” To me, “insults in the delivery room” is a really nice way of saying “we fucked up.” And they did, but my mom & dad were too nice to sue. I was joking with a friend a few weeks ago that the only reason I wish they had is that the hospital should at least have to pay for all my ibuprofen. 😛

Mentally, I know that it is at least a chemical imbalance even if it’s not CP-related, because there is nothing in my history that would have created these illnesses situationally. Even my emotional abuse as a teenager wasn’t the cause. I was depressed and anxious long before that, as well as clearly ADHD by the way my IQ and my grades were inversely proportional.

As with all ADHD kids, it’s not about IQ. It’s that they can rarely handle things like remembering to turn in assignments on time, take coherent notes so that they make sense later, and create habits to make it better. I mean, I bought every single school supply I thought would help and had amazing ideas for organization. But I couldn’t stick to them for more than a week. I had so many calenders that were “Anal Annie” organzed when they started and the rest completely blank.

The “taking coherent notes” part was particularly challenging for me, because in classes like Language Arts and Reading, I was much better at sitting there and listening, later able to remember with excellent recall what had been said… but my teachers couldn’t stand that I wasn’t writing anything down, thus actually hindering learning. I could not multitask listening and writing at the same time, a disaster in math because not only could I not do two things at once, I didn’t understand what was being said, so even if I did have excellent recall, it didn’t translate into “being able to solve my own problems” (little math haha for you there).

By the time I got to college, I could type as fast as I could think. Instead of trying to decide what was important, I transcribed every lecture. That way, I wasn’t really multitasking. I was writing, and then I would “go to class” later when I was reading the transcription.

Believe me when I say that this was only successful because I type between 75-80 wpm, and 100 on a very good day. You can’t do what I did if you type slower than that, because you might be able to ask a college professor to repeat something once, but not constantly.

In terms of depression and anxiety, I remember clearly the summer between fourth and fifth grade that I was chastised mightily by both parents for sleeping all day and hardly ever putting on real clothes. I’m not sure whether they knew I was depressed, or whether they thought I was acting typically for a person my age during school vacation. As a future fifth-grader, I didn’t know words like “depression.” I just knew I didn’t feel good a hundred percent of the time. I resented the hell out of literally being dragged out of bed and into real clothes, going to the library or whatever else it was that was planned for me that day. I was okay once I got there, but the will to go was non-existent.

What I Know for Sure™ is that when I am on a down, as an adult I have exactly the same symptoms. I can and do keep all the appointments in which my presence is required. With anything that is optional, I am usually in bed…. sleeping not because I am tired, but to escape. It is the easiest way for me to receive peace. In fact, I am generally not asleep in the classic sense, but wandering through my subconscience, trying to work out whatever it is that’s setting me off.

So, to put it mildly, emotional abuse didn’t cause my mental illnesses, just heightened my reaction to it. For people with mental illness, especially ADHD (I am not hyperactive, but the DSM does not differentiate anymore), sensory perception is higher than it is for neurotypicals, often to a large degree. What might have been contained in a fireplace burned down a forest.

But if I had to pick an absolute worst part of being so neurologically atypical, it would be my relationship with time. The only thing I remember with startling clarity is how long it’s been since my mother died. Everything else is malleable. It’s lucky that I was born in Texas, because I learned early that “the other day” will cover a multitude of sins. In Texas, “the other day” could have been last week or 20 years ago.

It’s not that I can’t remember dates by rote memorization. It is “how long has it been?” or “how long in the future is that?” My memories seem to be organized by how much I think about them. If something touched me/cut me deeply, it feels closer. If it wasn’t that important, it’s further away. I can easily mistake something that happened years ago for something that happened last week, and vice versa.

Things also change places in the Z-axis of my mind. If I haven’t thought about something in a while, it goes further back. Then, the memory pops back up and all of the sudden it’s like it happened yesterday.

That is the main reason I think I will never truly get over some of the things that have happened in my life, whether it was by my own hand or someone else’s. Some days, hurt is so far away, and some days, it is extremely loud and incredibly close.

