Thursday, April 28, 2016

It burns.

I was in a car with friends. An 18 wheeler jack-knifed in front of us. As the scar screeched into the flames of the explosion, I knew this was serious, and I’d likely die. I was surrounded by fire, and soon the car was engulfed. I knew the flames would soon get into the car, and as they did I counted upward from zero. I don’t remember pain, but I remember heat. And when I reached fifty, I stopped counting.

When I woke up I was in a hospital ward. I had no lips. I could not lick them. I was missing part of my tongue. I was gravely scarred. I wasn't in pain. My mother was there. I asked where the other passengers were. Two lived, one died, she said. Don’t think about it now, she said. I cried. Sobbed.

I slept and wept. Slept and wept. People talked to me but I didn't hear them. I heard muffled noise. I looked at them but didn't really see them. I saw them only partially, like a living memory.

When I was up to it, I made my way to one of their rooms; he was the one I was closest to. He lost his legs. I held his hand and we sobbed together. There was only a fraction of him left. Can a person be a fraction?

The other I did not visit. He was a liar. He misrepresented the dead, and made it seem the dead burned us all, but it was the liar who drove us into the suffering. He wasn't paying attention. He wasn't careful, and I asked him to be, twice. The dead one couldn't defend himself. The one I know best, he was catatonic, and I had been sleeping. Nobody could tell the truth, so the liar lied.

My mother told me I slept and slept. It seemed the best thing to do. My body was broken and my mind couldn't process this. Why was I alive? How could my body still function? All of us had lost so much of ourselves. Our literal skin. Our demarcations. The parts of us that identified us as beings. We were charred and fetal. Ripped apart.

When I could finally use my voice, I tried. My missing tongue meant my speech was impaired. The sound of my voice infuriates me. It reminds me of my impairments. It reminds me I will no longer speak strongly. My laugh is not joyous. It’s an angry cackle. It’s all I have now. I am a living witch. Leave me in the woods to rot.

I tell those who listen about what happened. I am not the dead one. I am not my favourite, the one who cannot speak. I am not the liar, so I tell the truth. My rage seers him a second time.

I cannot smile.

I wear a ridiculous hat. It’s stupid. It reminds me of the hat Gilligan wore. I never watched Gilligan’s Island. I'm too young. I know his hat because it’s a cultural reference, but it annoys me I know who he is. It adds to my embarrassment over the dumb hat. I wear it because the rim fits just so. It aligns with where my eyebrows would be. I feel surrounded. If I could I’d wear a body-suit. I’d be covered and kept. I always feel exposed. I am an open wound.

Weeks pass. I feel sorrow for my mother. First she had a sad girl. Now she has a broken, pained girl, whose sadness has been calcified into vitriol.

What kind of life will I have? What possible enjoyment will I find?

Why didn't you just let us all die? Surely seeing us this way is worse?

I envy the dead one. His family visits me. I say this to them. It upsets his mother. But I tell her the truth. I tell her I am in pain, that I live as a ghost and that my being in this world is cruel. I will have moments of being okay, no doubt, but is that enough? I tell her this. He is free I tell her. I tell her he was my friend, and I loved him, and that he was gentle and kind and that he deserves his freedom. I hold her hands and I tell her he was such a good, kind boy. I tell her I knew him since kindergarten, and that he was never anything but sweet to me. That she raised a good boy who knew how to be friends with girls. That he respected me. I thanked her. I held her hands and told her that with all the love in my heart that I had for him—for her dear sweet boy—I was happy he was dead.

She left with my mother. My mother sometimes acts as a translator to me. She doesn't mean to say, she starts. I mean to say.

Months pass. I am at an assisted living home. I monopolize the therapy dog. It likes me best you fucks. We take walks. I walk to the far-off fruit trees. If a bear comes maybe he’ll eat me. Are there cougars in this part of Canada? Could a cougar kill me? I wouldn't want the bear or cougar to get the dog though, that would kill me as well.

My mother and I walk by a manicured lawn. There is a pug sitting by a pond. It looks to be lounging. This amuses me.

Parts of me keep burning. I'm angry. The pug isn't enough. I resent being kept here. What kind of life will I have? How can I possibly stay good with all this anger in me? I can’t see the good anywhere. The pug isn't enough.

