Mental Health Awareness Month

Today is Friday, not Thursday., when I usually update, because I have been living in a fog all week, trying to adapt to my new schedule.  The day got away from me yesterday, and almost did today, as well.  I have a few moments now, though, so here we are.

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  Since we are smack dab in the middle of it, I thought I would take this time to discuss my own personal journey with mental health…but then the illness piece kicked in and blanked out my brain. 

See, I first came down with depression when I was about 9 years old.  Anxiety shortly followed, then trichotillomania, further manifesting into some vicious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I went untreated until I was eighteen.  Throw a pile of PTSD on that, and you have yourself a whopping case of mental illness.

Since my adolescence, I have also had diabetes.  But I tell you what, I have yet to have someone tell me to “get over” being diabetic, or that if I “think positive,” or “try yoga,” or “get some more sleep,” then my Hemoglobin A1C will go down.  Yet all these things have fallen from the mouths of those who were trying to “help” me with my mental health.  It’s just further proof of the stigma.

So many people hide their mental illness because they are afraid of what others will think of it, and I want you to know that anyone who doesn’t treat your mental health on the same playing field as your physical health is an idiot.  Yes, I can absolutely die from diabetes.  And yes, I can absolutely die from depression, as well.

Every year I walk in the Out of the Darkness walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I do this so I don’t die, guys.  I do this so that every year I can celebrate the fact that I made it ANOTHER YEAR.  It’s not unlike other walks, where you have supporters, those who have lost loved ones, and those who are still fighting.  I am one of those people still fighting, and I’m always going to be, because Major Depressive Disorder is a bitch.

People are a lot more open today then they were 20 years ago when I first started therapy.  At least this much is true, but still I feel that we as a society judge mental illness far more harshly than physical illnesses.  It’s almost like we are blamed for it, as if we have done something to deserve it, or we are seen as “less-than.”  You’ll notice that no one ever feels that way about a cancer patient.  No one says they must’ve brought that cancer on themselves, or it’s in their power to control that cancer.  Listen, if I knew how to control my serotonin levels on my own with some superpower, don’t you think I’d be doing it?

I’ve been depressed this week, because I haven’t been very active since surgery and also, it’s been a little lonely without Mark around…our schedule is still not meshing.  I am, of course, looking for my silver linings, which come in the form of the ability to start hiking again next week with Kevin, and…drumroll…SAHAR IS HERE!!  My nearest and dearest drove up from Ohio to see me and I am thrilled.  In fact, I’m going to wrap this up now because she is on her way over.  But my point here is that despite being depressed, I am finding things to look forward to, thus making myself happier.  It’s one of the many items in the emotional toolbox that I have been constructing for the past 20 years.

Also, break a stigma!  Don’t let anyone tell you you’re lesser because you have a mental illness!  You are a strong and special warrior and you should be treated as such!

Collector’s Edition

When I was a small child, I collected rocks.  I liked all rocks, but ones with pretty colors and shapes were my favorite, and would immediately end up in my pocket to come home to the tin can I kept them in.  I would lay them out on the floor and count and sort them, by color, by size, by type…I liked learning about different rocks.  When we went on vacations or day trips, I would buy precious rocks from stores as souvenirs.  I know I had my collection for a very long time, well into my 20s, but I have no idea now what happened to it…must’ve been lost in a move.

In middle school, I started collecting stickers.  I had a blue and purple photo album that I would stick them in.  I would then spend an hour counting them, and double checking, to see how many I had: which is a big fat OCD red flag.  I remember one in particular that was a bag of Doritos and a scratch-and-sniff, so it smelled like nacho cheese.  I don’t know what happened to them, either.

In high school, I collected cows.  Of course, not actual cows, but figurines and such.  Things with cows on them.  I liked cows-I thought of them as big dogs and they are my favorite farm animal.   People would buy me cow stuff as gifts.  When I went to Girl Scout camp, my mother made me a little cubby out of a crate, and covered it in cow print fabric.  I don’t know how many cows I had, and I am sure I counted them, but over the years many things broke or got lost, and now I have no cows, except a cow kitchen timer I got from my friend Chelsea and the cow-shaped creamer I got for Christmas from…mom?

