Depression

From Darkness to Light

‘Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’ 1 Corinthians 15:58

I don’t know about you, but, I suspect that, like me and many others I know, you might be tired. I mean mentally, emotionally, and physically fatigued. With everything going on in the world around us, that alone is enough to bring on the fatigue.

Just when things were on the verge of or starting to open up from the restrictions of the pandemic, there’s a spike cases and hospitalizations. Now things are tightening down again, as Oregon enters it’s 14th week of sheltering in and wearing masks. As a result of these pandemic related things, the national and local economies have been increasingly depressed with businesses closing (small business the most) and people losing their jobs, and the national unemployment at the highest it’s been since 1940. The protests for Black Lives Matter are entering their fourth week, having just passed Juneteenth, the celebration of the Emancipation of the slaves. Not to mention the victories and losses for our LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors. Plus, the Presidential election cycle and the polarized politicization of both the pandemic and the BLM movement.

It’s overwhelming and absolutely exhausting. Then you add in whatever is happening for you and your loved ones, as well as how these national events are affecting you on an individual level.

So, there’s a lot of confusion. There’s a ton of conflicting information and even more conflicting opinions. The focus of the news and the media is sensationalized and focused on the painful and negative. There’s very little constructive dialogue and there seems to be a constant, false dichotomy of “us vs. them” everywhere you turn.What do we do with all of this? How do we get some relief, some clarity? How do we get some rest, other than avoiding the media and becoming turtles withdrawing into our shells? How do we decide where to place our focus?

The passage that the verse above comes from is Paul speaking about Jesus and all that he did for us to have life and to look forward to. He’s offering us a foundational reason to keep moving forward and to keep doing good in this world, even when what is good seems to have gone on vacation. Even though the issues and things around us may seem too big and too much for each of us as individuals to make a difference in, anything we do to bring the light of Jesus and God’s love into the lives of the people around us is not in vain.

‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. ‘ Galatians 6:10

But, before we can do any of that, before we have anything to give, we have to allow ourselves a chance to rest, recharge, and fill up on that light and love ourselves.

‘“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”’ Matthew 11:28-30

Now is the time for rest, recharge, and renewal, so that we can reenter the world’s arena and face the things around us with hope and love to share.

‘Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.’ Philippians 4:8-9

It is imperative that we look for the good in the midst of the bad. It’s there. Look for the stories of those who are giving of themselves, the stories of the peacemakers, the stories of those who are offering comfort, and even those who are offering happy and joyful things in the midst of the sorrow and the tragedy. Many may argue that now is not the time for levity and laughter. I would argue that now, more than ever, is the time for us to take a break and seek these things out.

‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. ‘ Proverbs 17:22

If we don’t take a break from the darkness around us and seek the light, our soul dies bit by bit and our spirits become broken. That’s no way for anyone to live. That’s not the legacy that Jesus left us. He left us God’s Spirit to live in us, so that our spirits can live and thrive, and that so we can share that life with those around us.Take a break. Get some rest. Find a reason to smile and laugh. Then, take that out with you and reenter the fray so you can help others to have a break, take a rest, and have cause to laugh and smile.

What to do with the grief of others

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. ~ Romans 12:15 HCSB

How can we show up in the midst of pain and grief for our marginalized siblings in the world around us, when we have no idea what to do or say to them and what we CAN do feels futile in the face of the vitriol and intentional ignorance? How do we not wind up making our sense of ineffectiveness and futility more important than their experiences of violence and suffering?

The answer is to BE with them in their grief. Acknowledge and validate their anger. Learn why they fear the things we don’t. Share and celebrate the things and people they celebrate. Be willing to set aside your “stuff” to show them they and their “stuff” matters. In other words, treat them the way you want to be treated.

It may be challenging to look away from our own issues, circumstances, and experiences in order to look and see those of others, much less step into their world and be with them. But, it’s very much worth the effort to do so. We also have guidance on how to do this.