Who Gets To Be The “Good Schizophrenic”?

Check out Who Gets To Be The “Good Schizophrenic”? by Esmé Weijun Wang over on Buzzfeed. I saw this make the rounds a while ago but I've only today had the time to read it properly. 

It’s kind of nice that I read this today, since I've been really pre-occupied with work stress. Wang talks about being able to work a 9 to 5 as a benchmark for being a functional mentally ill person. Things at work for me are sketchy. They don’t have enough work for me, so I keep losing hours. But I’m also exhausted and I just don’t know what to do.
2013 was also the year that I surrendered my last benchmark of sanity, otherwise known as my full-time job at a fast-paced start-up company. For years, holding down an office job had been what I believed sincerely, and perhaps a bit desperately, separated me from others of my ilk, but I stepped away from my 9-to-5 because my job, despite its accommodations and allowances, exacerbated my illness.
It’s so difficult to identify what is a “bad day” and what is a job that isn't right for me. There’s also the stress of needing to work. I need an income. I am not on disability, and from what I understand I wouldn't qualify. For years I was trying to get an official diagnosis, but nothing has really changed, and I still feel like there are parts of me that transition and evolve. I have periods of heightened anxiety. Periods of deep depression. Periods I feel manic. Periods I feel despondent and sub-human. There are days I cannot focus. I can’t actively listen. I have trouble focusing my eyes. It’s just a shit show sometimes.
In Blue Nights, Joan Didion remarks, “I have not yet seen that case in which a ‘diagnosis’ led to a ‘cure,’ or in fact to any outcome other than a confirmed, and therefore an enforced, debility.” Living under the shadow of a new “code” bore no curative function, but it did imply that to be high-functioning would be difficult, and it warned me that to live beyond that code would be a tricky gambit. A therapist had already told me in my mid-twenties that I was her only client who was able to hold down a full-time job. Having a job, among psychiatric researchers, is considered one of the major characteristics of being a high-functioning person.
I don’t consider myself high-functioning. I'm functioning. But I'm exhausted and it takes all of my energy.

Read Wang's piece. Schizophrenia doesn't get much representation, and when it does it's usually used to put other mental illness struggles "into perspective." 

The more representation there is of living with and working with mental illnesses, the more there will be an understanding of flexible work-lives, different strengths, and ideally there will be a societal conversation regarding working conditions and ways of supporting the mentally ill and listening to what they need to work and support themselves. Ourselves.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Trust.

I watched Super Soul Sunday yesterday, which featured Iyanla Vanzant. She was promoting her new book, which is all about Trust. Although I like Vanzant sometimes, her experience is very God-centered, and it sometimes alienates me. There was however, a quote from the episode that poked me right in the guts.
There is no greater battle in life than the battle between the parts of you that want to be healed and the parts of you that are comfortable and content remaining broken.
Snap!

There's a lot to un-pack here.

First, the comfort of what is known, and what is habit. There is absolute comfort in things remaining the same, or as constant as possible. I am a creature of habit, I could do the same thing weekly, on rotation, and be reasonably content. There's also comfort in habit and in minimizing surprises or discomfort.

My friend E and I were talking about someone who has a "victim mentality" and who often re-frames situations to always revolve around her, and on top of that, inconvenience or hurt her in some way. For E, it took years for a pattern to make itself visible. After a while she realized that her friend was always at the centre of the drama, and seemed to stoke that drama when and where she could. We talked about it, and it became increasingly clear it's a large part of her (self prescribed) identity and that she get a lot out of it. She wanted to re-centre herself. But it's also part of how she lives, and how she has lived for over 30 years.

In her case, she seems to invigorated by being put-upon. Are she and I alike? Do I see the things that bind me to habit? Do I see my triggers?

What do I get out of identifying with my illness?

How is it certain memories can completely drag you into a remembered shame or pain?

Why is it so difficult to let go of?

What do I get out of the safety of isolation?

What does my lack of trust for the male sex really mean for me? It means loneliness, doesn't it? I'm attracted to heterosexual males, unfortunately for me, that's a group that I have a lot of distrust for. I guess there's also safety in shutting down that conversation, or possibility before anything ever happens. There is zero room for rejection, since I do not put myself in situations in which I can be rejected.

