Neurotypical is overrated

About three weeks ago, my PNP and I decided to add Abilify to my medication regimen of 400 mg a day of Lamictal. I’d not had a true hypomanic episode for several months. However, I’d been in what I consider to be a mid-level depression since the end of September or beginning of October, which is usually the time of year the depression aspect of my bipolar cycle begins. This past fall, it was compounded by pre & post election shenanigans.

It took me a very long time to figure out the depression triggers are related to a series of unrelated events, which took place across different years and different ages. However, they all flow into each other on my unconscious depression trigger timeline. I won’t go into it here and now, since this isn’t what I want to address.

It seems the daily, tiny, 2mg dose Abilify has triggered a cyclothymic hypomania. After a five month depression, it feels a little good to be productive, have energy, and be able to string more than two thoughts together. I have an appointment with my PNP prescriber today.

Anyway, I’ve spent the past couple of days working on the launch of a new blog: Neurotypical is Overrated. I’m going to officially launch it with The Ultimate Blog Challenge & the 30 Day Writing Challenge, which both start on April 1st. My goal is to have the first week in the pipeline and ready to go by then. I’m hoping to have more ready to go before then, but that is what I think I’ll need to do in order to stay caught up. If I’ve done things correctly, I might even have the scaffolding in place to carry it out past that time.

Of course, that could be the hypomania at work, since I also have some pretty intense life stuff going on at the same time.

I’ve started working with a local, interfaith movement on human rights & social justice Sanctuary organization. I started out with a small cohort from my home faith community. However, the other cohort folks were overcommitted and had to withdraw. So, I’ve joined the host cohort, which is actually closer to where I live. So, I also get to build relationships and community where I live, while also getting involved and trained on issues that have meaning and enable me to do more than be an online FB, blogtivist.

It’s important to me to do something tangible, where I can show up in person, in the current political climate of events which are so threatening to the ideals, values, and survival of people like myself and those around me who are different from me. Resistance doesn’t have to be futile.

That’s also the goal of the new blog. This one has become such a mish mash of different things and more of a personal journal. I want the new blog to be more structured, organized, and purposeful when it comes to fighting the stigma surrounding mental health, disability, and poverty issues, especially the intersection of all of those things. My plan is to offer information, inspiration, solidarity, practical application, and a little fun.

I would say that I’ll be here less, but, I’m already barely and inconsistently posting here, lol.

If you’re interested in fighting stigma and supporting these efforts, you can help by checking out the blog, liking and sharing it if you think it’s worthwhile to do so. I’m also soliciting topic ideas, and guest writers. The guest writers can be anyone with personal or professional experience in dealing with those issues. If you’d like to contribute, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading and thank you for your support and encouragement.

Midnight musings of a bipolar mind

I sit here, tonight, exhausted and grieving the fact that what I thought was helping to alleviate the persistent depression, is, in fact, helping…just not the way I thought. It has triggered a mini-hypomanic phase. So, instead of the constant, slow, and steady oppression of “mid-level” depression, I’m now experiencing a continual hypomanic cycle, scaled down and dialed back to a flowing stream instead of a flooding river.

I’m exhausted…and not just from the lack of sleep and disrupted sleep, which may or may not be related to the new, supplemental, medication. My little girl has been going through a rough time lately, which is exacerbated and amplified by her high functioning, autistic brain. Quite frankly, I’m living with a verbally and physically abusive eight year old child. A couple of days ago she told me she wished I was dead. Screaming, I mean the “Is it live or is it Memorex?” kind of piercing scream,

is almost a daily thing. Hitting and kicking are among her repertoire of behaviors when expected to transition from a desired activity into an undesired one: Bed to getting ready for school, playing to taking a shower, being home to leaving to go to the store. You get the idea.

Now, I have to go through the search and hiring process of obtaining the services of another Personal Support Worker for her, primarily because her abusive and erratic behaviors burn people out. Probably because I have yet to figure out how to hire someone mentally and emotionally equipped to do the job who has actually been educated and trained to work with children on the autism spectrum. It’s difficult to find someone with that level of education and experience, much less someone who is willing to work for less than $15/hr, 71 hr/mo, for me, and still have to look for additional work, while trying to accommodate the schedule we need the most.

