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Stone Hearted Queries

December 16th, 2009

Please allow me a moment to take you with me to see where I have been and in a way how it is that I am here in quite the way I am.

Journal Entry: April 30th, 2006-

What have I sacrificed and why have I done it?

Every day I sacrifice healing in trade for coping.  If I can just put off the tears for a few more minutes then I know I can make the bed, feed the children and laugh.  Ha ha, I am laughing, see.  If I sacrifice the coping, the day to day then I am trading for pain and sadness.  I am opening the door to such grief and heartache.  What if it doesn’y stop?  What if i drown in it all?  What if I work through everything only to discover what I fear the most is true?  What if it really is my fault?

My sacrifices are selfish although they appear to be about other people a lot of the time.  I watch my sister’s kids so she can heal.  I take my kids for a walk even though it hurts because I know they’ll have fun.   It goes on but ultimately I do it all to avoid the darkness.

The sacrifice of birthing was not my own.  It was no choice to be made by weary  minds and souls.  Birthing happens; the sacrifice comes with the pieces you give freely along the way.  I gave more than was asked, had even more taken and in the end I don’t know who was supposed to be benefiting.  So I crawl now on battered bones with heavy heart, knowing my sacrifice was unwanted.  My sacrifice was for naught and only brought terror and pain, ugliness and black.  It was my fault and I have to live with that, my family has to live with that because of me.  I am so guilty.  I am so guilty.

Returning to today…

In April of 2006 I was still deep in the caverns of guilt ridden, self-examination and sacrifice with the determination to find a resolution to my suffering.  My baby was 1 day shy of 4 months old.  I was 6 days past my 29th birthday.  Today my daughter is a mere 15 terrifying days away from turning 4.  I am 4 months and 8 days short of turning 33.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart
Oh when way it suffice?
-William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

Has my heart turned to stone yet during these past years?  Have my sacrifices become more genuine or are they mostly imagined and martyr-ly?  I don’t know if there is a valid way for me to tell.  I think it is likely one of those things where 10 people in a room would all give you varying answers.  I  need to turn to my stony heart for answers and for that I need a sharpened pick ax and a strong swing.

I am finding myself.  I could easily end that sentence right there but I had intended to go on.  I am finding myself with so many questions these days.  I can answer some with a quick trip to Google or a phone call.  I can hide under the covers and cry until I determine the reply to another query.  And there are still millions that make my heart race or my eyes glaze over from either panic at maybe never knowing or trying so hard to find the answer that I get stuck deep in my cerrebellum.

Sacrifice?  Happiness?  A time to make new memories?  Write more or less?  Does cleaning under the bed really matter?  How do I love better and be loved better?  Can I be whole?  Is my racing heart just a glistening rock with channels worn through it for blood flow?  What is it that makes Trader Joe’s Peppermint Jo-Jo’s so hard to put down?

How will I ever make it through another one of my baby girl’s birthday’s when I am struggling so much with just talking to her about the act of being 4?  What cruel power planned December to go: Hannukah, Christmas Eve with the in-laws, Christmas, drive for 2 1/2 hours for 3 days of Christmas with separate parents out of state, week of mandatory furlough (yeah no pay!), New Year’s Eve/Wee Girl’s Birthday/Trauma Flashback Day?  For real?  This makes sense?  Was I really cruel to the serfs in my fiefdom?

As we approach the end of 2009 I hope it comes with an end to the types of sacrifice that turn beating hearts to solid stones.  Maybe we can all be lucky enough to be left with the sacrifices that warm you with a sense of completion and an eagerness for more.  Zora Neale Thurston writes in Their Eyes Were Watching God that there are years that ask questions and there are years that give answers.  I am hoping beyond hope that 2010 is a year that comes with some answers or at least more multiple choice questions.  When in doubt you can always pick “C.”

The Bean Lump

December 12th, 2009

I bought a Korean red bean bun as an after-work snack.  According to the packaging, the first ingredient was “Bean Lump”.  For a laugh, I brought it home and showed my husband.  He patted his large belly and declared “This is my Bean Lump.”

He and I are a bit like Jack Sprat and his wife, reversed.  He struggles not to overeat.  I can’t seem to gain an ounce.  Granted, I do exercise more and snack less than he does, but in the final analysis most of the credit for my low BMI goes to luck.  I have skinny parents.  He doesn’t.  It’s not fair, but that’s life.