In my 20s, I collected nothing but bad decisions.  Ha, not really.  Purses-I was big on purses, particularly Kate Spade’s. I couldn’t afford the real thing though, so I had several knockoffs.  One day I gave them away to my friend’s daughter.  I kind of wish I kept one, though, now that she is gone.  Even if it was a knockoff.  (I do have a genuine wallet, though.  That’s gonna stay with me forever.)

In my 30s I got married, and I got this curio cabinet, and had nothing to put in it.  Until one day, I received a wedding gift from my best friend from elementary school. This chick sent me all the crystal in Ireland!  A butter dish, a creamer dish, a sugar bowl, and two sets of glasses-all Irish crystal.  And, better to me than all of that, a Belleek platter.

My mother loves Belleek.  We don’t have a whole lot in common when it comes to style, but we definitely agree on this beautiful Irish china with tiny shamrocks on it.  After I got the platter, she got me a Belleek St. Brigid’s cross ornament for Christmas.  It hangs prominently on the tree every year.  Its only two pieces, but this is no rocks or stickers, mind you.  Can’t just find these for under a buck at the corner store, or under your feet on the way to school.  This is more of a lifetime collection for me, something I intend to add to a little through the years.

On the cheaper side of things, though, I have started collecting Rae Dunn pieces.  She does pottery that I like.  I never really cared about things like that, but one day Mark bought me a mug that said “Feminist” on it, by her, and I loved it.  I loved how simple it was; how imperfect it was.  I only have a few pieces, but at least with this collection I can justify the cost because pretty much everything has a purpose.  My favorite piece I have is below, my boss lady nameplate.  Boss Lady became my nickname when I went on the cruise with my sister, and since I started publishing, I have taken strength from that title.  Also pictured are my newest additions, and let me tell ya, that little honey pot might actually be beating out boss lady for favorite piece now.

Anyway.

It occurred to me the other day that I have always been a collector of things, and if I had the time and money I would collect A LOT more things.  I watch shows like American Pickers and think “now those people have the right idea.”  And yes, I am referring both to the pickers AND the hoarders.

So, I gotta watch myself so I don’t go picking up every rock I see.

It also occurred to me that collecting was a total and terrible sign of OCD for me.  Counting is and was my biggest obstacle with my disorder-I count everything.  Steps, especially, and I even got myself a Fitbit solely so that when I started counting my head, I can tell myself that I don’t have to because my watch is taking care of it.  It works, for a while.  But every time, eventually, I start counting again.  It is the one lingering symptom of my OCD that no pill can seem to fix.

However, it brings me joy.  I mean, I woke this morning and saw that little honey pot and thought “gee, that’s adorable” and it brought a smile to my face.  So, yeah, I’m going to collect things by the artist I like and let them bring me a little happiness.  And on particularly special occasions, I might even add to my Belleek collection. 

Sometimes, when we are out fishing, I will find a particularly cool rock.  I will pick it up and put it in my pocket.  Often, it disappears, but sometimes I reach into that pocket a few days later, and feel the little stone in my hand, and smile.

Also, some stickers lol.

Hibernation

Hi!

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been out for a week and a half.  Usually when I miss a day in my blog it’s because I am in the hospital, but this was not the case this week.  I was home, and my stomach was calm.  My brain was not.  It’s still not great.  It’s kind of like when you have the flu, and you start to feel a little better each day.  I’m on day three of feeling a little bit better. 

I was kicking myself this time last week, mad that I hadn’t updated the previous Monday and had nothing to write about then.  I gave myself that Monday “off,” because I felt pretty down, and I wanted to take some time for myself.  So I watched some movies and made soup for lunch and snuggled with my blanket on the couch.  I thought I would feel better Tuesday.  I didn’t.

So last Thursday, I came back to the blog, feeling even lower, because it had been four days and I hadn’t written A THING.  Not my blog, not my WIP, not a poem.  Not so much as a sentence.

I felt slightly better while the kids were here this past weekend, but that all fell apart again Monday morning.  I felt worse than I had the previous Monday.  Blogging was out of the question.

So for the past week and a half, I have pretty much been hibernating in my living room, watching Pretty Little Liars and eating cereal.