My heart is breaking at losing the current person who’s been working with us. It’s a selfish thing and probably illuminates just how much work I still need to do on boundary setting and codependency. They listen to me. They want to support me as the underlying value of being her PSW. Since they are the only person of any intelligence and emotional stability I deal with on a continual basis during the week, who isn’t a professional service provider of some kind or part of a structured group gathering in a faith community, I’ve become a bit too dependent. Meaning, I could very well be nearing the stage of emotional vampirism.

The night we informed my daughter of this pending change, she was rudely ecstatic. It hurts me to see how hurtful she is to others. That hurts more than the things she says and does to me. I shared my bewilderment and concern about how vitriolic her words and attitudes are. I expressed my overwhelm and sense that I’m not doing enough. Between the depression, bipolar, ptsd, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and fibromyalgia, some days, many days, the only reason I get out of bed is the fact I have to get her up, ready, and off to school. I can only see what I’m not doing and getting done.

They told me how they had agonized over this decision for a couple of weeks, even to the point that it had been the primary topic in their meetings with their support person. They told me that the one thing that gives them hope in this situation and for my daughter’s future is seeing how hard I work for her benefit.

The women I met with yesterday, her DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services) Service Coordinator and her state provided ABA Consultant (ABA is a form of behavior therapy for those on the autism spectrum), also expressed how hard they see me working. Again, all I can see are the things I haven’t gotten done, either due to overwhelm, fear, or forgetfulness.

I even went so far as to let her Service Coordinator know that I’m fully aware of her Mandatory Reporter status and that I will never let that knowledge prevent me from being honest, for two reasons:
1. If I feel it’s reportable, I’ll share it because I KNOW I need additional support.
2. If I don’t know it’s reportable, then it’s EVIDENCE that I need additional support.

The reality is that I ALWAYS need additional support. Especially with this whole bipolar/ptsd thing happening in my brain.

This past weekend I learned that there are two different kinds of bipolar mania: euphoric and dysphoric. I learned about the dysphoric during a breakout session at this past weekend’s 3rd Annual Regional Shattering Stigma with Stories: Shameless day conference. In the same breakout session I learned that the supplemental medication I was recently prescribed to address the persistent depression is one of the many that can trigger mania in the bipolar brain. I should have known something was up, when I started feeling “up” almost as soon as I started taking the med. But, it felt so good to actually feel good after over four months of unrelenting depression.

The question is do I keep on this medication regimen for a while to see if it’s at a managable level that I can use constructively or do I assume that it’s all bad, no matter the degree, and go off the med, back into depression? I don’t think it really is a choice. I have cognizance and awareness, based on the information about what this version of mania looks like and how it was triggered. As long as I’m honest with my therapist and my prescriber, as well as myself, I think it’s doable.

Of course that could be the mania talking.

It’s a terrible thing to not be able to trust your brain.

How about a little empathy and compassion for our new FLOTUS?

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Melania. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know her name or her relationship to our new POTUS until his campaign and new presidency. I am certainly NOT a supporter of the man who is now our 45th President.

I made the decision to share a link on Facebook to, what turned out to be, a controversial article regarding Melania Trump. The article contained few facts, was based on reported hearsay, and definitely slanted to garner sympathy for Melania. Apparently, the content is not to be trusted as factual or believable, since it is an article from the New York Post.

Typically, many of the things that I share hardly generate much response, other than by a select few of my actual friends who intentionally seek out what I’ve posted. This particular article, and my shared response to it, garnered some intensely negative reactions, as well as a couple of sympathetic ones. While I genuinely appreciated the sympathetic ones, it was the negative ones which, understandably, caught my attention and pushed my internal buttons. These comments triggered something in me which feels like a form of defensiveness, both on Melania’s behalf and my own.

She is not fit to be a. First Lady

My issues are with the glaring hypocrisy from the right. They called Michelle Obama things like “an ape in heels” and criticized her for showing her arms, but accept with open arms a woman who was a sex worker and compare her to Jackie O. They cheer on the immigration ban, while celebrating a woman who was an undocumented immigrant working in the US. My issues aren’t with her, they’re with the people who are celebrating her as some goddess while ignoring their own hypocrisy.