‘He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. ‘ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 HCSB

How do we receive comfort from God? Sometimes it’s an internal sense of peace or a lifting of the spirit, maybe a lessening of the pressure on our chest or the lessening of the restriction of our throat. Maybe it’s through a song, a poem, a meaningful writing, or piece of scripture. Perhaps a video or show. However, there are times when it is another person and their words, actions, or just them being present with us which contributes to the feeling of being comforted. Those are the things we can do and share, if they are something the person grieving is in a place to receive.

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him. ‘ Isaiah 61:1-3 HCSB

Jesus came to do these things, show us how to do these things, and teach us to do these things so we can share and demonstrate the love he shared and demonstrated to us. This is how we can learn and know how to show up in the midst of the pain and grief, anger and fear, our marginalized and brutalized brothers and sisters experience.

Legacy

‘Round and ‘round she goes
Freewheeling and spinning
Bouncing from thought to thought
From one thing to another

Up is down, down is up
Good is bad, bad is good
Riding the exhilarating waves
Crawling through the dark valleys

Always looking to be “fixed”
Always wanting a “fixer”
Needing control
Living in chaos
Dying in love

Her life is mine, as well
My children can attest
I fought like mad
Lashing out, relentlessly

Life on the edge
The art of the con
The good apprentice
Crumpled and abandoned

Obsessive plans
Frenzied achievement
Burned out
Crashed hard

Time and again
Rinse and repeat
Cycles within cycles
Antagonist and victim

The mind forgets
The body remembers
In the midst of anger
In the midst of turmoil
Conflicted life

Lost momentum
Lost joy
Lost hope
Lost self
Unmoored

Immovable mountains
Crashing and clashing
Awakened in conflict
Change begun

Spiritual awakening
Fortuitous convergence
Extraordinary and mundane
Unforeseen support
Asked, offered, given

Long and winding
Road of an epic journey
My strength is my weakness
Renewed and redeemed
Bridging the past and the present

From mother to daughter
Connecting the generations
A new future written
Shaped by what was
Walking into what will be

UBC 4/20 Day 19: “When is ‘I love me’ enough?”

I don’t know that it is possible for the average person to have never heard of Demi Lovato. However, just in case you’re an extraordinary person who never saw Disney’s “Camp Rock” movies or missed her performance of “Anyone” at the 2020 Grammys, she is a pop star, song-writer, and an addict who keeps working toward recovery, despite relapses.

Despite the fact that she’s nearly half my age (I’m 50 and she’s 27) her music is hitting me to my core. Her song, “I Love Me,” is very powerful, in how it so accurately describes my relationship with myself…especially the first few lines. She’s describing the struggle between body-image, identity, and mental/emotional health. The video does a very good job of illustrating the inner struggle that I, and probably many others, experience on a regular basis.

I’m in that kind of struggle right now. There’s the “enlightened me, who has been through six years of therapy and a lifetime of various forms of counseling, in addition to concurrent spiritual growth. This “me” says that my worth and value have nothing to do with my physical appearance, my weight, or my body size. This “me” tells me that I have much to be proud of: the hard work I’ve invested in myself, my mental health recovery, and the repair of relationships I wrecked prior to my diagnoses and treatment. She reminds me that I have gifts and qualities that matter in the world: intelligence, my writing ability, my EQ, my compassion, and my empathy for others.

Then, there’s the insecure, uncomfortable in her own skin, self-hating, self-saboteur and her minions: depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and exhaustion. When they get going, it’s like listening to a discordant dirge. They characterize me as lazy, weak, powerless, and unsubstantial.

The first is the intellectual me and the second is the mental me. You’d think both would get through to the emotional me. However, that’s not true for me. My intellect dissociated from emotions in order to survive and move through the various traumas I have experienced. The mental me is the one that was changed by the traumas and has genetic differences which activated into depression and bipolar disorder. Mental me seems to be in charge of the emotional me, who often totally ignores intellectual me.

Why am I breaking this all down?