I don’t know what my problem was.  It felt almost like I wasn’t taking my meds, even though I was.  And it left as quickly as it came, too.  I told my therapist and she told me not to worry about it unless it happens again, so I won’t.  But I always try to solve the little puzzles and figure out why my brain does what it does, so I tried to solve this mystery.  The best I can come up with is stress.  I handle stress so poorly…it just builds up and then drowns me.  I have been very stressed the past few weeks, and it is compounded stress; months of worries toppling down on me.  I wasn’t taking care of my stress levels like I’m supposed to, and I think it caused me to spiral a little.

After a week or so of self-care, I feel better.  I feel normal.  Maybe even positive, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  What I need to remember is to take the time for self-care regularly, and not have my stress get so bad that I implode.

Anyway, I’m here and I’m alive and well.  I still haven’t gotten to my WIP, but I just updated my blog, so that’s something.

The Love Remains

I’ve only really personally known one person that killed themselves.

(That’s a harsh way to start a post, huh?)

I’m not going to share his name, because we were only friends for a short time and because of that I somehow feel that his death is not really mine to mourn.  Still, when I logged onto Facebook one day and saw all our mutuals posting tributes on his wall, I cried.  I thought, as I’m sure everyone did, that if he had just reached out…maybe I could have done something.  But we weren’t close.  We worked together for a while, and I was his Secret Santa one year.  Hung out a couple times.  What could I have possibly done, except point him to a suicide hotline?  But maybe that would have been enough.  Who knows? 

(That was, completely coincidentally, the year I started doing the AFSP Out of Darkness Walk.  They read a list of names, and his was on it…I felt my heart drop to my shoe.) 

Last summer, I saw a guy in a crowd that looked like him.  For a second, I thought it was a ghost, that’s how close the resemblance was.  I remembered how I felt when he died…that I lost someone I once called “friend,” and felt powerless.  I don’t feel as powerless now.  I do the walk every year and raise funds to save lives, lives like his.  Lives like mine. 

That helps.

Anyway, after I saw this ghost it got me thinking of people in my life that I have lost contact with.  It’s a lot.  Like…a hell of a lot.  And it is all depression’s fault.  It went and convinced me these people didn’t really care about me in the way I cared about them and kept me from reaching out to maintain friendships that were important to me.  I thought to myself, that if one of these people committed suicide, I would be heartbroken.  I wanted people to know that despite my mental health keeping me from being present, the people I love will always be with me, and can always call on me when they need to.  So, I started sending messages.  About one a month, to people I loved and missed.  When I would see a meme or something that reminded me of someone, instead of just thinking “Gee, I miss so-and-so,” I would send it to them with a message. 

And so, I talked to my college buddies.  I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for three years.  I reconnected with one of my besties from high school.  At Christmas, I sent messages to people I did Xmas shows with when I was in my teens.  I just so happened to message my middle school best friend the night before she got engaged.  Yesterday, I messaged a friend I haven’t seen in at least a decade AND my former therapist.  My point is that I tried to reach out, and good things came of it.

And…

I hope these people know.  I hope all the people I have ever met in my life know…that I am here.  If I loved you before, I have not stopped.  I wrote a play once, and the premise was that love, in all its forms, does not dissipate.  Take a relationship…you may break up, it may be awful, but you loved them once, and that love lives on in your subconscious whether you acknowledge it or not.  Or, someone you’ve had a falling out with…for instance, there is a woman that I’m pretty sure doesn’t like me.  And that’s fine.  She doesn’t have to.  We had a falling out many years ago, and I personally don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.  Again, that’s fine, it’s her prerogative.  Still, if she called me in a panic, I’d summon the part of me that used to be friends with her and run to her aid.  It’s just the kind of person I am, and why I believe that the love remains.

I do not give up on people.  It may seem that way at times, because I fall into depressive episodes that can last anywhere from an hour to five years.  I hate losing my people, be it to distance, time, or circumstance.  I will always, always be here.  Do not hesitate.  I don’t want to hear them read your name at the suicide walk, guys.

And also…maybe I just miss you.

My point is to reconnect.  To try to do something to maintain the relationships that mattered to you, even though the world seems to have gotten in the way.  And if you’re in a really dark place, all the more reason to reach out.  And if you need me, I’m here.

