Monday, May 23, 2016

Inside my head

(Please don't read this if you're not interested in reading about mental illness in general, or mine in particular.  No-one will judge you if you don't read it.  No-one will even know.)

The past few weeks have been particularly rough. It's hard not to get discouraged, hard to remember that progress is cylical, not linear.

Mostly the first thought in my head in the mornings is "I wish I were dead."  I lie there for several minutes, sometimes even an hour, summoning up the energy to stand up.  That's just the first hurdle.  Then there's the bathroom, with its mirror, and the internal thoughts turn to my physical faults.  A shower is the only way to get out of the bathroom quickly, but showers are often triggering for me, so no matter how many times I resolve to shower just this once, I end up in the tub - and then I need to summon up the energy to stand up again.

Mostly I'm late for things, unless someone else in my house needs to be somewhere on time - the mother in me takes over then, and doesn't put up with this mental illness impacting my kids any more than it already has (and will), at least where there are things within my control.

There's been so much rage.  So very much rage.   "Anger is a secondary emotion", J tells me, and I think the primary emotion is either fear or insecurity or both.  I have coping skills. I have to find the energy to use them, and to fight the internal voice that protests "But I WANT TO BE FURIOUS."  I don't want to lose my job, however, or alienate my family, so I repress the rage.  And that comes out in other ways.  Anger is energy that has to go somewhere - this weekend the results of that will require me to wear long sleeves for a few weeks.

Yesterday afternoon I texted a few friends, asked for prayer.  Declined the resultant offered conversations because I don't know what the trigger is, or the triggers are, this time, I just know it's a rough patch.  And I'm really tired of rough patches, really so very tired of the mental energy it takes to remain on an even keel.

This morning, Brad was home because of the long weekend.  After he had already gotten up, I lay in the bed, begging God to send help,  And then I texted Brad from the bedroom "Nobody will care if I die."  The thing that is so hard to explain, and even incredibly hard to understand for myself, is that I *know* it's not true, and yet at the same time, I completely believe it. 

Brad came upstairs, and asked what he could do that would signify to me, and any insiders that might be struggling, that he cared.  And when I didn't know, he stayed with me, brainstorming, until we had a plan, and then he took me on a drive through the country with my homework (I need to write an essay that talks about politics.  I try to avoid politics.  This works well until I have to write essays.)  We found a good-sized flock of yellow-headed blackbirds, some nesting bluebirds, maybe a pair of buffleheaded ducks, if that's what they were -

I don't wish I were dead right this second.  The sun is coming out.

Because?  I asked for help.  I don't think that it's possible to separate Brad's reaction from the prayer - I've texted him things like that before, and he's texted back, instead of coming to find me.  Today I needed him to come and find me - how did he know?  What made the difference?

And I'm reminded, by my friend's reactions yesterday, and Brad's reaction today - while I am everlastingly tired of being needy, of not being mentally whole, of not being healed - the people who care about me are not tired of me.  They are not tired of standing in the gap, and not one of them would stand at my coffin saying "I'm really glad she didn't ask for help,"

And I think that's the point of this post.  I'm not the only person who doesn't want to ask for help: and I want to say this to all of you:   There is at least one person in your life who will walk through this fire with you.  It's just that, sometimes, they don't know the flames are there until you tell them.

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help.   Just ask.

And if you don't know who to ask, ask me.  I'm getting really good at fire-walking.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In which I discuss perfectionism

So there's this thing that happened to me between high school and now.  In high school I got good marks without much effort.  It's not that I didn't study, I just didn't study much, and was a pretty solid 80's student.  Imagine where I would have been with some effort.

So then I went back to school in my 50's, and I was a little surprised to find that any mark below A irritated me beyond belief.  I'm studying - I work hard.  I could work harder, but I work harder at school than I ever have.  I seem to have an "all or nothing" attitude - if I don't get A's, then it feels like I'm failing.  Last semester I got an A- in a psych course which ruined my perfect 4.0 GPA and while I would like to say I laughed at myself over it, I wasn't laughing on the inside.  I was filled with a crushing certainty that I was, once again, Not Good Enough.