Do people really believe everything they read? Especially in The New York Post? . . . Fact check people.

I’ll address the last comment, first. Guilty as charged. I often forget to fact check articles I share . . . which is one reason I’ve really stopped sharing most articles. I’ve stopped reading most of them, too. I honestly don’t know which news outlet is trustworthy or not. Based on my limited college education, I’m aware that almost all reporting is slanted, whether intentionally or not.

As human beings, we are truly incapable of being completely objective and without idealogical motivation in everything we do. That’s just a simple fact of life. With the internet and the overwhelming influence of social media in our post-millenial lives, this is more true than ever before. I suspect that very little of what is reported as soon as the information is available has been completely fact checked by those who report it or express their opinions about what the information means. Ours is a generation both more sophisticated and naive than any before, in my opinion.

Now, onto what this is really about for me, going deeper than the sound bite and looking for the humanity we all share. In my case, I’m going to openly admit that the filters which I read the article through are deeply personal and rooted in my own history, as well as the knowledge I have acquired regarding mental health, domestic violence, and women’s roles in our society and others. What follows is merely my personal conjecture and hypothesis.

First, let’s examine the publicly displayed character and attitudes of Melania’s husband. He has shown himself to be a person who does what he wants without the consent or feedback of women. He has displayed distinctly misogynstic views and has been proven guilty of demeaning, dismissive, and verbally abusive behavior toward women. He has shown himself to be someone who revels in his personal power and is not hesitant to use that power to achieve his own desires and agendas. If he has zero qualms about presenting this as his public character and identity, is it beyond the realm of probability that he exercises these same traits and characteristics in his private life?

Now, let’s briefly look at what we know of Melania’s personal history. Her country of origin, Slovenia, was under communist Yugoslavian rule until 1991. Melania was born in 1970. She came to the US as a model in 1996. Based on what little I know of Eastern European societal norms, it is likely that she grew up in a supremely male-dominated society, where women probably had little power and influence. At 16, she began a modeling career. The modeling industry, like the movie and music industries, has a well-known history of being both male-dominated and exploitative of the “talent.”

My conjecture is that Melania was preconditioned to have a more submissive role in relationship to men who have positions of authority and power. It has been documented that, initially, she refused to be in relationship to Donald Trump. It was six years before they were engaged to be married. Is it possible that a man of his wealth, power, and position pursued her, unrelentingly, until she succumbed to the pressure of being aged out of her industry, partially due to his influence? Is it conceivable that he would use his role as her husband and his influence in our society, based on his celebrity, wealth, and power to dominate her in the context of their marriage?

Sexual dominance, financial control, isolation, and psychological manipulation are often tools used to perpetuate control over those experiencing domestic violence. Is it too far from the realm of possiblity to consider that this may be a factor in Melania’s life?

Regarding her history as a sex-worker and illegal immigrant. The actual facts we know to be true are that, in her job as a model, she posed nude for GQ. How many models are used in publications and advertisements as sexual objects? As a model, she was likely employed through agencies and represented by agents who had significant control and say over which jobs she took. While she was guilty of working illegally under a B1/B2 visa, that designation is for both those on temporary business and those who are tourists. As a model in our country on that type of visa, it is possible that those who arranged for her visa and business in our country misled her and that she believed that the work she did was permissible?

In terms of how she is viewed and spoken of by Trump supporters, is she personally responsible and accountable for their vociferous villification of Michelle Obama, their iconization of her, and their evident hypocrisy between those two stances? Is it fair to criticize her for either their behaviors or her husband’s? Is it acceptable to shame her, for any of these reasons? Is it compassionate or kind to publicly assasinate her character based on how we feel about her husband?  Do any of us have the right to pass judgment on her for our idealogical mores and values which she has not met?

We had eight years with Michelle Obama as our FLOTUS. She is a strong, powerful, independent woman in a mutually supportive personal and political relationship with her husband. She exercised her power and influence in visibly constructive and ethical ways. A significant number of us dearly miss her and her husband. Melania is not Michelle. Donald is not Obama. I don’t see how we can justifiably find fault with her for not being Michelle, when it is clear that she is a completely different person, with a completely different history, in a completly different relationship with her husband.

