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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.

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.

The First Time I Was Dying

September 2nd, 2009

We were driving through the mountains in Maine.  Steep forests of pine closing in on the winding roads.  This was a vacation.  This was going to be fun.  This was family time.  Except I couldn’t breathe.

The walls of green trees were clearly unstable and likely to collapse at any point- same as my lungs.  Turns in the road seemed less intentional and more like haphazard attempts to avoid impending doom.  Were we driving too fast?  Was my seat belt working?  Why were my little sisters being so loud and I was the only one who noticed?  How come my mother couldn’t hear me screaming from the passenger seat that I was dying, we were all dying, the mountains were all wrong and everything needed to stop?

She did hear me eventually- once I actually started making noises outside my head.  I cried, hyperventilated, yelled- the whole show.  And we did pull over and stop everything because clearly there was something wrong.  I scared my sisters but hey we look- we’re at a scenic trail stop.  We looked at a brook from a sweet little bridge in the woods and still I had no explanations for my mother’s questions.

I remember walking around a gravel covered area by myself and trying  to focus really hard on the teeny, crushed rocks.  All they did was remind me of the massive effects of calamity.  A boulder crushed into quarter size chunks.  What size would I be when the mountains fell?

Eventually there was no more stalling- nothing else to see, no more trails marked by wooden signs with animal footprints burned into them.  It was time to continue our happy vacation.  It was time to get back in the car and squeeze between the carved out mountains all the way to our lakeside vacation destination.  Happy.  Fun.

I remember other things about that trip and my mother should be pleased to know that some of those things make me smile or laugh or just feel warm.  But mostly I remember that trip as the time I sped through a mile high alley walled with pine needles to poke at me as I held my breathe and salt water spilled from my eyes.  I remember my lungs collapsing and the confusing inability to scream effectively.  It is my first memory of a panic attack and at the time I didn’t even have that name for it.  I must have been 12 or 13 but nobody did anything, nothing was changed except for the new sound of tiptoes around me until a rheumatologist passed me along to a therapist when I was 15.

Here is an odd thing: That place where my mother had to pull over, probably terrified herself, because I was frightening to watch and listen to- the bridge, the stream, the trails and wooden signs are so fresh and real to me even now.  As long as I pretend I can’t see the gravel- I love that spot.  I want to look over the rails at the water tumbling aimlessly over the river rocks, pulling leaves and twigs at will.  I want to follow a trail into the woods just far enough for it to get a little bit too dark and then I want to come back.  That spot- and I have no idea where exactly it is or even how to find it- was the first place I remember finding relief and refuge from that particular type of terror that I now know better than the alphabet.

In spite of its awfulness I sometimes like to think about that day.  Because it was so new and a stranger to all of us the only remedy was stopping the car and absorbing nature for awhile.  20 years later and the remedy is waiting at the pharmacy, is more attack than remedy or takes so much concentration and remembering of action plans and mantras that I can barely remember I am trying.  Have labels and sessions and stays and medicines made things better?

If that was the first time I thought I was facing imminent death- my first panic attack and we will assume it is because I don’t recall any others and I am a memory keeper, how many have I white-knuckled my way through in those 20 years since?  What would I do if I had all those minutes back?  I’m not sure I would even want them back.  Would they still be filled with panic or somehow fresh and clean, ready for newness and light?

When is time lost better off gone and when is it appropriate to mourn its absence?  I am very glad that I am too tired for math today or I would have some heavy accounting ahead.  And well, that just seems foolish to spend minutes counting up the minutes you have already lost, even if I do find it tempting to have my own badge of courage style panic tally.  Which would then lead to receiving the “Anxiety and Panic Gold Master Level” iron-on badge.

The mentally ill club isn’t the Girl Scouts but it would be so much nicer if we got to wear sashes.

Long Way Down

March 5th, 2008

It’s been on me now for months now. It sits in the middle of my head, buzzing like some sort of damned demented tsetse fly.  I am defeated for no reason whatsoever. I can’t smile, at least not for myself, and my eyes are always heavy.
I know that part of the solution is to move around among the living but every time I try panic sets in and suddenly the lights are too bright, the rooms too small, my breathing too shallow and I can’t find my way back to safety. More often than not, I make the decision to avoid movement.

My loved ones want me to get better. They are sure that there is action I can take to get better. I know that they are right. It scares me that they can see it- I am a world class actress after all.  It must be really bad.

I’ve curled up into myself because I know how to take care of me, to keep from falling over that precipice that looms on all sides of my psyche, craving a misstep. It’s hard to explain how withdrawing helps- it just does.

I think that sometimes depression causes so much pain the sufferer’s only recourse is to anesthetise themselves. I used to do that by using drugs and alcohol. Now I do it by drawing myself up into a ball, so that my insides aren’t exposed.

I am starting therapy again and I know that it will help. There’s no magic pill for this, it is something I have to tread through. That may be the hardest part about living with depression and anxiety. When every fiber in your being is screaming at you to keep quiet, keep still, keep yourself safe- to take those steps towards recovery- I am jumping off of a god damned cliff.

Something in my belly

February 19th, 2008

There is something in my belly, and I finally know what it is. My belly is the storage for very intense emotions, ones that were stuffed far away not to ever be seen, or heard by anyone.

I’ve figured out that when the belly is disrupted in any way, I break out into a serious panic attack. I am certain that it’s been this way for years but I am only now becoming aware of it.

This particular panic attack from the belly region tells me to run very quickly. It begs for a sinkhole to open up on the very ground in which I stand, and to take me away this time. It begs to take me anywhere but here where the pain threatens to swallow me whole.

The lost girl stores her pain in my belly.