This semester has been frustrating for me, because I cannot seem to get an A on anything in one of my English classes.  Although as soon as I type that, I remember that my partner and I got an A on our presentation but somehow I'm not counting that.  First essay, A-.  Mid-term, A-.  So I've been pretty sure I'm getting an A- in that class and my GPA will go down ever further and that has bothered me so much it's not even reasonable.

My other English class was going great.  There were only two essays and a final.  A on the first essay, glowing comments from my favourite prof - all was lovely.  And then the final exam happened, and the second half of the exam had a creative element - and I am Very Bad at creativity on demand.  There were three options to choose from - I spent the better part of 40 minutes in a two hour exam on false starts, finally picked the least horrible option with 20 minutes to spare, and wrote like the wind.  Brutal brutal brutal - I was sick to my stomach, and then I handed in my exam, and got my second paper back - and I'd gotten a B.

I can't even begin to explain how bad I felt.  I sat in my van and cried for an hour.  I considered quitting university.  And underneath all that I knew I was over-reacting in a spectacular fashion but I could not solve it.  I cried myself to sleep.

Luckily, if you believe in luck, I had an appointment with the psychologist the very next day.  I asked her for help.  I told I hated being this way ("That's encouraging", she said) and she asked a few questions trying to help my subconscious brain work out what false connections I might be making.

I'm learning, through this therapy journey, to listen hard to the inside talk.  When the answer finally came, I burst out crying again and refused to say it out loud for several minutes, but when I finally had enough nerve, I said this out loud:

"It won't matter that I am so ugly if I am smart, and a B is not smart."

And then I cried harder than I've cried in many many months, coughing choking gasping for air crying.

But once I'd said it out loud, a beautiful, beautiful thing happened.  I heard all the lies in that statement.  The first lie:  I am not surpassingly ugly, and I never have been.  I'm average, just like a really high percentage of the rest of us.  The second lie:  There are only two things to be that matter, pretty or smart.

I didn't make these lies up myself.  It's a culture-wide, internalized lie.  A high percentage of the time, we compliment our children on their good performances in school, or on their looks.  What about compassion or kindness or the ability to empathize, or a good sense of humour, or being a good sport or a good friend or trustworthy or hardworking or easy going or dedicated or a bazillion other things I could mention?

I don't think I've solved this yet, even though the B no longer embarrasses me,  I wanted to write it down so I'll remember that there are many attributes to value.  If I stop and think about what I value most, what I pursue most, when the marks-obsessed perfectionist isn't winning, it's kindness.

So I give up on a 4.0, or a 3.95, officially, publicly.  Officially, publicly, kindness is moving to the top of my list.  I will strive to be kind.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

First post of 2016?

The thing is, I go to school.  Also I was sick in early January, and then I couldn't walk for January and most of February and then I was writing papers and doing School Things, and then I got my job back (yay! I like my job!) and then Brad had surgery because Cancer and suddenly here it is April.  Hi April. 

So, 2016 so far hasn't been that great.  It's been the opposite of great.  It's been one thing after another and even though I was down to seeing the psychologist every two weeks and sometimes thinking "Wait, why am I here? I feel fine.", I am back to seeing her every week and the hour flies right by and I go home and lie in bed shaking.  And then get up and do some dishes or write a paper or study for an exam or fold laundry and go back to whimpering.  I've spent a lot of this year feeling like somebody smacked me across the side of a head with a two by four.  And just as that feeling fades - wham!

Which all sounds worse than it is, actually.  I'm still getting mostly A's.  I'm mostly sleeping.  I have friends at school, in spite of the rather noticeable age gap.  (I may have accidentally let my hair go grey again, what with the stunned bat approach and the time with the flying by, but they don't seem to care.) There are currently very few dishes in my sink.  I have an exam tomorrow that I feel good about and I got a much better mark on Friday's exam than I thought I would.

