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Your Story – I Hate Snakes

August 12th, 2010

Guest post by Majarani

I always wanted to be an anthropologist. I wanted to study cultures, artifacts – essentially I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Maybe we all do a little. Not so much the chilled monkey brains, but very much the knowledge and power it brings.

I am drawn to the comparison now because I feel, much like Indy, that I am in a trap. I entered into this maze to find a prize and feel thwarted at every turn. I’m not searching for a healing skull or valuable gem, but simply peace. Peace of mind, peace in my heart, peaceful sleep. I can’t shake the feeling of crouching and crawling through dank, moss-covered stones. Hauling myself through an ancient canal, dredging up sludge and ignoring the slithery, slimies that keep bumping my legs. I reach what appears to be the end and suddenly “pwang!” five arrows embed themselves into the opposite wall an inch from my nose.

Someone once told me- “it’s not always a good thing to see a light at the end of the tunnel. There are very good odds it is an oncoming train.” I guess I’d rather be on the wrong track then be hit by the right train.

I’m tired, burnt-out. I’m going to find peace or die trying. I cannot live in fear anymore. I can’t wonder if I will ever be safe, or have a place to hide. I will be safe, I will have peace- but maybe I can’t have what I want here. Maybe I need to move on and this is the universe giving me a heads up. Hey Universe, a few less snakes next time ok? I hate snakes.

Your Story – Moving Forward

August 10th, 2010

Guest post by Majarani

I was diagnosed with ptsd about 5 years ago. I never realized that I could be “shellshocked.” I became obsessed with the stories of veterans, looking for a connection, searching for understanding and symptoms- so I could see what that doctor saw.

From a young age, I had panic attacks – being trapped in small places like elevators, even the dentists office. I could have them in crowded spaces. But then I went for many years without a panic attack. “I’m cured!!” I thought.

Present day: The panic attacks are back- and full force. I can’t even function in the middle of an attack. I have xanax stashed in every corner of my house, work, car. I am frozen. I am out of my own body. I am afraid.

I realized while the panic attacks lay dormant for a while, I was never “healed” of ptsd. The emotional centers of my brain are cauterized. I don’t feel happy, sad, angry, hopeful. I feel levels of anxiety. Low levels of fear are good. I can function. Moderate levels cause me to turn my car around, drive 30 miles back home to make sure I turned off the coffee maker. Extreme levels cause me to go to the secret place on my property and hide. I can’t even tell you where it is because I don’t want you to find me. I have to know I’m safe there.

I need more than this in my life. I have seen therapists and psychiatrists, and at its peak I was seeing three doctors once a week. We all worked together.

I thought I was doing ok. Until my boyfriend said “If I was your husband, I’d have you committed.” Oh.

I have an appointment with a ptsd specialist tonight. I hope she can help me come out of hiding.

Make A Decision

August 3rd, 2010

For the last several months, I have been an emotional mess. I’m being pulled in so many directions-my heart, my mind, the opinions of friends and family, my desires, my needs, my wants, my fears, my anger, school, work, child, family-I am not sure how much longer I can go on like this. I know that this heavy feeling in my body is my stress, worry, intense anger. It pulls on my face, gnaws on my heartstrings, saps my strength.

Things are not always what you expect them to be; I am not so naive to believe that they will be. I know I am blessed in so many ways, yet I am feeling down. I know that there are high and low points in everyone’s life, but I just don’t want to be standing at the bottom of the mountain, in the damn mud, with a flat tire and no spare. I don’t like the damn low points. They suck. I am frustrated, angry (to put it mildly), sad, scared, disappointed….all the shitty emotions I don’t want to feel.

I go to bed exhausted and my dreams are full of unpleasant things. I wake up thinking about how things could be different if I could control other people’s actions, how things could be different if I would just MAKE A DECISION and go with it. I am stuck in this middle place, this place where lives merge, paths split, where small gestures mean too much. I’m trying to find a balance in this frozen middle, suspended above my fear and rage. I’m trying to keep control of the uncontrollable emotions: rage, blame, desire, fear. I’m not sure I’m doing such a good job.

I can’t see out of this hole right now. I am sitting here with the story of my life in my lap-the damn eraser on the end of the pencil is gone, and the lead broke pages ago. I count my blessings, read what’s been written so far, and try to sort out what is real and what is just my blurred emotional spin on reality.