When I’m feeling good, it doesn’t matter.  My husband is a handsome man with smooth skin, a mischievous glint in his eye, and an alluring dimple when he smiles.  He also has very charismatic eyebrows.  And sexy hands.  Perfectly straight, white teeth;  a cool haircut.  Women flirt with him, and love it when he flirts with them.  His waistline isn’t big enough to overshadow all his attractive features.

Frankly, if you could give me a guarantee that my husband would live until at least the age of 85, I wouldn’t care about the bean lump.  It’s not an issue of insufficient superficial beauty.  I count my lucky stars every day that the wonderful man I married happens to be so good-looking.

However, when I’m anxious and under stress, I can’t ignore the bean lump.  It taunts me.  Bullet points from magazine articles about Metabolic Syndrome scroll across my mind’s eye like quotes along a stock ticker.  I’m sure he’s going to get diabetes.  I’m sure he’s going to die of a heart attack.  How selfish of him to abandon me through an early death!  He loves bacon more than he loves me!

Technically, he could be doing more.  He says he has “no time” to exercise, when I know he spends at least 4 hours every night playing on the computer or watching TV.  He swears off snacking for a while, and then I start finding wrappers in the garbage and unwashed plates in the sink when I get up in the morning.  When he orders a side of bacon with his brunch, I bite my tongue.

The thing is, I know he’s doing his best.  I’m not the only emotionally fragile person in this house.  He has his limits too.  While he may have time to exercise, I know that he doesn’t have the emotional stamina to deal with it.  He took up jogging for a few weeks two years ago.  Every time he came home, he talked about how much it sucked to be “that fat guy trying to run”.  Everyone else on the track was fast and athletic.  That was outside, at night, in the dark.  I can sure understand why he hasn’t been able to face a brightly lit gym.

Yes, he eats compulsively sometimes, but do I have any right to get on his case about that?  He doesn’t smoke, drink to excess, gamble, or get too wrapped up in online gaming.  His family has a history of alcoholism.  He’s had a rough past.  All things considered, if all he does is eat a whole big bag of potato chips at 2:00 am every once in a while, he’s doing pretty good.  In fact, he’s doing excellently, and I’m proud of him for coming as far as he has.

But when I’m down and nervous, all of that counts for nothing.  All I can see is his early death, the funeral, and an old age of loneliness and endless grief stretching before me.  The bean lump may as well be a tombstone hanging around his neck.

I always think that I’ve got myself under control.  I tell myself that I’m doing fine.  But my resistance slips.  Although I should know better, I justify to myself that I can make this comment, leave that article on exercise out for him to find, because it’s “for his own good”.  Then we fight.

“Do you think I don’t know that I’m fat?” he asks me sharply, wounded.

“I have to look at this” (he grabs his belly) “every day in the mirror.  I’m the one whose pants don’t fit.”  By the time I’ve realized my mistake, it’s too late.  I have failed to love him unconditionally.  I’ve basically told him that he’s not good enough.  And guess what happens when he feels bad about himself?  He eats for comfort.  He lies around more watching TV because the stress of fighting is exhausting.

He also gets that I’m trying to control him, and he doesn’t like being controlled.  What better way to rebel than by doing exactly what I don’t want him to do? 

Hello, self-fulfilling prophecy.

I hate the ugliness in my head when I fall down that hole.  I hate that I never learn, that I make the same mistake over and over again.  Once the words are out of my mouth I feel so stupid, like the biggest dolt that ever walked the face of the earth.  I’m a bad wife.  I’m a crappy friend.  I’m a mess.

Every day I try to live up to my ideal: take life as it comes, and leave the things I can’t control up to God.  Be grateful for what I have when I have it.  Don’t grasp.  Don’t presume that I can know what the future holds.  Anything could happen.  Life has surprised me more times than I can count, and the surprises are often good ones.

Or, let’s say that my worst fears will come true.  What then?  What if my husband is destined to have a heart attack and die at a young age?  Do I really want to spend our remaining days together fighting over whether or not he puts too much butter on his pancakes?  I can enjoy what I have while I have it, and be grateful for every second.  I can be open to uncomplicated joy.  I can be fully in this moment, with all of my heart, without conditions.