If I put on an article of clothing that is too tight, the belly signals the brain to run away as fast as possible because it hurts in there and we must not be reminded of that hurt.

After eating too much of a good meal, the pain signals the brain to crawl into a cave and hide where no one can see us. She is scared; she doesn’t want you to see her. If you see her, it will make it all real and she cannot possibly process everything if it is in fact, real.

My massage therapist, that I used to see on a regular basis told me that I always hold my left side closely, not letting go.

Louise L. Hay writes that problems with the left side of the body “represent receptivity, taking in, feminine energy, women, and the mother.” The stomach “holds nourishment and digests ideas.”

Not only do we store everything in our brains, but also in our bodies. Physical abuse is stored in your body, your body remembers it. This is why I get a certain type of headache around certain people, and why my shoulders lock up in my neck with certain stressful situations.

It is exactly why I used to bite my nails until they bled when I was at her house.

A frightened child who is not letting go of the pain even though it weighs her down is living in my belly. She didn’t have anywhere else to go, and doesn’t know what to do with the pain because it’s all she has.

I am grateful to have finally found her hiding place.

Now, I can invite her to come out so that I can nourish her with the kind and loving energy of a mother who soothes her frightened child.

Strike three

November 25th, 2007

I am so frustrated and exhausted, I have no idea where to even begin. Remember how I was waiting for the Wellbutrin to kick in? Well, it didn’t. Or rather, it did, with disastrous results.

After two months of being on it and noticing no change in the near-crippling depression I was experiencing, my doctor decided to increase the dose. I didn’t notice the change at first, but looking back, I can see that shortly after the increase, I became more and more anxious. I started isolating myself from my friends, believing that they didn’t want to be around me and that some of them were actively turning people against me. I stopped picking up the phone, going out, writing emails. I felt utterly alone and scared.

And then, the panic attacks started. I thought I had experienced these before, but I’ve never felt anything this extreme. Racing thoughts, a barrage of negativity, shaking hands, heart pounding out of my chest, difficulty breathing, inability to sleep, and the intense fear that I was going to lose control and do something I didn’t want to do.

Once they started, almost anything triggered the anxiety. I went to work last week and had to go home after a few hours because everything set me off. A simple assignment, a notice of a meeting taking place in a few weeks, even getting a new email filled me with panic. I was paralyzed by fear, unable to work or even be in that place.

It’s now a week later and I still can’t shake that feeling.

I can’t get into my doctor until Tuesday, but I know she’ll take me off the Wellbutrin, so I’ve stepped myself down to the regular dose. Since I did that, the attacks have stopped and the anxiety has abated (though I’m sure taking work out of the equation also helped), but the depression is back. I’m not sure what she will put me on next, but I’m beginning to dread it, because as we have seen, my track record with negative drug reactions is less than stellar.

I feel like we’re playing chemistry set with my brain, but I don’t know what else to do because I can’t get an appointment with a psychiatrist for three to six months. So, we put on our white frocks and pull out the test tubes and see what happens when we mix up the next batch of chemicals.

Cross your fingers for me.

Reinforcing the “Hormonal Female” Stereotype

November 17th, 2007

You’re welcome.  And, I’m sorry.  But I think I’m doing just that.

After a visit to the psychiatrist in which I described my symptoms (regular physical symptoms of  panic/anxiety with no underlying emotional connection or distress) and he responded by refilling my Xanax prescription, and dismissed the idea of checking my hormone levels, I went back to the OB/GYN/Reproductive Endocrinologist who performed my hysterectomy last year.  I described the same symptoms to him, and he nodded throughout, and said that, while he wasn’t prepared to say that I do not need psychiatric care, all of my symptoms fit the profile of someone suffering surgical menopause without enough estrogen replacement.  And my bloodwork confirmed that my estrogen level was low-ish, so we increased the dosage of my estrogen patch.

Ten days later, I feel on my way to being a new woman.  It is supposed to take three weeks for the effects of the dosage increase to be fully realized, but already, the 5 hours a day I was spending in a cold sweat, feeling panicky and unable to leave the house is down to a matter of minutes.   And what is bugging me right now is the idea that I have, perhaps, had hormone-imbalance problems for most of my adult life, and no one to recognize them as such, and treat them accordingly.

Knowing that many mental illnesses are triggered and/or exacerbated by hormonal events such as puberty, childbirth, and menopause, why is this not factored into diagnoses more often?   It’s not just women–men are affected as well.  My own husband seems to have experienced the first symptoms of bipolar disorder just after hitting puberty.  But with women, I have the feeling that it just gets…overlooked more often.  I mean, the very word “hysterectomy” pretty much indicates the medical community’s attitude toward things female, doesn’t it?  That woman is unbalanced, moody, highly emotional, downright erratic…hysterical.  By removing her reproductive organs, the part of her that’s female, we can make her sane.  Whatever.  I’m not crafting a very good explanation of what I’m getting at here, but I think you understand.   Hello, AMA?  It’s almost 2008.  Can we have a NEW WORD to replace “hysterectomy,” please?  Ugh.  And by going on a rant about this, HEY, I’ve just proven them right, haven’t I?

At least they can’t say I’m “PMSing” any more.

How about the rest of you, ladies?  What is your experience with the relationship between hormonal fluctuations and your mental/emotional state, particularly as regards diagnosed, medicated mental illness?  Are hormone levels checked regularly as part of your treatment regimen?  Is your “femaleness” even considered…or worse, is your mental state “written off,” even in part, due to gender and the perceived instability/emotional weakness of women?

Do you ever get the feeling that a doctor is listening to your symptoms, and wondering if it’s just “that time of the month?”