Sometimes parenting sucks

Parenting is an important job. It’s one of life’s double edged swords of beauty and pain, like a thorny rose. It’s a privilege and it’s precarious. It’s exhausting and life giving. The rewards of watching your child(ren) grow into their potential and seeing them shine with happiness are tempered with the tantrums of toddlerhood and teenage rebellion. The warmth and comfort of the loving hug and tender kiss on the cheek of a sleepy child is what takes the sting of being told, “You’re ruining my life!” Parenting is not for the weak of heart. It strengthens those who may start out weak and weakens those who begin with the belief in their own power.

My oldest is 30. My youngest is 8. I started taking care of my infant cousin when I was 14-15. My 23 year old is now parenting two of her own. My grandchildren will soon be 3 and 2. I’ve been doing this parenting thing a very long time . . . and still feel like I’m walking on sinking sand most of the time.

Even more so with my youngest.

When I was young, I had this hope and belief that I could figure it out quickly and be the best mom in the world. I had come from such a dysfunctional family and I just KNEW that anything I did would be so much better than how I had been raised. I had the overcertainty, overconfidence, and false sense of invincibility of youth to prop up my belief that I was a good parent.

Of course, hindsight has taught me that I was delusional and that my eldest was not the child blessed with the best parent. He and his sister saw more than their fair share of dysfunction and heartache throughout their lives with me as their mother. I’ve moved beyond the mommy guilt and shame from those years and realizing the pain I caused them. I’ve worked hard on my healing, recovery, and growth. I’ve worked hard to make amends, to repair and restore my relationships with them, so I can have a place in their lives now.

By the time their sister was born, when I was 39, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of my faults and failures. I was living the life of a castaway on a tempest tossed sea of depression, hopelessness, fear, resentment, and bitterness. I was in no way, shape, or form under the illusion that I was a fit parent. However, I was determined to do better by her than I’d been able to do by her siblings. I’ve sought every opportunity for her to have access to supportive services to fill in my gaps. I’ve taken as many parenting classes as I was able to. I’ve done what I could to make healthier, more stabilizing choices.

I didn’t plan on getting diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Hypothyroidism, and Diabetes II. I didn’t plan on her getting identified with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. I didn’t plan on the relationship with her father continuing to deteriorate and to increase in toxicity to the point we couldn’t live together anymore. I didn’t plan on us figuring out that he’s probably on the autism spectrum, undiagnosed and untreated, all 51 years of his life. I didn’t plan on my mental and physical health disorders combining to keep me from working or holding down a job. I didn’t plan on feeling or being so broken that some days it’s all I can do to not go back to bed once she’s on the bus to her school.

I certainly had no idea that I would need to plan on being hit and kicked, called names, screamed and screeched at until my eardrums almost burst, and told on a daily basis that she wished she’d had a different mom.

I don’t want to be the mom who’s too exhausted and hurting to play with her child. I don’t want to be the mom who’s so overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings from PTSD that when her child has meltdowns, she melts down too. I don’t want to be the mom who has to restrain herself from lashing out when her child lashes out at her. I don’t want to be this mom.

My little girl is hurting right now. She’s hurting because people who she formed attachments to, have disappeard from her life. All children experience pain and difficulty when important people are no longer around. All children act out in whatever ways they need to in order to cope with the big feelings of grief, bewilderment, abandonment, anger, and whatever other feeling they may have. Her way of coping is all of the same things that other kids do . . . amplified on an exponetial level.

After the hitting, kicking, screaming, name calling, and lashing out have happened, at the end of each day, her sweet little girl voice tells me she loves me, tells me she’s sorry for saying and doing mean things, and tells me she wants me to hold her.

A better mom might say that hearing her tell me those things makes all the rest of it disappear and seem worth it. Well, I’m not that mom. As much as I love my little girl and as much as my heart breaks for her struggles and to know the challenges she faces, hearing those sweet declarations of her love for me, just don’t make me feel better about having been hit, kicked, screamed at, and called a bitch less than an hour or two before. At least not all the time and not recently.