I can't be rejected if I don't even show up.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Luck and Ladybugs.

Every spring it happens. What seems like hundreds of ladybugs emerge from some crack or crevice in my house. For a week or so they gather near windows so I open screens and doors to shoo them out. Sometimes I take a small piece of cardboard, usually a business card or an advertisement and scoop them up gently, plopping them into a little cup. I make my rounds and then go outside and shake them free. Sometimes they fly away, sometimes the just fall to the ground. Sometimes their movements are slow, their wing-covers a dry brown. Other-times they're quick and bright and I struggle to understand how they survived the winter tucked away in our house.

I also find some dead. Dried-out on window sills and along the floor. Sometimes I see them huddled in corners of the ceiling where I can't reach them. I can't help them there. We don't speak the same language so there's no use in calling out to them.

The other day was a bad day. I wasn't entirely myself. I was a half-person. Despondent and exhausted. And instead of collecting these ladybugs and setting them free, I removed them from my space through the rumble and suction of my vacuum cleaner.

For three of them, that's how they left this house. On any other day, they would have left differently.

But on that day, luck was not with them.

Yesterday I did some cleaning, and throughout the day I pushed these little ladybugs into a cup, or into my hand where I would lightly close my fist, keeping them from flying away  I would make my way outside and open my hand, shaking it over the garden.

And today, I do the same.

But that one day, I did not. That one day, they were unlucky.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Face update.

I only have one official follower - hello you!

I thought I'd just take a minute and say my face is about 90% better. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out this post here, and then follow the bell's palsy label.

I've got some weakness on my right side. My muscles don't feel as present, or as strong as my left. They feel sleepy. I have some trouble right the right side of my lips, which I sense when I press my lips together, or put on lip balm.

Honestly though, I felt like a winner as soon as my eye could blink on its own. I took for granted how much the body does automatically, it really is its own ecosystem. I was closing my eye manually, and constantly putting drops in. I was very worried about damaging my cornea.

If you or someone you know ever wakes up with Bell's, here's what I did: I went to the ER, where I was prescribed a weeks worth of steroids / an eye patch. The first week I rested A LOT and slept 10 hours a night MINIMUM (I was also stressed and exhausted). I also used a "sac magique" or magic bag (a fancy bag of hot beans!) on my face nightly for the atrophied muscles. I kept the sleep up, and even now I've scheduled shorter work weeks in order to rest-up and try and heal 100%. It's a pretty scary thing! 

I hope none of you get it - but if you do, know it isn't that uncommon and in most cases it does go away!

I did a lot of research, but most of it scared me, since some cases last significantly longer, and some do have permanent muscle loss. 

From what I've read, it seems the most recent studies out of Japan are thinking it's a virus... But there's still no consensus - which is scary.

Our bodies are equal parts amazing and horrifying!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hear me when I talk about psychological pain.

You have to understand that I do have a frame of reference. I have an IUD thanks to debilitating cramps and heavy flow that had me thinking I might bleed to death. I fell down a flight of stairs on my ass once. Recently actually. I've been tattooed all over. I've been pierced. I've had strep throat and bronchitis, more than once. I had a bad bout of pneumonia. I've had wisdom teeth removed. I've had vertigo. I've woken up to partial face paralysis thanks to Bell's Palsy.

I've known emotional hardships. My father died at home of a major heart attack when I was 13. Within the next two years I would go on to lose both grandmothers.

I've had my heart broken. I've known gradual, increasingly degrading, unhealthy "love." I've carried deep shame. I struggle with feeling like an unlovable piece of shit, often. I've had friendships disintegrate during the most difficult times of my life. I was so desperate for care, but I was too much for those around me. I was too desperate.

I've been isolated. Though I'm working my way away from certain habits, like a wounded animal my nature has me wandering out to the middle of a field to die alone.

I can't seem to trust people. Especially not lovers. So I've had none. None since the first, none since the shame of it all.

I can stand on my own. In strength and in defiance but also in fear.