Good Days and Bad Days

Yesterday, I was on the phone with my therapist and she was commending me on how well I deal with my illness.  Every time I’m in the ER, she gets an email, so she has been worried about me these past few weeks.  I told her that the way I see it, I have good days and bad days.  And because I have so many bad days, I strive to make those good days into very good days, which is helping fight my depression in turn.  She was quite proud of this, and told me I was doing great work with my coping skills.

Afterwards, I hung out with Bernie, then Kevin showed up and we made brownies and watched drone footage of abandoned asylums.  After Mark got home, I made pizza and we hung out for a while and watched TV.  I took a nice long shower and went to sleep.  It was a good day.  Maybe even a very good one.

Today I woke up with a stomachache and immediately went full panic attack.  This caused me to throw up, which caused me to panic more.  It’s a vicious cycle.  I took my Xanax and my Zofran and wrapped up in my blanket and begged God for just one more good day.

I fell asleep sitting on the couch, and when I woke up again, I still felt crappy, but I wasn’t vomiting.  I took Mark to work.  I took a drive to the reservation.  I drank a cup of coffee, and when that didn’t come back up, I thanked God for one more good day.

Very good day has yet to be seen.  I still feel a little under the weather, and will likely just stick around the house and do some writing.  Still, a very good day is possible…I will likely work on my outline for NaNo, and maybe my final proof for my chapbook will arrive so I can look that over.  I can send out a few submissions, or if inspiration strikes, write a new poem.

I can open the door to my office, finally, blessedly, and let the sunshine in.  I can play my music as loud as I want because my downstairs neighbors are out for the day.  I can light my new candle, and maybe watch something on tv if I get bored.

Every day that I can do these simple things is a win.  So many days of my life are spent in a hospital, or recovering in my bed.  Sometimes it feels like those bad days outnumber the good ones, and that is, at times, unbearable.  But I don’t have a choice, see.  If I’m going to quit something, I have to be pushed to my absolute limit…but there is no limit on your life.  It can go anywhere, so you can’t quit, because what if something great is around the next corner?  And I will tell you, oh so many times in my life, there has been a great thing waiting. 

It’s the first really nice day here in Buffalo.  This Saturday is supposed to be gorgeous, and part of my plan for today is choosing a hiking spot for me and Hubs to hit up this weekend.  I am sitting in my office pecking out this blog, but I am distracted, because I want to be outside.  I think I will clean up the porch and maybe pull a few weeds.  Those are the kind of chores that make me happy, so I will do them as one of those coping mechanisms that my therapist appreciates so much.  The little tasks I give myself keep the depression at bay, and make my day feel worthwhile.  I appreciate each good day, and I strive to make them all into very good days, so I try to accomplish as much as I can, write as much as I can, and love as much as I can.

Someday, all I will have are good days.

That will be the best day of them all.

Dancing in the Dark

Last night, as I was dancing with depression, she said that I had no blog topic for today and that I should just take the day off and stay in bed.  She said a lot of things yesterday, and they all sounded pretty good.  By the end, I found myself huddled under a blanket doing worst-case-scenarios and having a literal screaming match in my head between Sane Brain and Crazy Brain.  After about an hour or so, I took my sleeping pills.  Sane Brain was getting quieter, and tired.  Crazy Brain was raring to go, and needed medical intervention.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.  I sat down to write, and briefly considered ignoring last night’s darkness, until I realized that it is Mental Health Month.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about breaking the stigma of mental health, using one of my diagnoses as a jumping off point each week.  I received some lovely feedback from family and friends.  I hope I broke a couple of stigmas for someone.  One can dream.

Anyway, it’s two years later and I write about my mental health all the time, and not just in my blog anymore.  I have had three articles published at Mental Health Crisis Angels, which is a peer support group, mental health blog, and all-around stigma bashing organization.  The first was about my struggles with Severe Anxiety Disorder.  The second, about tips to deal with anxieties, big and small.  And the last was about Trichotillomania, which I developed when I was eleven. 

And then there is my chapbook.  The whole thing is about chronic illness and, by default, depression.  Now, I have had symptoms of depression since I was around 8 years old, but it didn’t go full-blown until I was sixteen and diagnosed with diabetes, which is where my chapbook begins.  Some of the poems in it are new.  Some I wrote 15-20 years ago.  All of them are about battling the depression caused by illness and trauma. 