He’s doing his best.  I can see that.  He puts in 110% effort every day, and that has to be good enough. 

I love him so much.  I hope that we both live long, happy lives together.  But the only thing I can truly reach for and achieve is long, happy moments, right now, one breath at a time.

10… 9… 8… Counting Down to Heartache and Holidays

December 9th, 2009

The countdown at casa de Miriam is on in full force.  We have the paper strips cut and ready for glitter glue, stamps and taping into chains to hang and confuse visitors.  There is the Hanukkah chain.  December 11.  The Christmas chain.  December 25.  Wee Girl’s 4th Birthday!!! December 31.  New Year’s Eve.  December 31.

There is no chain to count the heart wrenching marking of days that began sometime in the last few weeks and surprised me with its “still crazy after all these years” presence.  My daughter’s birthday is, oddly enough, also the anniversary  of her birth and thusly of what is one of the worst days of my life in spite of the amazing ten fingered, ten toed little beauty that came with it.  New Year’s Eve 2005 marked the beginning of years of a new sort of distress that my brain wasn’t used to regardless of the years of training in mental dysfunction I had.  Post-partum depression and a fresh batch of PTSD.   I hid it mostly, for the first year but by her first birthday I was shocked to wake up in a sweat.  Not long after that I was waking up very differently and without my little girl beside me.

I have worked so blessed hard to get better from this, let alone the mental and physical scars from days gone by.  But each year as December rolls in my chest tightens and breathing gets that much harder to manage.  The spirit of celebration is masked by fatigue, flashbacks and restlessness.  Fear and anticipation of The Day’s arrival choke me and leave me feeling split in two with a cleaver, as though anybody could see the wretched ache inside me.  Anybody could prey on it.

Yet this is my precious little one’s birthday and I should be struggling with pink streamers, glittery balloons and foolish party hats- not symptom control.  I know though that I need a second by second plan for that day from the moment I wake up to when I take an extra sleeping pill to fall asleep.  Without a round the clock plan there is too much room for emotional disaster.  4 years after my baby was taken from me so easily while I cried out until I was helped to calm down by a syringe and an anesthesiologist who turned blurry in seconds- and I am still stuck.  The distance is still there in little places throughout the year but on what should be her day and her day alone I am still having to distance myself from the moments, the day, from HER.

I would like to say that I will return this topic and release more.  Not just for myself but because somewhere inside me I know I must not be the only one.  And I DO believe that I am not the only with anniversaries of pain and mental paper chains to count down.  However, I am still not through the paper links.  There are still rings for children to argue over ripping before the arrival of that day of days.  The day when the whole world celebrates a fresh start, my daughter is showered with “my haven’t you growns” and I pray for a knock out pill that will keep me standing but get me through the day without feeling the sharp sting of tears or pulling of scars.  So I can’t really say that I’ll get back to this soon because I don’t want the pressure and I don’t want to rope myself into failure right now.  When the time is right I will share more and as always I welcome (very nearly plead with) you to share with me, on site or via email.

My daughter is nearly 4 years old.  Not a baby anymore and oh so bright and beautiful.  She is my love and my light and I hate and fear that one day she will read my words.  I never want her to blame herself for my swollen eyed, frantic Decembers and stumbling Happy Birthdays.  I never want her to feel the depth of my depths and feel like she dug the pits herself.

I hope that she will teach me to love December 31st for what it is- her birthday and New Year’s Eve.  I hope that one year I stop calling it the anniversary of her birth and my mental countdown will disappear.  I will only hope to be able to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop with her and the rest of my family beside me.  She was born on a day of worldwide celebration.  There will always be a party on her birthday (god save me on her 21st!) even if I can’t throw it.  Her bounce, her giggle and her clarity of vision has fueled my breaths, my heartbeats and my kisses for 4 difficult years that I would never trade.

A consequence of emotional pain

November 29th, 2009

I woke up one morning a few weeks ago, and felt pain on each of my fingers.  I realized that I’d managed to mutilate every fucking one of them the night before.

This is a consequence of emotional pain, I am not present despite the fact that I am physically there.  If you told me that someone else did it while I was sleeping I would be more inclined to believe that.

The trouble with self harm is that sometimes it’s over before you realize what you’ve done.  Looking down at my fingers, all fucking ten of them, I was ashamed of myself for letting it happen.  No reason to be alarmed, mine coping mechanism just happens to be visible.  Many are not.