Joy works the same way. Sometimes things that have made me over-the-top happy seem like it was just yesterday, when in reality, it was years ago. I am grateful for social media in this respect, because my Facebook posts and shares are all timestamped, as well as my blog entries. Timestamps are the one indelible thing that help me understand linear time.

The rest is just wrinkled.

Good & Plenty

I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and I think that’s because I haven’t been writing lately. Once so much has happened, you don’t even know where to start, so you get overwhelmed. And then you think, “I’ll blog tomorrow” ad infinitum amen.

Finally, today is the day, inspired by the candy box next to my desk.

I didn’t really become a fan of licorice until I became a singer, and then a cook. Singing because just about every throat recovery tea out there has anise in it, and cooking because roasted fennel is divine. And then I branched out into liking ouzo and Sambuca, especially good in black coffee.

Finally, finally I liked the candy, from the twisted braids to jelly beans to allsorts to the aforementioned little candy-covered bites, although I find that they are the best when they are fresh. Once the candy coating dries out, they just don’t taste the same. The best Good & Plentys have the texture of a Hot Tamale. With fresh ones, I pour a huge mouthful in so I get the maximum amount of sugar to licorice ratio. A serving is 28 pieces and I’m almost certain I’ve done it in one bite. My only wish is that they’d make them in flavors, particularly peach.

In Portland, there used to be a Greek restaurant downtown that you couldn’t miss because there was a huge purple octopus on top. Dana and I wandered in for Happy Hour, and their specialty drink was a “Greekarita,” frozen peach bellini and ouzo. It is one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth, thus my longing for peach flavoring to be added to the beauty that is the Good & Plenty sugar coating. When the restaurant closed, I tried making my own, to varying degrees of success.

But now that my cocktails are limited to every once in a while and we don’t keep (much) alcohol in the house (usually old because it’s left over from parties), I haven’t tried here. I don’t even have a martini set anymore, or even the glasses, because even though I love the classic (gin, not vodka, let’s not get stupid), I just can’t see spending the money when 100% of the time, I only get a drink when I’m out with friends, and even that is rare. I am much more likely to enjoy sugar free soda or iced tea with lemon and Splenda, plus the blessing of free refills (hey, if they’re gonna charge me over two dollars for something that costs less than a quarter to make, I’m gonna have five).

I just wish that more restaurants carried sugar free options that didn’t begin and end with Diet Coke. Not that I’m not a fan, I just wish I had more than one choice. For something a tiny bit different, I go to District Taco or Cava, because both have sugar free cola that’s a little higher-end. District Taco has Boylan’s, and Cava has Maine Root Mexicane in both regular and Splenda (if you’re not opposed to regular soda, try the blueberry…. plus, Cava has “the good ice.”). Even the ubiquitous Chipotle has both Diet Coke and Coke Zero, which is at least something.

Quick Coca-Cola fact:

The reason Diet Coke and Coke Zero taste so different is that Diet Coke is based on Tab (come on, it was 1982), and Coke Zero is based on Coke Classic.

For that reason (and now that my mother is dead and can’t wring my neck for saying so, I prefer Diet Pepsi, which she always thought tasted like moth balls and called it “that Pepsi mess.”). Of course, I have more variety at home, I just mention Diet Pepsi because that’s usually the only choice in restaurants that have Pepsi contracts (sometimes I am blessed with Diet Dew or Dr Pepper). I’m like, the one person in the world where Pepsi actually IS okay, at least in the South.

My actual favorite is Cherry Coke Zero, but you can usually only find it at the grocery/convenience stores and no one I’ve found has it on tap unless you find a restaurant with a Coca-Cola Freestyle…. but if I find one of those, I’m getting Cherry Fanta Zero).

I know this entry is starting a bit different from the usual emotional vomiting I normally do in this space, but I haven’t used my writing muscle in public very often lately, and I have to start somewhere.

The funniest thing that’s happened recently is that Facebook has added a dating app inside the regular mobile app, and since my relationship status is single, I was automatically added to it as a beta tester. So, this woman reaches out to me and in her pictures portion, there are only pictures of Jesus with writing in Spanish.

So, I sent her this message from my iPhone, and then I’ll translate:

Hablas ingles? Mi espanol es muy mal por que solamente estudio dos anos en escuela (no ~ hahahahahaha), y ahora tengo quarenta dos anos.