Because I have spent the past three weeks on a “self-improvement” spending spree, which began slowly with a nail polish or two here and there. It was put on the fast track with the stimulus payment, a couple of smaller payments received, and getting hired for the new job. I bought clothes, shoes, makeup, more nail polish & accessories, and special personal hygiene supplies. I also paid a couple of bills, helped buy groceries, purchased a few small gifts for family members, and take out food. Finally, I purchased auto insurance for the car some friends are giving me. Basically, I’ve spent close to $1,400 in less than a month.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money to some people. Many people I know pay that for rent. However, I’m pretty sure that all together, the money I’ve received in the past six years is less than that. But, I digress

Initially, the nail polish was something to do to pass the time, teaching myself a new skill, and celebrating the fact that I have miraculously stopped chewing my nails. Then, I needed clothes for my new job. Lastly, I bought makeup. I’ve basically gone 14 or 15 years without wearing makeup. Why the hell do I feel the need to buy it now? Especially during social distancing. I mean who will see it?

I felt good about the nail polish. However, once I got to the clothes, that good feeling went away once I tried them on. The last time I bought clothes, I had gotten down to a 2x, occasionally a 1x, from a 3x. Now, a 4x is tight in some places and a 5x is a bit loose…and the scale announced that I am almost 300 lbs. I think that’s when I decided to get the makeup. It may be a type of armor. I really don’t want to be seen right now. Maybe makeup will distract people from my size if I do it right. Finally came the membership to another weight loss program, online this time.

I want to leave diet culture behind. The last two times I managed to lose 20-30 lbs I ate healthy, followed a loose meal plan, and exercised. The last time, in 2018, I attended Weight Watchers for about six months. I treated it a bit like a 12 Step program – I did 90 meetings in 90 days. It wasn’t a nonsensicle, unrealistic eating plan. The app was amazing. The people were real and honest. The curriculum was really based in psychology and used what I call DBT-lite strategies to adjust thinking and responsive behaviors that drive overeating and weight gain. Yet, I couldn’t sustain the changes. Turns out that it takes more than 60-90 days to create a habit or replace an old one, for me.

michelin manI want to be body positive and accept all of me…love all of me. But, I’m not and I don’t.

I’m bothered by the “curves” in all the wrong spots that make me look like the Michelin Man. I’m bothered by cottage cheese like bumps on my stomach that push against any fabric, large or small, that lays across it. I’m bothered by the carry on size overlap. I’m really bothered by the verticle ceasarian scar that bifurcates my lower stomach and makes it look like I have a butt on the front. It’s also very frustrating to know that the natural side boob is made larger than what’s on the front.

So, long and flowing tunics and leggings to hide my body and makeup to hide my face – body armor and a face mask. I’m camoflaging my inner emotions and thoughts about myself behind the superficialities. I’m ready to go to battle.

“I Love Me” by Demi Lovato
Flipping through all of these magazines
Telling me who I’m supposed to be
Way too good at camouflage
Can’t see what I am
I just see what I’m not
I’m guilty ’bout everything that I eat
(Every single thing)
Feeling myself is a felony
Jedi level sabotage
Voices in my head make up my entourage

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I , don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

Haters that live on the internet
Live in my head, should be paying rent
I’m way to good at listening
All these comments fucking up my energy

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I, don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Is enough)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget
I-I-I-I
(I’m a ten out of ten, don’t you ever forget it)

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget

UBC 4/20 Days 16-18: New Life

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve missed posting the previous two days. It probably means I won’t fully meet this month’s challenge of 30 posts in 30 days. But, I’m not mad about it. Why?

My oldest daughter went into labor on the morning of Thursday, April 16th…one day after baby’s due date. She labored all day, until 8:28 p.m. A 9 lb 9 oz baby girl was born! 14-inch head, 21 inches long, with a full head of black hair. baby Ember went from the water in her mother’s womb into the specially prepared birthing water, where she was caught by her daddy.

I got to see her later that night. She had a strong little cry, signaling her displeasure at being away from the warmth of her mama long enough to be measured and changed. However, I didn’t officially meet and hold her until the next morning. Oh, how…I don’t have any words other than Deja vu. You see, mama dear was born, a couple of months later, at 8:20 p.m., 9 lb 8 oz, with a 14 in head and 21 in long, complete with a full head of black hair. At that very moment, she was her mama’s nearly identical “mini-me.”