I also know myself. I've worked hard and struggled tremendously to access help. I've drudged through my life at times, yes, but I've continued forward. Whether at a snails pace or only staring forward through a cloud of despair, I'm still here.

Understand that when I talk about psychological pain I mean it. These words are not theory. They aren't loose descriptors. When I saw "psychological pain" I mean the kind that seers the chest and often over-whelms the senses. It's an invasion of your nervous system. It's acid in your veins.

Understand that your brain is a fucking wizard. It is everything of who you are and how your complex, ridiculous body works. You can wake up tomorrow in a new world tomorrow, due only to your brain. You sneeze and the colour blue vanishes from your perception. Sudden amnesia and you devastate those around you.

Understand that the brain's magic owes you shit. And for some of us, we know that in an unavoidable way.

With the early days of bell's palsy, the right side of my face was entirely paralyses. My right eye did not blink. Never in my life before that point, had I thought about the importance of blinking regularly, or of my privilege for having been able to take for granted my blinking for 32 years.

And so, I was made aware of the fragility and the impermanence of the most routine of functions.

And for some, that is the absence of chronic, psychological pain.
My wearing an eye patch and having a face that was visibly drooping and unresponsive meant questions and concern. These visible wounds could not be ignored. Doctor's visits are readily acceptable. Being tired, and reduced hours are understood and encouraged.

Where is this understanding on days on which I wish I were dead?

Where is the understanding of this other language I have, this language of "having spoons" or of "needing to shut down."

Is it easier for you if it's science fiction? Life support functions fall to critical and I do all I can to just stay alive.

What of fantasy? Curses that damn. Feelings of being targeted, of you being singled out. Of feeling plagued. Of being limited. Deep pains you deserve.

My pain is not easily described.

My pain is real. It exists. I survive it often.

Hear me when I talk about psychological pain, and understand that for the most part, those of us suffering are struggling for access to care.

I've known many kinds of pain.

This pain is actively trying to kill me, and yet it's the easiest to ignore by the medical establishment. I walk right by you, and you don't notice. There is no gaping wound.

What kind of fucked up is it, when you wish you had it, the physical symptom. My demon lesion. It's an obvious fucked up. And on good days, there is no proof. Just the lingering fumes from difficult days both behind and ahead. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Are All Mental Illnesses Related?

Are All Mental Illnesses Related?

For some reason I can't embed the video myself, I had to use embdely.

It's not showing up when I do it.

Here's a direct link to The Atlantic's video.

* Update - 2016-04-28 *

The Atlantic posted some criticism of the video. Check that out here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Way ahead of yah!

I really enjoy, and benefit from the perspectives of Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology. I receive his newsletter and have recommended it to a few friends who also love it.

This week, it seems, well, in my wheel-house.
Psychotherapist Jennifer Welwood says that sadness is often at the root of anger. Feelings of loss and disappointment and heartache are the more primary emotions, and rage is a reflexive response to them. But sadness often makes us feel vulnerable, while rage gives us at least the illusion of being strong, and so most of us prefer the latter. But Welwood suggests that tuning in to the sadness almost always leads to a more expansive understanding of your predicament; and it often provides the opportunity for a more profound self-transformation. I invite you to apply these meditations to your own life, Capricorn. The time is right.
I think part of what makes sadness so hard to shake is that it includes a certain acceptance of a loss, of pain, or of something difficult. It can be mourning a loss. It can be just coming to terms with a new reality. Sadness usually comes with a certain type of acceptance. Anger can often be a rejection of that, the refusal to accept something, or the resentment of what that acceptance implies. 

With sadness, sometimes you are fully aware of your pain, and fully aware of your situation, because in trying to understand it, you've really seen it from every angle. Part of it seems like just recovering from that, recovering from the trauma of that disappointment and fear. 

I'm way ahead of yah Rob!

:-(

Monday, April 4, 2016

She Was a Hot Mess: Friend "break-ups," Worry and Regret

The folks over at The Witching Hour podcast featured some of my writing on an upcoming episode (#15) on friendship. Thank you Andy and Kathleen!
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Adult friendships are odd. You could meet any other person and just like them and spend time with them. We have cars now. We can set our own schedule. We can make our own dates. No more friendships based on your neighbourhood or their geographical proximity to you. No more forced-play-dates. We can now freely dislike people and opt-out of spending time with them. We can now say, “I like you,” to a person and then go grab a coffee.