“Do you speak English? My Spanish is very bad because I only studied two years in school (no ~ hahahahaha), and now I have 42 years.”

Here’s why this is truly hilarious. Años in Spanish is “years.” Anos in Spanish is “asshole,” or anus if you’re not using slang.

So, what I ACTUALLY said is that I studied two assholes in school and now I have 42 assholes. The reason for this is that in English, for age you say “I am 42 years old.” In Spanish, it’s “I have 42 years.”

Really must check to see if special characters are on the emoticons keyboard……. didn’t think of it then, though.

Technically, this is not entirely true. I did study Spanish for two years in high school, but when I was a junior and senior in high school, I went on three mission trips to Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen, Texas (two between each school year and one at Christmas).

Immersion helped me more than anything else, because it’s amazing how fast you learn when you have no other choice. And while I didn’t know much Spanish, I knew more than anyone else in my group, so I became the de facto translator……………….. again, often to hilarious results, but God bless the Mexican people because they didn’t laugh at me, ever. Just gently corrected me, even when what I said should have made them laugh so hard they could have died from asphyxiation.

I enjoyed Reynosa very much, but the entire area was very, very poor and I couldn’t see myself living there because it was hard to find a proper house. Most of them were poorly put-together shacks with tin roofs…. of course, this has probably changed since I was last there, but if I did choose to relocate to Mexico, I would probably settle in Ensenada (please click on this link- it is gorgeous).

I didn’t go there on a mission trip- my stepmother took our whole familyactividades-principales_baja-california_ensenada_visita-la-bufadora_01 and all her employees on a trip that left from Long Beach, California and went to both Catalina Island and Ensenada. Though Catalina Island was extremely pretty, Ensenada was life-changing for me. It is a place that is both beautiful and practical.

Lots of restaurants and things to see (my favorite was La Bufadora, the second largest marine geyser in the world, capable of shooting water 60 feet in the air). It is also easy to speak English, because lots of Americans retire as ex-pats to Baja California when their medical costs in the United States get too high (ahem). However, I definitely would not suggest moving there speaking only English, because there are certain parts of the city where English is prevalent, and others where English will only get you a “that dumb American” look.

The weather is roughly the same as any city on the Pacific Coast. Our trip was during Spring Break, and it was in the mid-60s most of the time….. basically the Mexican Portland, Oregon. That didn’t stop us from snorkeling, though, despite a huge mass of jellyfish.

The absolute biggest thing that would keep me from really moving there is that I wouldn’t want to give up my United States citizenship (hard for me to live in a place I can’t vote).

I also believe that the United States will have universal health care eventually, and maybe even sooner than I think. Medicaid is already expanded to low-income people in some states, and either that will be broadened or the U.S. will come up with something similar and yet new.

I am all for universal health care because of my mental state. Most private insurances have no problem covering a new patient exam and 15-minute med checks with a psychiatrist, but when it comes to therapy, you usually get 13 sessions a year and then you have to start paying out of pocket. Universal health care says you can have as many medical and mental health appointments you need, rather than are allotted.

For part of the time, I was a psych major at University of Houston, then changed my major to political science because psychology changed me too much. I kept analyzing and trying to diagnose people in my head, and my speech reflected it. To put it mildly, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone, even when I was absolutely right.

I met a psychiatrist named Justin at a winery- we struck up a conversation while waiting in line for a taste. He said something so funny I will never forget it (this was almost 10 years ago). He put his finger horizontally on his lips and buzzed to indicate full-on crazy and then said, “you won’t find that in the DSM, but you know it when you see it.” It was a good thing we were just in line and not actually drinking, because either I would have choked to death or wine would have come out of my nose.

But by the time I decided to switch majors, I already had plenty enough hours for a completed minor. I bring this up because the most important thing I learned actually came from the overview class, Psych 101. It’s that medicine and therapy are two sides of the same coin, inextricably interrelated. For people with situational depression, lifting their mood will help a lot, but talking through the situation with an outside, objective person is what gives them the coping mechanisms to be able get back off the medication altogether.