I found out that night that my daughter had lost a lot of blood during her completely natural delivery. No epidural or any other pain blocker. What I didn’t know, what she didn’t know, until yesterday, was that she had lost well over 1000 cc of blood. Basically, she was hemorrhaging and the midwives saved her life. I owe them a debt of gratitude I can never fully express.

I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it.

It seems silly to have this kind of reaction, finding out about it well after the fact. But, I’m scared terrified and relieved profoundly grateful despite the fact that all danger was past and my awareness of that danger was a day later. But, here I am…emotionally exhausted.

Here’s the thing, new life seldom comes without the pain, struggle, or even the death of what came before. In this case, death didn’t happen, thank God. However, the pain and struggle certainly did. No matter how painful the struggle, the new life is nearly always worth the struggle and sorrow which precedes it. This almost always is accompanied by grief. Grief from the loss or end of what was before. Yet, there is celebration and excitement too. New life, a new path to follow, brings the hope of future possibilities.

Grief and celebration can co-exist. Sometimes the grief comes to the forefront for a while. Other times the hope and celebration rise to the surface. Neither is wrong or disrespectful of the other. Grief doesn’t negate hope. Excitement doesn’t mean grieving is being ignored.

We are certainly in a period of grief and fear. However, it’s also a season which brings new life…at least where I live. It’s spring. The days are getting longer. The sun is shining more often and more brightly. Flora is budding, fauna is birthing. While we know all the reasons to grieve, we must also seek the reasons to hope and celebrate.

 

UBC 4/20 Day 15: Trauma Muscles

Many people are experiencing various waves of emotions about what’s going on in the world today: panic, fear, anger, sadness, etc.. These are all normal responses to the global threat and common traumatic experience. However, if those feelings get too intense and pervasive, it can become debilitating and make it difficult to function. Then, there’s also dissociation – that feeling of being disconnected from emotions surrounding these events…kind of like compartmentalizing thoughts and action separate from emotional response. In my personal experience, that kind of thing I’ve learned as an automatic coping mechanism, which is an automatic response to trauma, a symptom of my PTSD. For me, dissociating has enabled me to get through periods of life when I was experiencing things which would have triggered overwhelmingly immobilizing emotions.

The thing is, we get really good at what we practice, right? In my life, I’ve bounced from trauma to trauma to trauma and dissociating, disconnecting from my emotions to the point where it became my way of life. I got so good at it, that, not only did I not consciously experience the “negative” emotions, I was also disconnected from the “positive” ones. It’s important to realize that emotions are neither negative or positive. Emotions are instinctive tools which tell us something about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t learn how to read and understand our emotions in any given situation, then, whatever action we take as a result of the emotions we experience can have negative consequences.

Another word for practice is “exercise.” The more we exercise dissociation, the stronger our ability to ignore, push down, and function in spite of our emotions becomes. Suffice it to say, I have very strong dissociation muscles. They developed into a form of brute strength. But, brute strength only gets you so far. In order for it to be useful and constructive, that brute strength must be shaped, sculpted, and toned. In other words, training is needed.

I had a lifetime of developing the brute strength of dissociation to contain and manage my emotions until they started leaking around the edges and creating some truly negative and destructive consequences. I’ve now spent over six years training to hone and reshape how I handle my emotions. Dissociation is still my automatic “go to” response to intense emotion. However, it’s now mitigated by things I’ve been learning. Specifically, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) has been very instrumental in teaching me how to harness and use the strength of dissociation in constructive ways. All while I continue to train and learn new methods and ways to mitigate it.

Which brings me to the present time of stress and trauma we are all going through as individuals, families, communities, a nation, and the global collective.

In the past month, I have experienced the feelings and had the thoughts of many, if not most, people in the world around me. I have seen two distinctive responses to those thoughts and feelings: acknowledgment and acceptance of the world as it is now, or fear or denial about how bad things are or will get. The first response gets things done and keeps one moving forward, facing and learning to overcome these new challenges. The second response results in stagnation and, possibly, regression.