Then my blog, where I write about mental health on a personal basis.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared to share my experiences because of what other people would think of me.  I’ve had people call me a liar.  I’ve had people tell me I’m making up symptoms.  I’ve lost friends because I’m “too complicated.”  I’ve had to regain the trust of people I love.  I’ve worried about employers not wanting to hire me.  It seemed for a while that telling people about my illness made me lose them, so why share?

But then one day, about fifteen years ago, I posted something about Trichotillomania.  Just a logo or something from the TLC Learning Center, which was the only resource for TTM at the time.  A friend emailed me: she saw the logo, and decided to take the leap and tell me that she, too, had Trich.  I had known her for years, and had no clue.  She asked me not to tell anyone, as we had many mutual friends, and she was embarrassed.  I understood.  I, too, had been so ashamed of it, once.  However, it was that day that I realized we should not be ashamed-how much easier would my life have been, had I been able to confide in her?  How much less lonely would she have felt, knowing there was not only another person who was going though this, but someone who was already a friend?  Youth could have been a little different for us.  A little less lonely, at least.

Anyway, from that point on, I started sharing my experiences, opinions be damned.  I didn’t want to feel how I felt anymore.  I didn’t want to feel how my friend felt.  I wanted to stand up: for her, for myself, for everyone that was too scared. 

The stigma of mental health is, thankfully, changing rapidly.  Especially in our current climate, when people are getting whacked in the face with anxiety and depression on levels they have never known.  I still find solace in my professional-cynic status; I was anxious and depressed way before this whole shebang.  I will be when it’s over.  Right now, I’m kind of doing well because as I’ve said before, to me, the world has always been on fire.

So happy Mental Health Month to all of you.  It isn’t just those of us who live with mental illness that need to be celebrated and lifted up right now.  It’s all of us, because we are having a worldwide mental health crisis, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

Please please please, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy.

Plexiglas Panic

I mean, I was doing okay.  I was doing really good, all things considered.  Until last Friday when I went out.

First, I was in the hospital a few times last week, and saw the day to day changes they were making.  One day, there were suddenly tents outside.  Another, there was a fever checkpoint station and they gave me a mask to wear.  Then, there was tape on the floor and I had to stand six feet from the reception desk.  Then, one day, came the Plexiglas.

It was a huge barrier blocking reception.  Fine.  Ok.  Makes sense.  There was another one blocking triage.  Again, I get it, I guess, even though she was back and forth taking my temperature and blood pressure.  But when it really got bad was at the grocery store.

I have been going to the store without a problem…I have been obeying the tape on the floor telling me where to stand.  I wore a scarf last week to cover my face.  But Friday, I went a step further.  Mark got me some masks, because he is frankly terrified that I will get this thing, and had insisted I wear a mask whenever I am out.  Knowing he was probably right, I took a mask and a pair of latex gloves to the store.  The first problem was that it was hard to regulate my breathing with the mask.  The second problem was that it fogged up my glasses, making it impossible for me to see.  The third problem was that my brain was so focused on these two problems that the grocery list went out the window.

By the time I made it to the end I was gasping for air with a cart full of stuff I just grabbed and tossed in without thinking too much.  That’s when I saw it: Plexiglas.  One big slab of Plexiglas keeping the cashier safe.  From me.

It was a trigger, I guess.  Suddenly I was back in the hospital: I was sick, I was in pain.

As I paid, I was screaming in my head about how fast my heart was beating.  As I bagged my groceries, I started sweating.  I started getting paranoid that I would pass out, and someone would think I had the virus.  By the time I was loading the bags into the car, I was crying.  When I finally got in the car and shut the door, I started to scream.  I couldn’t stop.  I called Mark, screaming at him, needing him to help calm me down, but he thought I was angry or something and started screaming back.  After some confusion, he realized what was happening and tried to calm me down enough to the point of sobs, which was decidedly better than screaming.  Screaming in your car in a parking lot gets the cops called.  Sobbing only gets you weird looks. 

When the sobs subsided, and I was able to drive, I had to go to the pharmacy.  The store was empty, and I had given up on wearing the mask, so I was a little better, until I saw the Plexiglas at the counter.  It all started again.  I paid quickly and ran out the door and into the car.  Perhaps a cup of coffee would make me feel better?  Tim Hortons drive-thru is still open, so I headed over there and ordered my usual.  I pulled up to the window, where a blue gloved hand reached from below a newly installed Plexiglas shield to take my money.  I felt myself start to cry.  I held it together and got my coffee, and drove home, and collapsed in Mark’s arms, in tears.