For people who struggle with chronic illness, they do not have a choice. Medication is a given, because you can’t talk away a chemical imbalance. Going to therapy will not suddenly make your brain create the right amount of neurotransmitters. It’s different for everyone- for some, it’s seratonin. For others, it’s dopamine or norepinephrine.

When you have a chronic mental health problem, therapy is mostly about dealing with it, from anger that you’ll always be this way because there is only treatment, no cure, to the inevitable fallout from people with normal brains who just can’t understand why you’re so different, and why you tend to say things that make no sense in their brain and perfectly legitimate in yours. Communication is a large chasm, and you tend to beat yourself up mightily at the ones they’ll never remember and for you, it’s been four years (20?) and you still feel embarrassed. It also happens more frequently than you would think that a friendship between a neurotypical and a mentally ill person doesn’t work out, because you just don’t see eye-to-eye on what seems like everything…. or, the mentally ill person is having a rough time and is spiraling out and the neurotypical person mistakes that for how you’re going to be all day, every day, and they just can’t handle it.

You march to the beat of your own drum, because you don’t have a choice, and people are generally (but not always) terrible at making allowances because since they’ve never experienced depression/bipolar/ADHD/schizophrenia/etc. they don’t know what allowances to make, and most of the time, we don’t know exactly what it is we need, anyway… or at the very least, can’t put it into words that actually translate into action on their part.

In my case, things that are difficult for most people are easy for me, and things that are easy for neurotypicals get me overwhelmed and flustered…. for instance, creating habits that will help me take care of myself. I am not the kind of person that does well with managing laundry or finding anything. Well, actually, I am great at finding things, just not the thing I’m looking for at the time (oh, there’s the headphones I lost three months ago. Now where are my keys? I JUST had them in my hand.) Yesterday I spent a half hour looking for Bluetooth headphones that were around my neck.

Romantically, once the honeymoon period is over, I have trouble with those relationships. Being with a neurotypical person seems like a good choice because two crazy people in one relationship leads to bad patterns that feed off of each other for years on end, and neither one of you realizes that it just keeps getting worse. But “seems” is correct, because you walk on eggshells with a neurotypical trying not to let your crazy spatter drive the person away, or what’s even harder to admit, bringing them into your own dysfunction so that their normal changes, and your fucked up becomes their fucked up and there’s no one to say “this is bad. We need help.”

I don’t need or want anyone to enable the bad moods and behaviors I experience on my own, and I also don’t want to have to worry about my own mental health as well as my partner’s, because all too often, I stop taking care of myself and all my attention goes to “helping” the other person (too much of an empath for my own good)….

If you have a mental illness, the only one that can truly help you is you. Trying to lift someone else out of depression is like helping a little old lady cross the street when she doesn’t want to go, so she’s banging your head with her purse the whole time. But it’s your own fault, really, because if something needs to change, they have to want it. They can’t/won’t help themselves (depending on the level of spiral) just because YOU need/want it. The worst feeling in the world in a relationship is watching someone go through something in which you feel totally and completely helpless. The only thing you can do is keep yourself strong so that you can deal with what life is handing you, or get out of the relationship altogether because you can’t just keep living that way. You both get resentful at each other (maybe not at first. Empathy comes first.) because one person feels trapped and the other person feels nagged, because it doesn’t matter how you meant it. Perception is everything. Sometimes, your depression makes you feel so low that any suggestion that might make you feel better actually comes across as “you’re not doing enough. You are not enough. You are a bad person because you cannot do these things.” When depression is bad enough, the want to feel better goes away completely, because you just don’t care whether you live or die. Most mentally ill people do get suicidal ideation (normal, especially when embarrassed). Fewer people get to the point where they’re making plans, and even fewer get to the point where they’re invested in carrying them out and start preparing). However, those numbers are on the rise. But for the most part, mentally ill people don’t actively want to die. They just don’t care.

Whether they’re alive or dead is neither better nor worse…. keeping in mind that they are forgetting the repercussions for the people around them, only the way they feel because depression is inherently myopic. It’s acutely important to let mentally ill people know they matter to you, because depression uses the best lies:

  • No one will miss me.
  • You’re never going to get any better. Life is always going to look like this. It’s just going to be one long slog of trying to find medication that works… for a while, and then you have to do it all over.
  • Even people who do love you are also exhausted by you…. and you don’t want to be known as the burden of your family and friends your whole life, do you?
  • You are completely worthless. You bring nothing to the table.
  • You’re going to get fired because no one understands you…. that the hardest part of any job is getting there, because it’s just another day of trying to fit into a culture where everyone does everything the same way and can’t understand why you can’t “because it’s so easy anyone could do it….”