I believe my well-developed “trauma muscles” and the training they’ve been getting from therapy, DBT, and spiritual growth is what has enabled me to address the issue and effectively deal with issue of being unemployed. It is also the thing which has helped me to continue my healing and growth process in my mental health.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that trauma is the best training tool for learning how to deal with and manage emotions. It isn’t. Trauma changes us and derails our path to who we had the potential to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. It impacts our relationships and our ability effectively and constructively function in the world. But, with training and healing work, I believe that the strength we gain from surviving trauma, can become powerful and impact our lives and the lives of others in amazing ways.

UBC4/20 Day 14: Parenting from afar

At the beginning of this month’s challenge, I mentioned my youngest daughter, but, I haven’t said much about her. Since I’m having some big feels regarding her and my relationship with her, I figured I’d talk through it here. If nothing else, I’ll get some more Emotion Color Wheel practice in. I’m feeling sadness and love. Sadness about her not being with me and love simply because she’s my daughter.

Digging deeper, I realize my sadness a lot of things: distressed, melancholic, shameful, and hopeless. Exploring that more reveals that I feel agonized and hurt, depressed and sorrowful, regretful and guilty, anguished and powerless. That’s a lot of sadness that’s heavy on my heart. I’ll get to the whys in a little bit. But first, I want to explore the love more. There’s tenderness and longing. Those expand out to compassionate and caring, affectionate and sentimental. That love is all twisted and intertwined in the sadness.

The love is actually buried under the sadness in a lot of ways and I think that’s all tied to my childhood trauma and the mother wounds I carry. I know I have attachment issues. It’s very, very difficult for me to be physically affectionate. I don’t enjoy snuggling, hugging, and close physical contact with anyone. I never have. Please don’t hold my hand for more than a few seconds. I can give hugs, but, please don’t hug me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with people and interacting with them, but, not in a physically close way. This social distancing thing and communicating via Zoom, Messenger, FB Groups, and texts are all fine for me. Much easier for me than being in a roomful of people.

But, I digress.

I’ve known about my attachment issues for a very long time. I’ve been acutely aware of it since my youngest daughter was born, a little over 11 years ago.
I decided to breastfeed. Great for her health and good for us financially. Except, that’s the only thing she would do if she wasn’t screaming or crying. She howled for 45 minutes after she was born and didn’t really stop for the next five months. She was constantly on a breast. Clinging to me. Burrowed against me. I wore her in a wrap around me because it was the only way I could get anything done. It was like being pregnant, only carrying the child on the outside of my body. My life was centered around her need to feed and have that comfort.

I hated it, but forced myself to do it because I wanted to give her that opportunity for attachment to me in ways I hadn’t been given with my mother and had been unable to give with my older children. So, I also decided to let her self-wean. Only, she didn’t really. She nursed until she was almost three. By then I had to cut her off. It took her a couple of years to stop asking for it. Part of the reason I let her nurse so long was because her dad, who she was very attached to, was a truck driver and took a long-haul over the road job and was gone weeks at a time. Then, after an incident between him and my teenage daughter, I moved out and got my own place for a couple of years, thereby limiting their ability to be with each other. So, nursing was the primary touch point for comfort and a sense of safety and stability I could give her…even though I hated it.

Her dad and I stayed separated for a couple of years, but, were still enmeshed with each other and I wound up letting him move in with me. By the time a year had gone by, I was either in an emotionally hyper-reactive state or in a near catatonic dissociated state in order to manage the depression without knowing I was also trying to manage PTSD and Bipolar Disorder (II) and not receiving treatment for it. Things came to a head on her fifth birthday and I took her and left three days later. I have not gotten back together with him, but, because of her and her issues, he’s still too much a part of my life and I continued to be psychologically and financially enmeshed with him.
It turned out that our little girl is on the autism spectrum. It’s hard to tell because she’s what’s considered high-functioning. That label implies that she’s less impacted by the spectrum issues because she’s highly verbal and more social than children on the spectrum are often characterized as being. I don’t think she’s less impacted. I think she’s impacted differently and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get her the identifications, diagnoses, services, and supports she needs.