Because I Have To

February 12th, 2010

By Dianna

I’m 35 years old and I live with my Mom and Dad. I’m OK with that…most of the time. They are my crutch as there are things I probably would do that I shouldn’t and things that I wouldn’t do that I should. My Dad is “old school.” He doesn’t believe in mental illness but believes everything is an act of will. Don’t want to feel crazy? Then stop.

There are many days when getting up seems way too hard and the very thought of walking out that front door in bright daylight fills me with terror. My stomach clenches, my hands shake, but I know I have to because the look on his face, the disguised remarks, or the silent treatment will be so much worse. So I do it, and in the end I am better off for it as the reality is never quite as bad as what I create in my head.

There are nights I’d like nothing more than to sit in my room with a bottle of wine and drink myself silly. This only leads to hyperactivity and a walk out the front door to a bar, because the truth is, I don’t like to drink alone. I have the built in excuse not to do it, too, because my Daddy will get mad at me. In the end I am thankful, when I wake up fresh and ready to face a new day. Each day this happens is a day that fills me with pride that I made the right choice and conquered the demon in that moment. You see that’s the thing. The moments always pass if you just refocus the energy, the battle is learning how to do that, the rest of my battle is to learn to do it for me and not for someone else.

Then there is the knowledge that eventually I have to let go of the crutch and I have to find a way to make it on my own. I have to get out there and build a life of my own and more often, I finally want to. Most days I am no longer scared.

Where Do I Go From Here?

January 29th, 2010

By Dianna

Where do I go from here? Once again I feel my life spiraling out of control and have nothing with which to stop it. I am a logical person. I know what I should do to make myself feel better, however I seem to have no way of stopping myself from doing what I shouldn’t do.

When I get nervous and feel disliked in a situation, I drink. When I am manic and feeling like the world is mine and everyone should bow to my amazingness, I drink. When I drink, I inevitable fail and the all consuming guilt spirals into depression.

This weekend I celebrated my friend’s birthday. Her friends don’t like me. Perhaps the best thing was not for me to point out how one particular friend of hers doesn’t even say hello to me and shoots daggers at me with her eyes. They make me feel uncomfortable and she herself, always seems to want me to act a different way, or be a different way, and I try to tell myself it’s all in my head and than I feel bad, but perhaps maybe it isn’t.

That night, I separated myself from the group. Instead of talking to them, I talked to strangers. People who didn’t make me feel disliked and uncomfortable. People who listened to me and didn’t tell me I was talking too loud or act as if I was embarrassing them. They left me at the restaurant and I had to find my own way to the bar. Then, they left me at the bar and I had to get myself home. No matter how poorly I was behaving, how can that be the way to treat a friend?

Here I go again. One more friend down. When you only have 3 left it’s a sad and lonely place to be.

Being bi-polar is not conducive to friendships, and those you do find generally are engaged in the same self destructive behavior you should avoid like the plague. It gets you nowhere real fast. Yet, no matter how many times I am told “it’s not my fault”, no one else seems to believe it or wants to take the effort to understand that. And sometimes I just don’t believe it.

Whose fault is it if not mine? I’m the one who chose to have sex with strangers, to put things up my nose that shouldn’t go there and to put that glass to my lips over and over again.

Today I made it out of bed, albeit late, and I will drag myself to the gym and remember each hour that passes is another chance to begin again.

Five Year Cycle Part Three

January 18th, 2010

Part One Here
Part Two Here

Part Three

By Muriel Lipke

After returning to San Francisco in 2007, I was great, for about a year… Then I had another episode which landed me in a doctor’s office.

The difference was that I had done my reading since that first breakthrough episode in 2007 about serotonin and what it does to one’s brain. I knew enough to advocate for myself at this point and so when the general practitioner I had been seeing told me that my list of symptoms I’d compiled following the more recent episode were “all in my head” I fired him and went in search of a doctor who would listen to me.

Which was when I found in Dr. Amatti. The first time I saw her I ran down a lengthy list of about 200 symptoms I had regularly experienced and asked her if she could figure out what was wrong with me. She listened carefully and said that she wanted to run blood work and other tests on me to see what could possibly be in common with my diverse symptoms.