For most mentally ill people, bright ones, anyway, high level thinking is where they excel and mundane tasks are where they fall flat on their faces. They’re great with excellent ideas, not so much with the execution.

I think this is because high-level thinking is one of the few jobs that has the ability to cut through the depression, because it has positive consequences. Low-level jobs only have negative ones. People who can barely spell or add are thought of as so much smarter than you and not because they are. It’s because they can do these mundane tasks quickly and efficiently and you are the absolute dumbass who can’t.

But in any company, you start at the bottom, and by the time you get to high-level thinking, you’ve been fired long before that….. because you could possibly revolutionize or motivate or create something that would really contribute, but they hated you after six months to a year of saying, “no, we don’t do it that way.”

And in low-level jobs, the reason you’re so different is that your mind is eating you from the inside out. Rote is the enemy of depression, because lack of mental stimulation pulls you back into the drizzle of your mind. There are rarely thunderstorms, it’s just constantly overcast, with rain heavy enough to need an umbrella. You don’t care enough to find yours, and no one in any office will offer you one.

For Bipolar I & II people, coworkers don’t understand your personality…. how you can be so cheery for weeks at a time and then something will set you off and now you can barely make eye contact. So, not only do they think you’re a dumbass, most of the time they don’t even particularly like you…. but that’s okay, because you don’t really like you, either.

If you’re wondering why this entry jumps all over the place, my ADHD brain works in tangents. One topic starts a tangent, and that one branch starts ten more, all in different directions. It’s as if my brain is a tree with no trunk. I suppose it’s a good thing, because not everyone reads this site for the same reason. For instance, it is surprising just how many people visit my site when I mention Diet Coke.

And on that note, I think I’ll end here. You’ve got (good &) plenty to read by now.

 

The CP and My A

I know I am the same person I was before I accepted the fact that I had cerebral palsy and there was nothing I could do about it. There’s no cure, only management. It’s the management that drops my heart into my stomach, because how can you manage something that’s so random? Falls happen. Running into stuff happens. The worst part is being clumsy AND having monocular vision, because when I fall because of something that’s out of my field of vision, my reflexes aren’t fast enough to catch me. Yesterday I didn’t see the step down off a sidewalk and fell so hard on my left hip that I saw stars. I thought I had broken something, but I didn’t. I just have a bruise that would make the medical journals and lingering pain from pebbles and asphalt. Nearly breaking my ass was a wonderful way to start my day, just in case you were wondering.

Life is easier when I have a partner or friend to watch out for me. Sometimes they point out things I might miss, sometimes it helps to have someone to hold onto or help me up. My dad is obviously the best at it, because he’s had decades of experience saying, “watch it. There’s a step down.” Sidewalks are evil (especially when the city leaves them jagged because of buckling), as are door frames, particularly the left side. This is because I am right-eye dominant, and the left side is out of my field of vision. My shoulders sometimes ache from running into them. Is it any wonder that I feel the safest in my own room?

I get agoraphobic sometimes because I am not immune to being laughed at when I fall, nor are people graceful about my lazy eyes (they drift one at a time depending on my field of vision- called an alternating isotropia). I think that people will be less likely to laugh the older I get, because the chance I’ve really hurt myself will be higher. Right now, I just look like a goofy teenager who’s always clowning, as if I am taking pratfalls on purpose.

For the record, I am not.

I will be 42 years old on September 10th, but I look a lot younger than I am because I tend to wear boys’ clothes. I like looking crispy and if I shop in the big boys’ section, I have Oxfords and Polos where the shoulders fit perfectly, as well as shorts that don’t come down past my knees. I think it’s hilarious that I am so liberal, and yet most days I look like a tiny Alex P. Keaton (wow, that reference proves I’m the age I say I am……….).