Over the past six years, her dad and I have “co-parented.” In our case that means he got to have her with him on weekends, school breaks, and holidays, while paying for her needs and wants, providing my phone, and paying for electricity & internet. So, functionally, I was operating as single parent. I was the one to deal with all of the agencies, organizations, medical facilities, and educational systems. I was also the one who bore the brunt of her emotional/behavioral issues.

She got increasingly violent with me, both verbally and physically. I have been shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, scratched, and bitten. I have been called a bitch, told I am hated and that she wished I had never been born or that I would die like my mother and go to heaven. I was the one who dealt with the school when she would get suspended for tearing the classroom apart or physically attack staff and students. I couldn’t let her be around my grandchildren because she was very mean to them.

She wasn’t always like this. She never acted like this when she was with her dad.

Last Thanksgiving some serious things happened and my adult daughter’s family became homeless. At that time, my grandchildren were five, four, and two. I couldn’t see them living on the street or in a shelter. So, they all crowded into my apartment. My little girl’s behavior escalated again, until it reached the point where she attacked me and punched me in the spine. I couldn’t take anymore and I had her move to her dad’s.

That was just before we went to social distancing, then shelter-in orders. I’ve only seen her a couple of times since then and done video messaging a few times. I don’t know what to do or say that is meaningful for her. I miss her, or the idea of her and having a good relationship with her. At the same time, I’m relieved I don’t have to be in her presence 24/7. So, lots of sadness with bits of love sprinkled throughout.

We’re supposed to spend some time together on Friday. We’ll see how it goes.

UBC 4/20 Day 10: The Colorwheel of Emotion

Color Wheel of EmotionMy therapy homework this week is to start identifying and naming the waves of emotion I experience. Here’s the way it works:

You can either work your way from the inside out, which is what my therapist asked me to do this week, or you can work your way from the outside in, which I think could be quite useful.

When she assigned this to me I asked her when or in what context she wanted me to do this. Basically, her response was to do it whenever I experienced a wave, big or small, of emotion.

I’m beginning with this very moment.

Honestly, I’m feeling anger. What am I angry about? Sleep…rather, the lack thereof. My scalp feels tight and achy. So does the back of my neck. I have been tossing and turning all night. I was too warm, so I turned the ceiling fan on. But, it was too loud and blew too much air. I could have gotten up and turned it down, but, I didn’t for some unknown reason. So, now, the kind of anger I’m feeling is exasperation and irritability. Being exasperated means I’m feeling agitated, frustrated, or both. In this instance, it’s both. I’m agitated that the insomnia has gotten so bad and I’m frustrated because I’m tired and want to go back to sleep, but I know it’s futile. I can tell that irritability is right beneath the surface. Annoyed and aggravated are the extensions of that. Again, I’m experiencing both: annoyed with myself for not getting up and adjusting the fan and aggravated by the knowledge or belief that it wouldn’t have done any good anyway.

Let’s try another one.

Yesterday, I received the email containing the link to the employee portal for the company I’ve been hired by. Through this portal were all of my onboarding processes: completing my I-9 verifying my right to work; the same with the W-4 telling the company how much of my earnings to submit to Federal and to Oregon, before giving me anything I had earned; I submitted my banking information to let them know how I wanted them to pay me; I received instructions on getting the TB testing done; and, finally, accepting and signing the job offer itself.

Ever since the HR guy told me I had a job, I’ve experienced joy whenever I think about it. On the wheel, joy is a base emotion like anger is. This means there’s more to it. After the phone interview, I felt optimistic. I was both eager and hopeful. I was hopeful that I would get the job offer and eager to know if I had the job. Once I got the first email offering me the job, I felt proud, triumphant that I had gotten the offer within a week and a half of submitting my application. Getting the second email containing the link to the employee portal made me enthusiastic and optimistic again. I was excited about embarking on this new leg of my journey, moving toward what I want to be doing with my life, instead of merely surviving. I was eager to do the preliminary onboarding process and move into training. In the midst of it all, I’ve felt proud. Triumphant that my hard work on my own healing and recovery, as well as all the job readiness and training I’ve done over the past nine months has paid off.