All my life I’ve been particularly sickly. Well – not all my life – I first started noticing that I got sick a lot when I was in my teens. I had been treated for allergies, phantom physical pain, insomnia, night sweats, repeated strep throat and bronchitis, stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, shaking hands, ringing ears, “female troubles,” asthma, random fevers, etc… PLUS depression and anxiety. I was regularly told that I was a flippin’ hypochondriac. So much so that I believed it a little. I didn’t think all those symptoms could be connected — but, after working with Dr. Amatti I learned that they are.

See the thing is my brain doesn’t make enough serotonin for healthy bodily functions. Serotonin doesn’t only control moods – it facilitates the central nervous system! My levels of serotonin were so dangerously low my doctor told me that had I not seen someone when I did that I possibly could have died – either by my own hand – (because I’ll freely admit that I’d contemplated suicide because I felt like such crap,) or because of organ failure.

I was really really sick.

Though, I immediately began to feel a little better as soon as I knew what was wrong with me. My body didn’t make enough serotonin and because I’d gone so long living without healthy levels of it in my body, I’d sustained some minor brain damage. The best the doctors could figure out, I’d become immune to the SSRIs my doctor had put me on the year before, because I was taking a high daily dose over an extended period of time. It happens. I guess.

What they have not figured out is how I got this. Dr. Amatti thinks it’s genetic. Mental illness runs in my family. I think it’s a combination of genetics and trauma from abuse. My therapist agrees with me. All I know is that in the fall of 2008 I was diagnosed conclusively with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety and a dysfunction that they haven’t come up with a name for yet (I keep suggesting mine) where the brain has been permanently damaged due to lack of neurotransmitters over an extended period of time.

I was placed on an aggressive drug therapy. It’s taken me a year to really get back to feeling better at all – but, I’m glad to say that I now do. At the encouragement of my friends and family I got back into therapy. It’s been nice to have someone non-partial to talk things through with, and I think it’s really helped me a lot, at least in feeling like I’m not alone.

I remember asking my therapist shortly after beginning to work with her why it was that I could go for years and years and years without experiencing any symptoms of my mental illness, only to think I was “cured,” and then break down again?

She told me that she thinks that much like I’m going to have to be on drugs for my whole life to deal with the chemical part of my illness, the traumatic events that lead up to my breakthrough episodes are going to be with me my whole life, too. Just that perhaps I will only have to deal with them every so often, in a cycle, usually when there is a trigger to bring it all back up to the surface. I think that’s true because I have noted that every five years or so something seems to happen which has caused me to need to revisit my abuse and deal with issues from it. I work really hard to get through those periods (I’m going through one now) and deal with shit so I can be as normal as possible.

I’m really thankful that I have good doctors now and a family and close friends who understand my illness and support me. Recently I started talking about getting back together with my boyfriend (the love of my life, the one from the start of the story) which has made me feel even more protected than normal. He knows all the dirty details of my trauma and I have been at my absolute worst around him — he loves me regardless. And, really, dealing with mental illness is so much easier when you have people to help you.

There are a lot of people out there – fake friends and such – who enable my bad behavior when I’m going through it or cut me down or make me feel awful about my disease (like I’m making it up or something) that I have had to learn to tune them out in the past couple of years. That’s a hard lesson. I want to be friends with everyone and it took me 35 years to understand that some people are just toxic.

I suppose that’s a lesson for everyone, not just someone struggling with what I’m struggling with.

However, now that I have done that AND gotten on the right medication AND found a therapist who I am comfortable talking to AND developed my support network around myself so that if I fall again there are people there to catch me… I finally feel like me. The me I knew I always was. And, it’s so liberating… to be able to just enjoy my life… it’s freedom from those events which shaped and informed who I became as an adult that I never anticipated having.

Having it makes me grateful.

Five Year Cycle – Part Two

December 8th, 2009

Part One Here
By Muriel Lipke

Part Two

My life evened out pretty quickly following that episode and the start of therapy. I was diagnosed with “situational depression” and “anxiety.” I worked for about a year to process the death of one of my abusers and compartmentalize it so that I could go on living my life in as normal a fashion as possible. In the spring of 2005 I finished therapy and wasn’t on drugs anymore and was generally feeling pretty good…

Flash forward to the spring of 2007. I was under a great deal of stress, working at a new job, in a exceptionally demanding field. My boyfriend (the love of my life) had broken up with me in 2005 (before I finished therapy, even) and we were still friends. Since that time I had begun dating someone new — who ALSO broke up with me — right after I started the high stress job. Like seriously, the day I started the damn thing…

I floated along, doing okay for a while – though I was clearly withdrawing from my friends and family – and, starting to spin out of control. I was drinking a lot – I mean, I’ve always liked to party – but, it was becoming a pretty regular habit. And, I didn’t like that. So I balanced the party out with excessive exercise, running three miles in the morning, every morning and another couple of miles on my elliptical trainer after work every night. I was working about 70-90 hours a week.