I wondered how I could go out in public with band aids on all ten of my fingers.

Portions of the shame I feel stems from the fact that I know better.  And by knowing better, I should be able to DO better.  Right?

I know why I do it, I know that it doesn’t solve anything.  I know that I do it to escape feeling emotional pain.  It is a defense mechanism set in place by my brain when my emotions are overwhelmed.  Like a safety on a gun.

This situation I’ve been processing is like a hurricane; it brings things from other places in my psyche, all triggering my latent mental illness and wounds of yore.

There is no cure (that I am aware of) to rid myself of the feelings that I have to feel, and the time that has to pass.   I have hope that I’ll get there when I get there.

Meanwhile, try not to notice the band aids on my fingers because I’m trying hard to pretend they aren’t there too.

A Wish

November 19th, 2009

I wish getting sick only involved physical symptoms.  I would patiently and calmly lie under a blanket, drinking plenty of fluids, until my body healed and I could resume my normal life. 

But that’s not how it works.  Sickness messes with my mind and my soul.  Sickness makes me depressed, anxious, weepy, frustrated, impatient, and prone to tantrums.  I remember how I felt the day before I got sick, just last week.  If I concentrate hard enough I can step into that feeling of centeredness, just for a moment.  I was living in the flow of things, letting stress slide off my shoulders even as it poured forth like an endless river.  I was keeping all the balls in the air, in a breath-taking juggling act filled with faith and grace.

Then I got sick, and it all came tumbling down. 

When I’m sick, I become frantically insecure about canceling plans and obligations.  I’m letting people down – how could I let all these people down?  I become paranoid; everyone thinks I’m faking.  What if Phil, who invited me to his birthday party for the first time this year, never invites me again?  Why bother inviting someone who cancels at the last minute?  What if my aunt, whose dinner party I missed, yells at my mother because she thinks I’m avoiding her?  Then my mother would be hurt and it would be all my fault because I made my aunt angry.

That’s how I think when I’m sick.  And it doesn’t matter that I know, I KNOW it’s stupid and all wrong.  I can’t stop feeling the fear.  These things keep me up at night.

Being sick also messes with my homeostasis.  That nice, comfy groove I got into with my sleep schedule and my balanced mealtimes?  Gone.  Blasted to smithereens, and with it, my equilibrium.  I have to sleep more to heal, but oversleeping always depresses me.

Also, sometimes, like this time, my hormones have been completely knocked for a loop.  Today I am living in the grip of PMS the likes of which I haven’t known for many a month.  I forgot how bad it could be.  I hate this feeling of hating everything, of the answer to everything being “NO!” before I even know what my options are.

I want to bite people, and not in a sexy way.

I don’t want to do anything, but I’m too restless to do nothing.

And I can’t seem to snap out of it.

Bear Traps and My Urgent Need for Hobbies

September 19th, 2009

There are so few words in me right now and they are so mangled that I am struggling to make conversations much less coherent sentences.  Let me state for the record- the record that is really just for my sake so I can point something out that I am not willing to deny- that I am doing better than I have been in a long while.  Just today I saw my doctor and we spoke of my many improvements and the signs that prove I am fortunate enough to be moving forward- away from the depression, the instability and lack of will.  Among other good developments I have even quit one medicine and lowered two.  I am more willing to meet people, keep up with things I enjoy and things I don’t but that are necessary.  I am even working on new projects.  To the point I go-

Just now my DVR disrupted the recording of a show I wanted to watch.  A repeat, one that I may have even seen already but I wanted to record in case I hadn’t.  When I asked my husband to fix it there came an escalation, or maybe a de-escalation.  How should I describe me swearing horribly at my husband, twisting the remote as if I could break it with bare hands and breathing more quickly than a racehorse at the end of the Kentucky Derby?  It got worse.  There was twisting and turning, begging and pleading.  Things I won’t put to page because I am not yet that brave.  All of it a showing of vulnerability I despise.

Because of TV?  An electrical malfunction?  Why is TV so important- this is my second post that highlights its place in my life?  I’m beginning to understand why people worry so much about the television as babysitter.  I’m 32 and I pay it every month to keep me busy.  I must make a note to watch less TV and pick up macramé or perhaps a weekly bridge group.  I digress.  Boy, do I digress.