Then, I got to the point in the process where I was supposed to schedule the TB test. I contacted the medical facility the company uses for the testing, only to find out that they aren’t doing ANY pre-employment testing…because… COVID-19. Bounced back to anger, with a little fear mixed in. Back to feeling exasperated and agitated. I was feeling scared and nervous, which was really feeling helpless and worried that this whole virus fiasco might prevent me from starting work.

So, I sent an email to the person in charge of the onboarding process. The response made me feel something not on the wheel – relieved. I think that was a joy response to the worry being nullified. I also felt proud again, illustrious, perhaps. She said she was impressed that I had acted so quickly to do the onboarding paperwork and that they were suspending the TB test prerequisite until the medical facility is testing again.

All of those emotions were experienced over a seven-hour period yesterday.

No wonder I was ready for bed by 7:30 last night.

UBC 4/20 Day 9: Good News and Hypomania

I got it!

I got the phone call with the job offer. It’s contingent on me passing the criminal background check. The HR guy still needed to finish the reference check and get the employment verification done. However, there shouldn’t be any issues with any of that. So, for all intents and purposes, I HAVE A JOB!!!

I am scheduled to attend orientation on the 17th of this month. I’ll be working Thursday through Saturday, just over half-time. It’s a union position. However, that’s a brand new situation and they are still negotiating the initial collective bargaining agreement. I’ve never worked with a union before. So, we’ll see how that goes. Once my training is complete, I will be the only staff on duty during my shift. That’s something else I’ve never done…work alone. I’m sure I’ll do okay, but, it’s still a bit unsettling to think about. I just have to trust that I wouldn’t have gotten the offer if I wasn’t qualified for it.

I called my daughter and told her she either had to go into labor before the 17th or between then and the 23rd when I believe my actual job begins. She laughed and said she’d let the baby know. We talked about the contingency plans and who will stay with her kids and who will transport her, both if I’m available and if I’m not. I told her that I wanted to be able to take her and be there when the baby comes. However, it’s about what she needs and not what I want…obviously.

I just hope that I can settle into a good sleep schedule between now and the start of my job. The insomnia has been pretty bad the past couple of weeks, causing me to be inordinately sleepy during the day. I can’t afford to have that happen while I’m working. Now, it seems that a bit of hypomania has been triggered by the news of the job offer. I never actually got sleepy last night. When I did fall asleep, that didn’t last more than an hour or so. I have this kind of buzzing, humming along the nerves, right under my skin, antsy. I can’t seem to settle down. At the same time, due to the accumulated exhaustion in my body from the lack of rest, activity, and good nutrition, I can barely bring myself to move. My body feels sluggish and my head is foggy, but my thoughts are racing and there’s this nervous energy coursing throughout my being. These are all signs of hypomania.

If I can, I’ll channel the nervous energy into increasing my physical activity so that I can get at least a week’s worth of activity to build up a little stamina between now and when I actually start working. I also hope that I can wrangle the racing thoughts into doing something more creative here instead of just giving an account of my daily comings and goings.

I miss how easily I could access the creativity with words that I had when the Bipolar wasn’t being treated. Thankfully, though, the bipolar is “mild” enough that the meds to help mitigate it enough that I can still prioritize the relationships and functionality of my life over how good the rush of the beginning of a manic or hypomanic episode feels. I’m grateful that I am able to exercise that level of control with the meds and DBT skills I’ve learned over the past six years.

Not everyone with a Bipolar diagnosis can do this. It can be a real struggle when the brain fights itself in these ways. I have an online friend who shares his experience and struggles with his bipolar brain. He works as hard as he can and has as much support as he can get and he continues to fight what probably feels like a losing battle a significant amount of the time. He still shows up and fights. So, not just for myself, but for my fellow Mental Health Warriors, if I can work to maintain and continue my recovery, I have to.

UBC 4/20 Day 7: Avoidance, Fear, and Understanding Myself

I have a counseling appointment today, via computer. I really like this therapist. I met her fact-to-face just once after social distancing became a recommendation, before it became a government mandate… so, that would have been three weeks ago. I feel like she’s going to be good for me. I also think she’s going to be somewhat hard-nosed and won’t let me get away with not doing my “homework.” So, here I am, cramming homework I had all week to do, into a few hours before it’s supposed to get turned in. Just like in high school or college.

