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.

 

Waking Life

I am drinking a mediocre cup of coffee; it’s my second one if I’m being honest. That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but the mug is 16 oz. I normally drink iced green tea in the morning because DC summer has set in, so I’ve got a bit of a buzz going. Though it’s basic, I put four Splenda in it, so at least it feels like dessert going down. I normally add a plant milk- coffee tastes better with fat- but I’m out. I need to go to the grocery store, just one of the things I need to add to my growing To Do list because I’m ready to get out into the world again.

It startled me when I realized I hadn’t written anything since the end of May on this web site. I get so busy with e-mail and Facebook that I forget to be a writer in public. Facebook is easier because I can write in short snippets and it’s not a large, blank page staring back at me.

I have a different “voice” over e-mail, and I like who I am when I write them. I tend to make them weighted because I can let myself go with one person or a group of friends. It’s not so easy with my hundreds of subscribers and thousands of casual readers. It becomes intimidating when I think of it that way, so I need to go back to framing it as writing only for myself, an e-mail from me to me.

Since I’ve come back from Texas, my depression and anxiety has flared up to an enormous degree. It’s another piece of the puzzle when I think about why I haven’t been eager to write (or engage, really). It’s frustrating because with mental illness, I can’t point to where it hurts and I can’t vocalize what will make me feel better. I legitimately have no idea. I have tricks to fool myself into a brighter mood, like putting on gangsta rap with a great hook and lots of bass, or at the other end of the spectrum, ABBA or Aqua.

Today, it’s the Argo soundtrack, because I’ve been writing to it for years. It helps to go back to music that encourages body memory, the feel of typing into the night even though it’s 11:00 AM. Night is when I’m the most vulnerable, which I feel is universal. Conversations that happen when the sun go down are different than the ones had when it comes up.

For instance, during the day I am unlikely to admit what I’m really pondering. It is the barbed wire fence around my emotions, and how much I’m willing to take it down depends on the day. I get the most defensive when it comes to my lack of a love life, because I  think I have good reasons for not wanting someone to walk around in my inner landscape, but as more and more time passes since my disastrous break up with Dana, those reasons don’t seem good enough for other people. I grow weary of people asking why, as if it’s their right to know and try to the be judge and jury of my answers. I want to live life at my own pace, which is infinitely my choice. I just want to tell people, in the words of an old Texas gun safety video, “leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Call an adult.”

My reasons fall in many percentages, but the largest piece of the pie is that when two adults are in a relationship, it is codependent unless both people are strong in themselves. One of my favorite quotes from Khalil Gibran in The Prophet, paraphrased, is that couples should be like trees, not entwined at the trunks, but the branches. I am not that person yet, and I currently have no indicators as to when it will change. Because I am incredibly sapiosexual, I will be sparked eventually by the way someone thinks and interacts. It has happened three times over the last five years, but something hasn’t been right in every case, mostly timing. For instance, my admittance of feelings led to the conversation of “I’d totally be down for dating if I hadn’t just started dating someone else.”

Just to be clear, I thought I was admitting feelings to someone who was single. It wasn’t as if I knew she was with someone else and didn’t care because my ego was big enough to think she would jump at the chance to date me no matter her status. I also didn’t think of her “that way” until Samantha saw us together and said we looked cute…. and then, of course, I had to overthink about it before I said anything, and by then it was too late. This was about a year and a half ago, and since then I have been battling the up and down of depression medications, and if you’re taking them as well, you probably know what I mean. For the uninitiated, the downs mean lack of lust for life, much less anything else. However, I do enjoy being chilled out and relaxed, and that more than makes up for lack of a partner.

I also know that when someone does tilt my vision their way, it probably won’t come through searching profiles on web sites. Every date I’ve been on by doing so felt like a job interview, stiff and uncomfortable to the point of nausea. I just feel done when it comes to internet dating. I’m over it.