I mean, I was doing okay.

My life hasn’t changed a whole lot:  I didn’t lose a job, my husband didn’t lose a job, I get to see my parents every day, and I run errands like I always did.  But I am missing things:  my people.   Friends, family, etc.  I am missing taking the kids places, like the playground especially.  I am missing going into a store for something other than groceries.  I am missing the hospital being a “safe” place. 

That last one is the root of all problems. 

I would walk into the hospital in the past and feel relief, before they gave me meds, before I even saw a doctor.  I would be relieved because I knew real relief was coming, and I was safe.  Any terrible things I was imagining, I was now protected from by the fortress of Mercy Hospital and the warrior-staff therein.  But now, I sense their fear, and it scares me in turn.  That’s what the Plexiglas is, more than protection from the virus-protection from the fear of contraction.

I told Sahar about the Plexiglas: she thought it was nuts.  Then, two days later she sent me a photo of her grocery store in Kentucky that had just installed it. 

It’s been a week now, and I am no longer having panic attacks, but I was facing some roadblocks, mask-wise.  Yesterday, Gov. Cuomo said that we have to start wearing masks in public.  Panicked, I messaged my aunt Mel who recently posted a photo of a mask she made and asked for help.  In less than 24 hours, I had my very own Wonder Woman mask.  It’s a good fabric, it fits, doesn’t fog up my glasses, and I haven’t panicked yet.

I mean, I was doing okay.  And I will again.  We all will.

Poetry Readings and Global Pandemics

A phone conversation from last week, between me and my therapist:

Her: How are you doing with all this coronavirus stuff?

Me: Well, my grandfather just died.  So, it hasn’t been priority one.

Her: I’m so sorry to hear that.

Me: It’s fine. 

Her: How are you dealing with this and all the life changes with the virus at the same time?

Me: I’m fine.  (Inner Monologue: To me, the world has always been on fire.  It’s almost comforting that others have taken notice.)

There’s a meme I’ve seen a couple of times about how people with depression and anxiety are handling this pandemic a little better than expected because we’re used to feeling like the world is ending.  Sometimes I feel like I am watching as my “healthy” people’s brains spiral out of control with worst case scenarios.  There’s a sort of sick amusement in it, a dark laughter-maybe something you can only understand if you’ve been looking though the goggles of depression for a long time.  They’re worried, but for once, I am not.  What happens will happen.  I will take precautions and all that, of course, but if I get sick or someone I love gets sick, I will deal with that.  Because the world has always been on fire.

And yet….

And yet here I sit on a Friday morning, consumed with anxiety.

Yes, Friday, not Monday when I usually write, but today, because today I am doing something kind of scary.  This is generating anxiety, and it is interesting to me how something small can create such emotions but a worldwide pandemic is leaving me cool-headed.

I have written before about the monthly poetry reading I go to; at least I think I have.  A brief synopsis: it is at a bookstore near my house once a month, and I started going in October.  I was nervous to read, I am always nervous to read, but have been forcing myself to do so for a variety of reasons.  Anyway, due to social distancing, this month’s meeting will be taking place on Facebook live.  To which I initially thought: COOL! I can do this from the comfort of my own office??  No anxiety for me this month!

So, I decided to enter the poetry contest they were holding.  You had to take a line from poet Sophie Robinson’s “Art in America,” and use it as the first line of your new poem.  I chose “honestly, I am sick of helping Jesus count the days…”  I wrote about 30 lines.  I sent it off to the moderator.

Then she posts on the Facebook page saying that if we want, we can record our video for if we win the contest, and also for the open mic portion.  So, I do that.  I send it off.  Then, I go to the event page.

There were 400 people invited, and at least 40 going.  A quick scan of those attending found the editor of the poetry page of the Buffalo News.  I choked on my iced coffee.

There have never been more than maybe 15 people at these readings.  I was expecting 15 people, like 7 of which go monthly and whom I am comfortable sharing my stuff with.  But no.  When I panicked and told Sahar, she said she would watch, too.  So, I’m sure I will be texting her as we go tonight…it’s a distant moral support, but its still support. 