Turns out that this is exactly part of the homework I was supposed to be working on. Avoidance.

What am I avoiding, exactly?

Well, the questions she asked me to consider at our last session were about me identifying my space in the world and in my life. Not where I feel I belong, but the space that belongs to me, specifically in my own home. What do I need to work on taking back so that I can feel safe and secure? Why is there such a strong sense of avoidance? What does avoiding look like? What am I avoiding?
Believe it or not, I think tackling the questions on avoidance will be easier than the other questions. Of course, that’s also a way of avoiding examining the other questions. Right?

Aaaaand avoiding dealing with the avoiding. It’s been about an hour, maybe more, since I finished that last sentence. So, back to the question: Why such a strong sense of avoidance? I think this is the point where my “stream of consciousness” writing style may come in handy.

Fear. Fear is at the heart of avoiding. At least, I think that’s what it is. If that’s true, then, I need to figure out what it is I fear. In the context of the initial questions about space and figuring out how to take back what is mine and what I need to do to work on to taking it back, what is it my fear?
It may be two things. The first is realizing that I’ve seldom, if ever, completely had my own space, or my own place in the world. I don’t think I even understand what that looks and feels like.

I remember being a young child where a couch was my bed and the living room was my bedroom. After that, when I had my own room, it became to catch-all. Whenever my mother expected people to come into our home, all the accumulated clutter from the public spaces was moved into my room and seldom, if ever moved back out. I recall one Christmas I had been given a peppermint candy cane log – it was HUGE. If memory serves, I had carved out space for it on my dresser and I was looking at it from an angle that meant I was on the floor. I have a sense that was because the floor was the only available space and it was also where I slept. After that life fell through and we moved again, I may have had my own room for a few months before my mom and I moved to live with my grandmother. It was a small, one bedroom apartment. More moving. Then mom died, leaving me in my uncle’s custody. Another one bedroom apartment for my uncle, his wife, and me. I was 12.

Eventually, I had a room to myself, but, it never felt like it was mine or my space because I never really felt like I belonged, that I was part of his family unit. Three more moves over the next four years. Some of the time I lived with my uncle, some of the time I lived with my grandmother. Sometimes I had my own room, but, mostly not. Then, at 16, I ran away. When you’re a runaway, you really don’t get your own room. I lived out of cars and hitchhiked across the country with my son’s father, until he almost killed me in front of our two year old son. At 19, I was a single mom, with no employment history or proven work skills. So, there was no way to afford my own space. When I did afford my own space it was either studio apartments or one bedrooms that I shared with my son. Sometimes there were roommates.

During the times when I might have had my own space, I wound up helping other people out and giving them a place to stay…often for extended periods of time. Including now, when my adult daughter’s family became houseless right after Thanksgiving. Her family of five plus one on the way moved into my tiny two bedroom, one bath apartment. Even before they moved in, though, my space wasn’t my own because her younger sister, who I was partially co-parenting, but mostly single parenting, is autistic and at 10 years of age refused to sleep by herself.

So, yeah, I have no clue how to own and occupy space that’s just mine.

The second fear is that, if I push the issue and push my daughter’s family out, I’ll be abandoning them, abandoning her, the way I was. Well, maybe not the way. After all, my mother’s undiagnosed, untreated mental health issues are what caused her suicide. But, she left me alone and, even as a 50 year old woman, there are times when I wish I had a mother to turn to. I don’t want her to ever feel that I won’t be available when she needs me and, right now, she needs me.

Finally, the third fear is intertwined with the second fear. I’m afraid of losing relationship with her and my grandchildren. Six years ago, my relationship was so broken with her that I had to find out from an old family friend that she had gone into premature labor and was in the hospital. She didn’t want me there. Now she’s about to give birth to baby #4. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I am not wanted or allowed to be in my daughter’s or grandchildren’s lives again.

Well, that’s enough processing for now. I know this was long. Thank you for sticking with me until the end.