After university I was navigating panic attacks on top of my chronic depression, so naturally I was loads of fun to be around. I figured the best way to avoid my life was to go back to school. Audrey and I met in technical college. We were both studying graphic design. She lives with a learning disability, so she signed up for a service where a classmate acts like a sort of official nag, reminding you of homework and critical deadlines. I was that nag. We gradually spent more time together, bonding over the fact that we weren't born in the 90’s like most of our classmates.

As I got to know her, I learned she was from Nova Scotia and that she was new to Montreal. One afternoon after class I visited the condo she shared with her boyfriend. The condo was perched at the top of a large, red-bricked building by a large public market. I was instantly impressed by the place. It was the nicest place I’d seen in the city for someone my age. There were no milk-crates anywhere. The building had underground parking and an elevator. She had a guest room!

Over the span of the next two years we became increasingly close. Her boyfriend was rich. He had summer homes and a winter ski retreat in the mountains. We gladly trekked all over the province to babysit his families' dogs while they were off, being rich internationally. Dog sitting in fancy locations was a nice time, but I always found it odd her boyfriend never joined us.

Having enjoyed this mystery boyfriend’s many vacation homes, I was glad to finally get the chance to meet him. Audrey and I walked into a small café near her condo. It was small and familiar, seemingly filled with regulars. We were the only women, and I read the space as being a popular hangout amongst gay men. I made my way to the counter and was met by a smiling barista. He was slender and blonde, well-coiffed and at ease, flicking a towel over his shoulder as he pushed a coffee over to Audrey. We all exchanged pleasantries until I received my order, at which point he pointed out how happy he was to finally meet me.

As Audrey and I walked through the city I skirted around the assumed gayness of her boyfriend. I made it clear that relationships take all forms. Sexuality is a spectrum, as is gender. People want and need different things. Monogamy isn't for everyone. When I finally broached the subject of her partner, she confirmed he was gay and that his family disapproved so she felt he asked her to move in as a beard. She casually talked about how she slept with whoever she wanted, and how she was seeing some of his married friends.

I felt for both of them, he for needing to lie to his family, she for being away from hers, desperate for a tribe of her own. I was uncomfortable with all the lying though. Seeing married guys, knowing their wives, not caring about outcome or after-math. She was so nonchalant about all of it.

A few weeks later we went for drinks. Audrey got very drunk very fast and left with a stranger. On Monday she asked what happened, casually referring to her propensity towards getting blackout drunk. I filled her in the best I could, and worriedly asked her if this happened a lot. She laughed it off and told me not to worry. I did anyway.

We were at a friend’s bachelorette party at an equal-parts cheesy and disheartening strip-club, when things shifted. Things were already awkward and uncomfortable due to the setting. I was sober and wished I wasn't. It was all so distressing to me. The hairless man-boys and their weird “sexy” dancing. The really aggressive women, pawing at them and hooting loudly. It was funny until it wasn't, and it quickly wasn't. Audrey spent more and more time with the show MC.

She stumbled over to our table, slurring confidently, “That MC totally wants to fuck me. I'm totally going to get him to cheat on his wife.” She stomped off assuredly and everyone shuffled uncomfortably, especially the bachelorette, no doubt relating to the mentioned wife more so than to Audrey.

This became a pattern. Every school-related social event came with the eventuality of Audrey’s heavy drinking. It wasn't uncommon for bartenders and doormen to ask us to rein her in. One night a classmate I was close with told me he didn't like being alone with her when she was drinking because she’d often proposition him, even if his girlfriend was around. It slowly became a known-thing: Audrey doesn't have boundaries when she drinks.

She eventually left the red-brick condo with good lighting, and I helped her find a new place and get situated. I was hoping that getting out of a situation where lying was often implicit, she’d feel better, and experience less drama. The following few months involved a lot of new suitors. She was always excited to introduce them, and I was always charming and overly friendly, knowing I’d never see them again. I didn't see the point in remembering their names. I was constantly worried and dreading her phone calls. She soon got pregnant and it was unclear who the father was. Her drinking started and ended that problem.