There’s a simple reason I dress the way I do. Most people think it’s because I’m a little bit butch, a little bit femme. Nope. It’s because I still want to look good even though I need comfortable clothes and shoes in which I can really move. I look fantastic in dresses and heels, but it increases the chance that I will fall by at least 75 percent. The last time I wore heels, the muscles in my left leg went slack and I went to the floor in a heap. That was nine years ago. It just helps that I have the boyish charm of a lesbian to make my style pop. My style actually got better when (ironically) I met a straight woman that looks even better in men’s clothes than I do.

When I sent her sister a picture of me, she said “are you channeling your inner ________? I can think of worse people to resemble.” I replied, “it was accidental, but I’ll give you the popped collar for free. Thank you for pointing it out. I appreciate it sooooooo much. Now, every time I get dressed, I ask myself ‘is this too ________?'” It’s okay. I just chalk it up to the fact that my friend is evil and must be stopped. She knows it. It’s a thing. It has provided us with an endless supply of the fun kind of being teased. I like it.

That was six years ago, and I STILL ask myself if my outfit is too ____________.

Sometimes I don’t care. I like having a style icon to look up to when I am having trouble picking out clothes on my own. I ask myself if she would look hot in it, and if the mental picture is on point, I buy it. We have the same body type, so if she looks good in it, I will, too. It’s been nice to have clothes in which I look polished, but don’t impede my movement more than clothes already do.

I won’t lie, though. I miss the way girl clothes make me feel. Or as Dana and I used to joke about them, “my ho clothes.” I never minded going to clubs in short skirts, etc. because if I fell, people would just assume I was drunk and help me up.

In terms of “helping me up,” I absolutely hate the way that cerebral palsy lessens my self-reliance. I can get around alone, and I do. But having a companion, no matter who it is (parent, sibling, partner, friend), makes walking around the city so much easier. I have done a lot of crying over the past few weeks (months?) because it has finally sunk in that I am not going to recover from this. My movement will never be any better than it is right now. It is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow…. and yet another reason why I shy away from dating because I am terrified of becoming reliant on someone, even though it’s something that would help me navigate life so much easier.

My attitude right now reminds me of my sister when she was a toddler. If my parents were helping her to a degree she thought was too much, she would say indignantly and angrily “wanna do it BYMYSELF!” It’s not a question of desire to be completely self-sufficient, but practicality.

My health is a psychological issue I need to work on, because it makes my self-worth plummet. Whether it’s rational or not, it makes me feel like a burden and I’ve felt that way for years. Asking someone to take on CP and Bipolar II is a lot, especially when each one is big enough on its own. In my reading about CP, I learned that it can cause mental health problems, so it’s not impossible that the two conditions are related. The difference is that in terms of keeping things under control, Bipolar II is so much easier. There’s medications for it, many of them. If the medication I’m currently on stops working, I have resources.

Physically, I got nothin.’ By that I mean preventative medication. The only thing I can do right now is take pain meds after I fall. Ibuprofen and arthritis-strength Tylenol™ have been lifesavers. Walking helps to a degree, because my muscles get stronger over time. It is also fraught, though, because the more I walk outside, the more chances there are to trip over things.

The one thing I feel good about is that I’m not a flake. I’m not ditzy. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a solid reason for it, when previously I thought I was just having dumbass attacks all the time. It has solidified my need to take care of myself mentally and physically.

But again, the question on my mind is always “how do you take care of a problem you can’t see? It’s hard enough with problems you can.” I haven’t been idle about looking for help, though. I feel like it would be beneficial to get into group therapy for people who have the same disorder. I am sure that I will find one, but what I’ve found so far is for the parents of kids with juvenile cases and learning to navigate the school system, their home lives, their adjustment to not having a kid that’s completely normal, etc. No wonder my mother wanted to pretend I was.

There is no such thing as competitive suffering, but there are two sides to that coin. The first is being grateful that I do not need crutches or a walker to get around, and that my case is as mild as it is. The second is being able to accept the fact that though others are suffering more, that doesn’t mean I don’t.

I mean, I nearly broke my ass.

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.

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.