These are the times when I think that parenting sucks . . . and then feel guilty for feeling that way because I love her so much, my heart aches. How can it possibly be okay to feel that way about this child, any child, my child?

PTSD: Emotional Flashbacks

I met with my daughter’s newest Developmental Disabilities Service Coordinator yesterday. She’s not someone just collecting a government paycheck. She really cares. She spent a lot of time giving my attention-seeking child the attention she needed. She spent even more time listening to my story. I’m really glad she’s our new liason to accessing the services my daughter needs.

That being said, the thing that always happens whenever I’m talking to someone who shows caring interest in me, my life, and my circumstances, happened. I broke down and started crying. I’d just been discussing the wish list for the things in my daughter’s room. A list that includes a bed of her own. A bed.

Yes, my eight year old child doesn’t have a bed of her own. Not that she would use it. She’s co-slept since infancy. Her autism and sensory issues have made it easier to just let her continue to share the bed with me. However, having a real bed of her own has never actually been an option. A couple of very used, hand-me-over, hand-me-down twin bunk mattresses, stacked on top of each other in a falling apart, hand-me-down, hand-me-over slatted bedframe that the slats kept falling out of doesn’t really count in my book.

When I started crying, the woman sat forward and cocked her head to the side, with a look of confused concern on her face. “What…?”

“I just want to be able to provide for my child.”

“You ARE providing for her.”

“I mean, on my own, not having to rely on outside assistance.”

I went on to talk about the fact that I’m 47, living in section 8 housing, unemployed and not looking because I mentally and physically can’t hold down a job. Not only can I not hold a job, I also won’t ever be in a position to finish my education and get the degrees I need to do the kind of work I’m really interested in and have the intellectual and experiential qualifications for.

Basically, I was in tears, again, because I was having an emotional flashback. Apparently, I’ve been in an emotional flashback cycle ever since DJT was elected POTUS . . . probably before.

All the things about me and the conditions of my current life:
– Physical health: obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism = Metabolic Syndrome
– Mental health: Bipolar Disorder, Depression, PTSD
– Financial health: government subsidized housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka Food Stamps, financially dependent on the ex, who covers basic expenses and our child’s needs
– Relational/Social health: almost no face-to-face relationships with friends and family that aren’t within the context of weekly worship and teaching services
– Basic identity: female, half-Mexican, middle-aged, single-mother, former teen mom

Plus all the things in my history:
– Sexual abuse/incest
– Unstable home/constant moving. For example, I attended three different schools in two different states, in between living in three different states when I was 11 years old.
– Undiagnosed, mentally ill mother who committed suicide when I was 12
– Four years living with/”raised” by substance affected family in toxic relationships
– Emotional and mental abuse/trauma from 16-19 by my first child’s father
– 18+ years in toxic, co-dependent relationship with a man who is psycho-socially impaired, with impulse control, and anger issues because, as it turns out, he has the same autism spectrum disorder my daughter has, but has never been diagnosed or treated.

All of these things, plus the daily emotional and physical battles which go hand in hand with parenting, amplified with parenting a child on the autism spectrum, have combined to trigger a self-perpetuating cycle of depression and dissotiation for more than three months.

The tears were coming from a place of intense shame, hopelessness, and self-loathing. They were coming from deep and profound grief from all the losses in my life that I couldn’t feel because of the dissociative coping that began in early childhood. They were coming from an overwhelming sense of lonliness and isolation. They were coming from a sense of helplessness and powerlessness.

I know that I am a strong, intelligent, compassionate, capable, and loving woman, mother, grandmother, and friend. I know that my size, my physical or mental health, my past, or my present circumstances don’t define me and aren’t my identity. I know that I am loved and that I have a father, protector, and provider in the God of the Universe. I know all of these things.

But, knowledge doesn’t erase what’s in the heart and it doesn’t override the altered neurobiology that is my brain on PTSD.

So, when I’m face to face with someone who cares and is interested in who I am, how I’m doing, and what I’m experiencing, I cry.

Learning to fall

Thanks to Facebook, I learned today that a man I barely used to know, from our shared time in the same faith community, had died 12 days ago. 