I know better than to believe that I should blame the silver box beneath the flat screen.  I already mentioned the medicine changes, although I stand behind them as being the right moves.  Last week I wrote about my overwhelming fatigue and of course that can play into a flash of panic and irrational anger.  Of course there is the ankle sprain and twisted knee that I sustained on Sunday during the extreme sport of apple picking.  There are also the other chronic pain conditions I have that cause me to be on a separate cocktail favored by pharmaceutical reps.

And so I write somewhat briefly and definitely without my best skill right now to say that sometimes even when things are okay I cannot, must not forget the undercurrents of the diseases that are rooted in my brain.  I cannot ignore the pangs that go through my stomach or the quick, double breaths I occasionally take.  So many things make me, us, anybody and everybody, vulnerable to falling into a bear trap.

I am tired.  It hurts right there.  How come I forgot to do that thing?  He/She is being ridiculous.  Stop tailgating.  Is the bank wrong or am I?  I just need two more inches of space.  I only wanted to watch the one damn show and then I will go to bed.  I am thirsty.

Little things, big things, the size in this case simply does not matter in the least.  Vulnerable is vulnerable and for someone with depression, anxiety, mania, PTSD, you name it- the smallest of bear traps can be the most deadly.  I am lucky that tonight I was not alone and I had enough wits to want to hold it together and want help even when I pushed it away and I think even called it names.  My bear trap of an anxiety attack and outburst of anger came equipped with a ladder: my husband and his steady hands and clear mind.  They should all be that easy.

I am saddened to read backwards and see that I have developed a view of panic, terror, helplessness, fits and rage as being able to be called “easy” even once.  However, I recognize that if I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t be able to get up most mornings and take my two kids to my son’s school where I make pleasant conversation with people who have no idea that this is my life.  I do not know their lives either.  I can only hope that this is a moment in time that will be lost as the minutes tick away.  I also hope that if even one of the people I make eye contact with in a day finds themselves surprised by a bear trap that they can reach a ladder or at least summon the courage to scream until they are heard.

I’m listening for them and will resolve to hone my ladder building skills.  It seems like a better past time than TV and is far less likely to be effected by electrical failures.


September 10th, 2009

I’ve always skirting on the fringes of mental illness, I think.  My first panic attack was when I was in eighth grade, but no one was talking about panic attacks then; it was just “nervous about public speaking.”  But I kept my over the top reactions to having to do presentation or speeches under wraps well enough that no one realized how nauseated I was, or how swollen my tongue felt as I tried to squeeze the words out, or how the ringing in my ears drowned out every other sound in the room.  And, eventually, I learned how to pretend that my speeches were coming from someone other than myself, as though my real life was the same as what I did with the drama club.

I remember cutting myself in high school, not enough to do any lasting damage, but just enough to see what the blade would feel like.  But only a few times, not as a habit.  The throwing up was the same thing- every once and a while, I’d lose control and eat a pound of Oreos and stick my finger down my throat in response.  But never enough for anyone to notice and never enough for it to be a “real” eating disorder.

There were days when hauling myself out of bed and facing stuff took all of my energy.  But everyone kept telling me how charmed my life was, so I tried to convince myself that I was just being selfish or whiny, and after awhile, I found reasons that I had to fight past the fog.  I did therapy for a couple years, but my therapist was saying the same things that my sister had been telling me, and I decided to save the co-pay and listen to her advice.   Affirmations and cognitive therapy seemed to address the anxiety and depression that was identified, so I should have been fine at that point.

I reacted to problems and stress in my life by drinking too much sometimes (but nothing like the “too much” that I saw from my uncle before he hit AA, or my college roommate who let loose once she was not under her dad’s thumb), or by seeking attention from guys (but not to the point of being considered at all promiscuous), or by binge eating (yeah, I think we may have covered that one already…)

And now my children have…issues.  It’s probably self-centered for me to think all of those issues have to do with me, but every time one of the professionals asks whether there is a family history, my husband’s “Well, no one on my side of the family has been diagnosed with any mental disorders,” feels like a slap in the face and an accusation.  I’m not crazy enough to need help and medication any more, not I’ve never been quite right either.   And I don’t know how to put my own worries about whether I’m OK enough to do the right things to help the children to whom I may have passed on the crazy genes.