Sometime in April I noticed that I would occasionally hear this weird humming or ringing in my ears. Shortly after that I began having toothaches. I went to the dentist and he told me that it looked like I was grinding my teeth. My hands – which had always shook a bit – were so unsteady that I couldn’t hold a pencil or pen and perform anything that required fine motor function outside of typing. I began to get headaches – lots of headaches. In general, I was feeling pretty poopy.

At the end of May, over Memorial Day Weekend, I ran a half-marathon. I then went out that evening and partied to celebrate with my friends. I actually called it quits pretty early and hadn’t consumed that much booze, because I remember thinking I was pretty damn sober when I walked up the stairs into my apartment. I went to bed and slept fairly well until about 5 am when I woke up because my heart was pounding in my chest.

I was – for some reason – exceptionally frightened. I was having irrational thoughts and my hands were clenched at my side. I laid there for about an hour, trying to calm myself into going back to sleep, when finally I realized that wasn’t going to happen I decided to get up and go for my run. I flipped on MSNBC (as I did most mornings) and started the coffee pot which I had set up the night before. When the coffee was done I pulled the pot out of the cradle to pour myself a cup and couldn’t hold it. My hand couldn’t make a grip and the pot slipped out of my hands and crashed on the floor at my feet, splashing hot coffee all over me.

At the same time, a shooting pain went up my left side, through my torso and shoulder. I suddenly couldn’t breath and I began to have tunnel vision.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get into my bedroom and called my Mom. I told her what was happening and that I was really scared that I was having a heart attack (because that’s what I thought it felt like) and that I wanted her to tell me what to do.

“Go to the hospital,” she said, “Right now.”

I called a cab and took myself to San Francisco General Hospital where I was seen by a doctor who told me that I was not having a heart attack, but a massive anxiety attack. I talked the doctor out of calling down a psych consult and took a cab home. I called my Mom and told her what they had told me at the hospital. And, I told her that I thought that there was something else wrong with me and that I felt like I couldn’t deal with it in San Francisco on my own and that I wanted to come home.

She agreed with me and two weeks later my friends had helped me pack my apartment into storage and I was on a plane headed home for the summer.

The first month or so that I was home was so fucking frustrating. After that breakthrough anxiety attack it was like I was a huge raw nerve just hanging out into the world. Everything and everyone set me off. I didn’t want to eat or sleep or see my friends or family… I just kind of sat in my bedroom at my parent’s house waiting for the medication that I’d been given at the hospital to do something.

One day while I was at my parent’s vacation house with my Mom, I decided I wanted to give myself a pedicure. It was a disaster: First I spilled an entire bottle of polish remover on the carpet while trying to take my old polish off my toes. Then I couldn’t form a steady grip in order to paint my toenails. I tried and my hand shook so badly that I smeared polish all over my foot. This happened three times before I lost my shit and threw the open bottle against a wall. My Mom came upstairs when she heard me sobbing. She found me slumped down in the hallway, crying hysterically, over something as stupid as painting my toenails.

“What’s the problem?” She asked.

“My hand won’t stop shaking enough to paint my toes,” I cried to her, “And, I spilled polish remover and then I got mad and threw my nail polish at the wall.”

My Mom was really shocked, though she knew that there was something seriously wrong with me, this was the first time since I was a teen that she’d seen me break down like this… She got me calmed down and took me downstairs where she painted my toes for me. It was comforting and humiliating at the same time.

My boyfriend (the love of my life) called me several times that first month and I talked to him about what had happened. He helped me come up with a list of questions to ask the doctor when I was able to see one. I ended up going to see my family practitioner who ran some tests on me and told me that he thought that the problem was that my brain wasn’t making enough serotonin to be healthy.

Eventually the medication combination that he gave me kicked in and I started to feel a lot like my self again. At the end of the summer I was ready to go back to San Francisco and resume my normal life.