So here I am bugging out over something little.  And tomorrow, when I write the second half of this post in which I tell you how it went, I am sure I will not be anxious about it anymore.

Monday.  I didn’t write on Saturday as intended because I was in the ER, which was a whole story unto itself.  They are setting up tents outside, there is a fever checkpoint, and no one would get near me.  It was bizarre.  I also didn’t write on Sunday because I was recuperating and hanging with the kiddos.  So, here we are on Monday.

Halfway though the reading, Mark came into the room and asked to watch with me.  This is very much not his style, and as we sat listening to the featured reader, Meghann Boltz, I could tell he was simply trying to be interested for my sake.  However, when she finished and the moderator went on to announce the poetry contest winner, he held my hand and his breath as they announced that I won.  We both let out unexpected cheers, and he hugged me.  Then he made me play my video for him, and told me it was wonderful.

Since I won, my video was posted on the page and has received around 350 views.  This is mind-blowing to me, of course, as I was so worried about sharing with the same small group I usually do, but ended up sharing my poetry with a much larger audience.  I no longer feel the anxiety that plagued me on Friday.  Not because I won, and feel validated, but because I did the scary thing and lived to tell the tale.

I guess it is easier, somehow, for me to look at the big scary thing right now.  I have been looking for silver linings in all of this and have found so many.  I am able to wrap my head around such a huge and terrifying thing, because I am used to wrapping my head around huge and terrifying things on a daily basis (of course, I make them huge in my head.)  I am looking to reports out of China for hope, and I am finding little rays of it.  I am looking forward to the day when I run out of my house and embrace every person I see. 

In the meantime, I will do things like write poems and stories and blogs and lose myself in my words, because this is how I process life.  Each of us need to find a way to deal with what is happening, and the anxiety it is creating in our worlds.  Still, you must remember there is hope.  There are bright spots.  This will end.  We just have to take it one day at a time.  Or one poetry reading at a time, as the case may be.

The Trauma Letters

While I am always willing to discuss my mental health, simply because I hate the stigma surrounding it, I do not discuss my trauma.  Most people who have suffered such do not like to talk about it as it can be triggering for their PTSD, because all trauma leaves its mark.  It’s a scar that you have to live with. 

Here is the long list of people I discuss my trauma with: my therapist.

So, on Wednesday, we’re talking, and she tells me that I should write some letters.  As a writer, I am intrigued.  As a human, I think this is a little cliché.  Still, I listen to her suggestions.  She says that it can be soothing to get all the feelings out.  Then you can either send the letter or destroy it.  Apparently burning things is cathartic, too.

I went home and I realized I’ve done this before.  I pulled up the letters I have written, and I read them.  I realized that they are flawed, because they lack what she tells me is my hidden problem: rage.  I am angry, outrageously so, and I have never had an opportunity to express that anger.  I feel scammed out of an emotion.

When I was younger, I encountered a situation in which I was told my feelings were not valid.  I was told to shut that shit down ASAP, and it left a terrible emotional scar, making me feel like all my emotions were unacceptable.  I still feel the effects of that today, as I peck out this angry little letter and think to myself “but I’m being so mean…”  But maybe mean is necessary sometimes. 

The letters I wrote were all explanatory, and expressed both difficult emotions and those I feel comfortable with, but there was no anger, and there was no pain, and I can’t ignore those things.  So right now, I am trying to write my anger away, and I don’t know where that will lead.

Will I send my letters?  I don’t know.  I want to, really, but I probably won’t.  I will likely leave them to rot on my computer until I am dead, because confrontation isn’t my thing.  Do I wish I could send them?  Of course.  But I am ruled by fear and anxiety, as I always have been.  Maybe someday those forces will become less intrusive in my life, but that day is not today.  Today I will write my letter, and I am sure I will have some residual feelings throughout the afternoon, but I will tuck it away with the others because I still have trouble embracing my anger.  Eventually I will learn to fix it and start to heal, because that’s what therapy is for, right?

Of Grief and Friendship

Hubs asked me a question that knocked me on my butt the other day.  “What were you doing at 23?”  I had literally no idea.  I couldn’t come up with one single thing that happened in 2006.  He knew where he was: “jumping.”  Jobs, women, substances, etc.  My sister Bernie is 23 today, and I wonder if 13 years from now she too will wonder what the hell she was up to.  Probably not.  She has a nice healthy brain that hasn’t been controlled for years by anti-depressants.