I have friends who live lives where casual sex is part of the way they live. But with Audrey, it was different. It’s as if with every new person she was filled with hope and got really excited about him, even if she felt the same way about someone else only days before, she fully committed to this. She was naive in a heartbreaking way. I just didn't know how to help her, and I didn't know how to be friends with her either, since all I wanted to do was help her.

It was at a friend’s wedding where her drinking lead to an early night in for her, and an enjoyable night for me. I reflected on that afterwards. Friends pointed out how much fun it was that she had clocked-out for the night. She wasn't my drunken baby.

I began resenting her. She was kind and very sweet, but she was so comfortable lying and putting herself in harm's way. I was perpetually worried for her in ways she would never worry about herself. I think the worst part was that whenever I talked to her about harm-reduction, her first reaction was always to apologize. I tried re-framing the discussion, I did not want to shame her, that was never my goal, but it always seemed to be the outcome.

One day I received a call from Audrey while driving. I let it go to voice-mail. Safety first. It was an easy going message about this one dirt bag and then there was this other dirt bag. I rolled my eyes. I didn't return her call. I texted her and told her I needed some space. That summer, I pulled away from Audrey. Shortly afterwards she moved back to Nova Scotia.

It took time to realize she wasn't going through a singular “hard time.” It seemed to follow her. I still feel shitty about it, because life can be brutal and we do what we have to do to get through it - I get that. I never felt I could really talk to her about any of it, I knew she’d just apologize, and that wasn't my intent.

I don’t like the way things ended between she and I. I guess I also don’t like that it had to end at all. I don’t regret the split - but I regret the indirect route it took. Sending a text message was lame. We eventually talked, but the conversation was short. She would immediately apologize, and I was steadfast that she didn't have anything to apologize to me for, that it just wasn't working for me.

I don’t really see what I could have said that would have suitably answered any question she might have had whilst making it clear she’s free to her life and the way she wants to live it. It just became very hard to watch. I couldn't shake it off, I was always worried. Within nine months of leaving Montreal she bought a motorcycle, got engaged and became pregnant. I didn't question what order any of that happened in and I try not to think about it. I didn't want to judge her or her choices, but ultimately I did. I couldn't live so close to someone so visibly struggling and not intervene. I wasn't able to “let go and let live.” Eventually it became about my inability to care for her without compromising caring for myself. I know I did what I had to do. I was unable to be around her anymore. The decision made itself. But why do I feel so shitty about it?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Not all here.

Last week wasn't good. Thursday I had my work review, and it was what I expected. Uninspired, and it just brought up a lot for me.

First, I feel like shit anyway. I feel useless and of little value these days, so having people talk on how I'm under-used and how I might have to "find stuff to do to keep busy" just made it worse. I know there are weeks I don't do much, but work-flow isn't my problem. I know I'm under-used. I know I'm over-qualified. I know I am not motivated. Things have been difficult lately. I mean, who am I kidding, things have been rough forever, I've only ever known them to be rough and they'll always be rough, but things seemed to be getting better, then my mom's amnesia, then vertigo, now bell's palsy.

I get these pockets of perspective where I feel things are possible and things aren't that bad, and it's all outlook, but then I just drown in, in me.

It was just a lot of information, and a lot of feelings, and a lot of things that just tugged up other things.

I got home Thursday totally over-whelmed and just, despondent.

Thursday night I was - not here. I was gone. Checked out. Unable.

I canceled all plans and spent this last weekend in the eastern township's at my brother's house.

I did little. I slept. I rested. I applied heat to my face. I spent time with the dog and the kids.

I'm back home, I have work tomorrow.

Tuesday I have an appointment with Dr. Rishi, so I took the day off.

I'm not all here. I drift in and out.

I don't know what to do these days. I feel insecure at work. I don't know if there's a future there for me. I don't know what that means financially. I feel like I might need to start again.

I just get these waves of dread.

I've had these moments of deep thought, and felt the desire to write, to externalize it...

But I'm pulled away from myself. I'm distracted. I move in and out of myself. A gnawing in my gut reminds me I have a body, but I'm barely tethered to it.