Twisted Mango Diet Coke

It works. I don’t know how it works, but it does. These are not two flavors that would seemingly go together. Perhaps it’s the fruit and the cinnamon/ginger combo of cola. Maybe I’m just high on antihistamines and decongestants. Whatever it may be, I would definitely buy it again. Keep in mind, though, that my palate is different than most and I like a wide variety of weird sodas no one else will drink. You have been warned, so don’t @ me, bro.

Speaking of drugs, I’m not sick, per se. I just have to take Zyrtec and Sudafed every day because my allergies are that terrible. It seems as if no matter where I live, it’s the worst possible place I could’ve moved in terms of ever-present spring fever, even in the dead of winter. Maybe one day I’ll move to Vegas or Phoenix to settle my “stuffed up doze” (no, I won’t).

Tino, our handyman, is painting the bathroom and the bedroom next to mine, so perhaps I should splash water on my face in the kitchen. Water is the absolute best home remedy for allergic reactions, because it at least removes what’s bothering me from my skin, even without soap. I also take ibuprofen to relieve the pressure in my “mask,” although it probably wouldn’t hurt to get allergy shots and eat local honey. The honey trick is that your body naturally builds up antihistamines over time to whatever pollen is used to make it. Of course, the real miracle is finding someone who has local honey for sale.

A new person is coming to look at the bedroom we have for rent this evening, so I’m hoping for good things. Between the pathological liar, the heroin addict who overdosed (and is fine now), and the psychological torture of hearing The Beatles sung loudly and off-key at all hours of the night, I am looking forward to pretty much anyone else. Actually, it wasn’t just The Beatles, it was screaming obscenities and having my other roommate record it. The .mp3 was as clear as a bell, and the recording was made from the room next to mine on the other side of the hallway. All this is to say that finding roommates who are relatively normal has been rough going. Anyone can put on a good face for an hour, so an interview isn’t necessarily the best indication… but it’s what we’ve got.

I’ve lived here for almost three years now, and it’s becoming amazing how many people I’ve seen come and go in that short a time. I feel very lucky that I’ve seriously found a home and fit in very well. I’d like to continue living here as long as my landlords will have me, because it truly is like having a second family. As Sam has said, I’ve been upgraded.

My living situation is absolutely a miracle. The Nassers were the first people I called after doing some research on where I wanted to live, and I took the room sight unseen after talking to my landlord for an hour and a half on the phone from Houston. I figured that I could live anywhere for a month if it didn’t work out, so I wasn’t terribly worried about showing up at the Metro station in a new city and just rolling with the punches. DC wasn’t new to me, but Maryland certainly was. Alexandria felt like I’d never left Houston- roughly the same politics… city is liberal, state is conservative. Maryland is overwhelmingly blue. Even the conservatives aren’t that conservative. They might have fiscal responsibility issues, but they’ve moved past the politics of kindness. There is much more in the way of statewide health care, both mentally and physically. Being able to get health insurance the moment I moved here without a job was a hug from Jesus. Though I didn’t move here to sponge off the state, having a safety net until I landed on my feet was legit #blessed.

That being said, when I switched to insurance through my employer, my deductible and copays went up dramatically. Anything would be from all free, all the time and drugs at a dollar a bottle. It has just reinforced my belief that universal health care does indeed work, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than thinking about the millions of people bitching about government insurance while on Medicare. Seriously, people. Connect the dots. Not realizing this makes you look one French fry short of a Happy Meal.

In terms of needing insurance, I keep myself healthy, albeit in horrible shape. My weight is under control, but I couldn’t run up two flights of stairs at gunpoint. I’m getting better through walking everywhere, but it’s not enough. I’m not getting my heart rate high enough for true cardio, and I’m not lifting weights to strengthen my muscles….. and everyone knows by now that cardio is rule number one. 😛

However, I do need to go to the doctor once a month for psych med checks and to a therapist four or five times a month. With state-run health care, all of that is free. Private insurance has a copay for drugs and generally offers 13 therapy sessions a year. I am steadily making progress on old trauma, but still need help with visioning, values, and coping mechanisms. It’s not just about where I’ve been, but making sure I get where I want to go. Everyone needs that to some degree. Most people don’t think of therapy when it comes to reaching out for more than they’re currently achieving, but I liken it to sports psychology. Ambition and drive go by the wayside when I feel terrible about myself, because I am a perfectionist to a crippling degree. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time around, obviously I am a straight up failure, no matter how many people I love provide evidence to the contrary. I hear it, but it doesn’t sink in…. I think to myself that they’re just being nice. I know how and what I truly am, which is a disaster. Therapy helps keep things in perspective, that my disorder knows the very best lies to use against me so that they are incredibly vivid and believable. Every negative thing that has ever been said about me is my true nature; everything positive is just humoring me.