There’s some time I have lost.  I can’t pinpoint much of my twenties, not just 23.  I also have no recollection of third grade, which occurred right after my grandmother died. It’s not like the drugs I was using were recreational, aside from some occasional marijuana, and I was never a big drinker, so really I think I have to blame that old cocktail of trauma and psych meds.  I asked my mother what I was doing in 2006.

She told me that’s the year my aunt Ka died, and then the floodgates opened.

I handle death very well and very poorly at the same time.  Poorly in that when it’s someone very close to me, I will block out a lot of the time surrounding their passing.  I honestly don’t remember most funerals I have been to.  I also hate going to wakes, as they cause instant panic attacks.  On the other hand, someone will pass away and I will grieve quickly, which is nice. I unfortunately do this by picturing them on a sunny island somewhere for an extended period of time. 

Ka has been in the Philippines for 13 years.

I vividly remember the night she died.  It was Christmas day, and I had cooked dinner for my family.  She was in the hospital and it would be the first year she wasn’t with us, but I was going to go see her after dinner.  My parents called and said they wouldn’t be home in time and to eat without them.  It was strange.  Then after dinner, as I was serving dessert, Dad called and said to come to the hospital right away.  When we got there and he told me she was unresponsive and unlikely to make it through the night, I ran to the bathroom and threw up Christmas dinner.

That night Jaime and Molly and I went out for milkshakes.  They had a vigil the following day at the convent, as Ka was a Sister of Mercy (a nun, in laymen’s terms.)  My friend Katy sat next to me and held my hand.  The next night there was a wake.  I remember many of my friends coming and that got me through it, but I had a big panic attack beforehand.  Afterwards my friend Tom took me out to a party.  The following day was the funeral, and I sobbed over her coffin, then ran crying from the church.  I remember Christina, my best friend from youth, coming and sitting with me in the reception area during the Mass.  I had other friends around me as well.

The point is that my friends are the ones who got me though that, who made it so I could let go to the best of my abilities and send Ka off to the Philippines of my mind.  I went back into my LiveJournal to see what I was doing in 2006, and one thing is prevalent: friendship.  I was spending a lot of time with a lot of amazing people.

That was the year my aunt Mary and I went to New Jersey to meet Kevin Smith.  That was a year of many parties and Jackdaw concerts with Katy, Rick, and Tom.  The year me and Kev got acupuncture.  Endless Wednesday night get-together with Jaime, Andy, Molly, Chelsea, Steve, and Will.  Mad Yellow Sun concerts with Nick and Doug.  The list goes on.  The point is that I was at a low point and didn’t even realize it, and these people were there for me though it all.

Sadly, life, she moves on.  My friends are now scattered to the winds.  Andy and Christina live on different continents.  Katy, Will, Nick, and Doug live in different states.  The friends that I still have here have careers and families and lives to live, just like me, so it’s very hard to keep in touch, and eventually we all move on.

I put a meme on Facebook a while back about missing the bonds I used to have with people.  From that meme, I got an inside joke from my buddy Dennis, a message from Christina with plans to see each other when she’s next on this side of the planet, a coffee date with Chelsea, and plans to meet up with Lissa and Joe, my friends from college. 

Sometimes you just need to say “Hey-I miss your face.”

This is a weird post, as we went from death to friendship.  But what really gets us though death?  Our friends.  Sometimes our family can’t be there for us because they are grieving too, but our friends pick up that slack.  I blocked 2006 because of death, but I reopened that door while reading about my friends.  You, my random reader, don’t know these people, so you’re unaware, but trust me when I tell you that I have been very lucky in the good friend’s department.  They had the power to heal what was hurting in me when I didn’t even realize I needed to be healed.

I have been making a conscious effort to keep up with the people I love for the past few months.  Between my mother’s injury and my father’s radiation, I have been holding the people that matter a little closer, thinking of them a little more often, and trying to reconnect.  So, if you’re reading this and you’re an old friend of mine, please know I love you, and I miss you, and I will always be grateful for your place in my life. 

Call me.  Seriously.  Whenever.