As I looked at the picture of his happy, smiling face, on the Memorial program (Is that the right term?  Somehow it seems…lacking for something so important), I tried to remember him as a person, and I drew an emotional blank. Of course I knew his name, the mutual people we knew and the relational connections. Other than that, there was this kind of vacuum of shocked surprise and the impersonal thought of, “that’s too bad,” and “how sad for the ones who actually knew and loved him.”

At which point, I realized how numb and dissociated I’ve become…again.

I decided that I wanted to care about him, the way I think I might’ve desired when our oldest daughters loved being around each other…15 years ago. A lifetime ago, just yesterday.

Instead of intruding on the personal grief of his dear friend who’d shared the picture, because I didn’t want my sudden interest in who this man had been and why, at just a year older than me, he had died, to be experienced by his loved ones as morbid curiosity, I did a Safari search.

(Wow. What a long, convoluted sentence that was.)

I found the most courageous and personally inspiring thing I’ve experienced in such a long time; his blog.

ALS – my “Fast Pass ticket to the finish.” link here.

I clicked my way through to his first entry and read through the first few entries. As his story unfolded, I met a man of faith, courage, and peace. His writing was as humorous and ironic as it was real and raw. 

Reading through the entries took maybe a minute or two. They were brief, but so full of his character and personality. I could almost hear his amused and upbeat voice describing what must’ve been a terrifying and painful period of time: how he found out that he’d been given a death sentence by his body: Lou Gherig’s Disease.

The seventh entry was only a YouTube video: Lowen & Navarro, “Learning To Fall.”

I cried. 

For this moment, I was able to rise above the malaise of the depression, the PTSD, the anxiety, and the apathy of hopelessness, which are my day to day realities, and FEEL. Feel inspired. Feel connected. Feel the courage, strength, hope, love, and faith of people who have been able to live fully in the face of death.

Miraculously, the internal voices which once would’ve criticized me for being a self-pitying sad sack for no good reason, were quiet. In this moment, I was given a gift of peace and hope. The unwritten note with this gift tells me that I can borrow some of this courage, strength, hope, and peace when I don’t have any of my own.

Thank you, Doug. It’s nice to meet you. My world is a better place because of you, the man I never knew.

Panic Attacks: A Primer For The Well-Meaning Person

I wish all well-meaning people could understand that having an anxiety disorder, and the panic attacks that come with it, doesn’t mean we don’t know or understand that we have good things and good people in our lives.

Those of us who experience panic attacks don’t choose to have them. They aren’t a matter of having the wrong perspective or being unappreciative or ungrateful for what we have.

There are “triggers.” A scent, a phrase, someone who resembles someone else, a place, a sound/noise, a voice, a song, a shadow, anything really, can bypass the thinking, rational parts of our brains and burrow directly into the sensory memories, our involuntary nervous system, which flow through our bodies. Our bodies hold the memories that our brains tuck away and bury.

It’s instantaneous. It’s involuntary. It happens in a microsecond.

We can learn techniques and skills. We can create and hold onto touchstones that can help us get present again. We can work with a therapist to help us identify and process the experiences and memories that the triggers are connected to.

However, knowing the good things doesn’t stop the anxiety and panic attacks. Having someone tell us to remember the good things doesn’t make the attack stop or help us feel better . . . however much it makes the one saying it feel better for having said it.

After the attack, we don’t feel better. We feel drained and exhausted. We may feel frustrated that we “let” it happen again or feel guilty because it affected someone we care about. We may feel broken and unfixable because it never seems to stop happening, no matter how long we have gone since the last one.

The next time you want to comfort or help someone who’s experieced or is experiencing a panic attack, instead of telling us what there is to be grateful for or all the things we should remember, don’t.

Don’t try to hug or touch us. Ask if we want to be hugged or touched before you do it. Consent isn’t just for sex. Uninvited touch might be the trigger.

Tell us you support us, even if you don’t know what we’re going through. Let us know that you recognize how hard it is and know that there’s nothing bad or wrong that we experienced another one. Sit in silence with us.

Most of all, don’t get and act offended if we don’t respond, willingly receive what you offer, or react in a happy, grateful way. Taking care of our feelings is difficult enough. We can’t be expected to take care of yours.

We know you mean well and that your intentions are good. Let that be enough.