I am the happiest when going out alone or with close friends, those that have become as close as siblings while I wait out disinterest. When I’m alone, I am very good at chatting up strangers, so it feels like I’m meeting up with friends I haven’t met yet, as opposed to being insular. I am very much in love with my own thoughts, and I want to wait until I feel that way about someone else’s. I also feel that waiting is appropriate until I don’t feel like my crazy spatter is going to stick to their clothes. That seems like cruel & unusual punishment.

The smallest piece is not feeling ready to compromise or share. I enjoy not having to check in with anyone about where I’m going or when I’m going to be home. I don’t want a relationship to feel like an obligation instead of a joy. The woman I picture is drop dead gorgeous, smarter than I am, and has respect for the fact that we will not share everything. There is a box inside me that I will never unlock for anyone, for any reason. Lack of privacy or jealousy on her part would ruin everything.

In short, I would give my heart to the right person, but I’m not going to settle for the wrong one, even if she is a basket of hotness. More than one person has been worried I’ll be an old lady with seven cats.

Well, what in the hell is wrong with that? I wouldn’t necessarily choose it for myself, but I’d choose it every time over being irritated with someone else. As I have said before, relationships are a lot of work, but they shouldn’t feel like trying to nail a square peg into a round hole every damn day…. and those relationships are worth the wait.

As is, I hope, waiting for a new entry.

 

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.

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.

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.

Work It

My interview with University of Maryland is now scheduled, which is the first step toward becoming a Terrapin. I hope it works out, but it is clearly a good place in which to feel confident in an interview by having nothing to lose. s-l300I am happy where I am. If I get the position, it is a silver lining on an enormous fluffy cloud. If I don’t, I get to continue having fun cooking every day for a little while longer.

I keep on getting stronger every day, beating my depression and anxiety into submission. What’s been different this time is being able to distinguish true feelings from the lies my brain is capable of telling. Just because something seems true doesn’t mean it is. When I feel isolated and lonely, that’s a lie. When I feel loved and surrounded by friends, that is the truth. I need look no further than my own house to see it, where I have fit in as family for three years. I have friends and biological family members all over this city. Lindsay, my sister, flies in often. Every time I think I am alone, I list with gratitude all the ways I am really, really not.

There’s no way around acknowledging that my world fell to pieces in three years flat, and especially the last year has been rebuilding from the rubble left behind. Apparently, I am better at DIY than I thought…. continuing to fill the spaces between the rocks with gold, as goes an old Chinese proverb, so that the cracks become the part that is most beautiful.

I don’t feel as if my personality is split in half anymore, that there’s anything so terrible I have to keep it stuffed down into my socks. Everything has become authentic, albeit with a bit of cognitive dissonance. But, as I have said before, if my past is any indication, I can live like that forever. Everyone does. For instance, I can be devastated that Dana and I are separated and thankful at the same time in perpetuity. One does not overtake the other. I hurt a lot, and I learned a lot. Those lessons will (and have to) stick with me.

For instance, I have learned that I can never talk my way through an apology ever again. Words are one thing. Actions are another. I have lost too much not to make that a 101 “Mickey Mouse” course. It helps remind me that I wear a Mickey Mouse watch when I’m not in the kitchen, made of silver and gold, words that have been used to describe friendships for thousands of years.

It also helps that my industry is entertaining others, being of service to everyone I meet while on the clock. I am sure that customer service in Information Technology is the same way, because I’ve done it before. The only difference is not getting to take Rachel (my Chef’s knife) for a workout as often as I’d like.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with her if I ever stop cooking professionally, probably just hide her in my closet somewhere. I don’t trust anyone outside of my coworkers to treat her right. I think it may be almost time to get her honed, though, because we don’t have those tools in our kitchen. It will make her sharper, but it’s not quite the same. Honing is keeping the blade straight ahead, taking out the impurities in the edge that make it lean left or right after a while. She’s still sharp as a Maddow takedown, but with several of us using her with different techniques, it’s time. Most of it has to do with the way we hold our knives, because we all use French technique (back of the knife) rather than Japanese (front of the knife). But, like a fountain pen, the way you hold a knife is a little bit different than everyone else, even though the ink still flows.

It’s all in how we work it.