Anxiety, especially socially, has a huge impact on my life. I know from past experience that if I am not paying attention, I could really hurt somebody emotionally, so I hide. I only get together with the people I love when I’m feeling up to it, which is always a quarter to sometimes. The hardest is social contact needed to maintain isolation, like shopping. I’m not even friends with these people and won’t have in-depth conversations, anyway, but cocooning in this one is strong. I have taken self-reliance to an extreme, whereas previously, I was entirely too dependent on what everyone else thought. Because I still can be, I just avoid those situations so that I am always listening to my inner landscape of thoughts and feelings. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but no man is an island… from what I’ve heard.

When I am in my right mind about things, I know that I have incredible gifts to offer the world, and indeed, have. But there are days when I just need to back off the nerve that says I’m worthless and just have a Diet Coke and a smile.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Lately it seems as if I am regaining the life energy that has eluded me for so long. It has nothing to do with taking care of the things I must, but those that are optional. Part of it has to do with the passage of time. I believe that it is true that in some ways, time heals wounds, but not in others. This is because for every year that passes, there are still flashes of memory that take me back to that time and place in my life. Grief rushes like a river, and there is nothing, even the passage of time, that will erase it. The best example of this is when I have a momentary brain lapse and forget my mother has died and pick up the phone to call her when I have good news, or feel bad and just need her to give me some of that absolutely unconditional love that mothers feel. For my mother, and I’m sure this is universal, no matter how much I’ve done wrong in my life, it isn’t my fault, and everyone is hurting her baby. This is not true, of course, but having that one person in your life who thinks it at least boosts the ego so that it rises from toilet level. No amount of time will heal the moment when realization hits that she’s gone so permanently.

What time does heal is jealousy of people who still have their mothers and the want to isolate because you just don’t want to talk about anything with anyone, because you can’t stop yourself from any conversation coming back around to how sorry you feel for yourself. You don’t say it in words, but the axiom is always there in the spaces between them. As a musician, I feel that emotion rides on the rests. As a writer, emotion lives in the elipses………. and thus, the reason I use #prayingonthespaces so often.

As time goes by, the emotions change with it.

Life energy returning, for me, has been amplified by simple joys, like going to bed early and rising before the sun. I have always been a morning person, and life is harder for me when I ignore that fact. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy waking before dawn, it’s that my natural circadian rhythm requires it. I thought for years that I was a night owl, because I worked in restaurants and my “happy hour” was 0200. When I really examined myself, I found that the most energy for me arrived around 0500, especially when I got a full eight hours of sleep beforehand. Waking fully rested at dawn is now my favorite thing, because I still get the quiet of the night without having to stay awake for it. My eyes open and I smile, as well as laughing easier and more often.

It also makes my mental health manageable, both from the correct amount of sleep and following what my body says I need. Along with medication, I avoid the ups and downs between carpet-sucking depression and hypomania. If I do feel hypomania coming on, the best treatment I’ve found is diphenhydramine (Benadryl™). I sleep deeply despite feeling “up,” and Bipolar II ceases to be as much of a thing, for which I am sure everyone around me is grateful.

For me, returning to sunshine (or at least, partly cloudy) has been a series of cognitive behavioral life hacks which allow for post-traumatic growth, instead of perpetuating rainy days. The life hack I use most often is lowering my expectations to make simplicity complex. A cup of coffee with the right amount of creamer and Splenda can light up my whole day. A one line e-mail asking how I am makes me feel like a million dollars. A friend inviting me for lunch brings excitement to my eyes and the wrinkles around them turn upward. My muscles release tension when I’m paying attention.

Life energy has returned in full force because I’ve made myself happy without waiting for it to arrive.

#prayingonthespaces