But there's the cancer thing.  The cancerous bit they snipped off Brad a few weeks ago, and then the phone call from the oncologist in which he basically said that if Brad sprouts anything else in the next year, there's no point doing anything about it. There's this huge blank where the Future used to be.

Except - the non-blank future?  That's based on the lie that we can see what's coming around the corner, or that there are no corners, that time is linear, and we can squint into the future and brace ourselves for what's coming. 

Here's what I know.  I know that Brad is still here.  I know that in the middle of the night tonight, I will roll over and bump into his warm, breathing body, and even if my stomach twists in fear for what I can't see, I will be able to lean over and breathe him in one more time.   We went for a really long drive today, hours and hours and hours in the mountains, holding hands for most of it, like we were 18 again, and couldn't stop touching each other, and talked and talked and talked about what the worst case scenario might look like, and how we'd navigate that, and diminished the fear by looking it full in the face.

This is how love works.  One of us is going to go first, and it's going to hurt so hard, but my goodness, we have been blessed.  We are blessed.  Cancer doesn't get to change that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Making it through

Christmas season plus Life plus four exams in eight days ...

I'm not really sleeping.  Most days I'm sitting at my desk looking through notes, making new notes, feeling horribly sick to my stomach because there is no possible way to Know Everything.

I take breaks.  I read a few blogs.  I check Facebook.  There's a lot of crank and angst (crank'n'angst.  Fun if you say it fast!)  This does not calm me down.

And then I remember ...

My personal mantra.  "Read the Boys."

This mantra makes no sense until you realize I'm talking about three poets whose work touches me:
Stephen Berg, Malcolm Guite, and John Blase.

Today it was Stephen's lines that made me exhale.

"How exquisite to hear the lyric required to kick-
    start every stalled moment of your broken life."

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more studying to do.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The one with the flicker

Here's a flicker:

Point #1.  I had never seen flickers until we moved into our current house, and they started showing up at the birdfeeders.  They're large-ish birds, and they have brightly coloured under-wings that flash beauty when they fly.  They're one of my favourite birds.

Point #2. I haven't seen one in a long time because I haven't filled the birdfeeders lately.

Point #3.  Today I was sitting at my kitchen table eating lunch and trying to slow down my breathing in an attempt to calm myself before going to write a final exam in my online course.  While I knew that I was panicking needlessly, I was nevertheless panicking.

A movement on the deck caught my eye.  There was a flicker hopping around on my back deck, fluttering its wings now and then, and just generally hanging about.

Point #4.  Jesus loves me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Things I Did Today. You may notice a shift.

1. Woke up dreading the day. 

2.  Stayed in bed staring at the ceiling until my mother phoned and asked if she'd woken me up.

3. Had a short, pointed conversation with my mother in which I may have used the phrase "I have repeatedly reminded you that I rarely have time to talk in the morning."

4.  Drove to the school I park at for free.

5.  Caught the bus without having to run.

6. Wrote an exam in which I used the phrase "This may be what social feminists are referring to when they talk about the structural violence inherent in a patriarchal system."

7. Took time out of my exam to memorize that sentence so I could poke fun at myself later.

8.  Mused about the difference between *exchanging* ideas and *parroting* ideas.

9.  Sat in the sun till I was freezing, muttering about the temperature.

10.  Went to my second class and found out it was cancelled.  As I wrote a midterm for that class that was gobsmackingly awful earlier this week, I was relieved the class was cancelled because that gives me five more days to forgive the prof for a frankly "two by four to the side of the head" blindsiding. (I'd rant but I'm in a happy place)

11. Went to my third class where I fell in love with Shakespeare's sonnets.

12.  Seriously.  There is both a maturity and a melancholy to Shakespeare's sonnets that just isn't there in Spenser's sonnets.

13.  Wandered to the bus stop in the sunshine with my head full of iambic pentameter and angst.

And now I'm going to go watch my son play hockey and read about Rogers Theory of ...well I don't know, I haven't read it yet.

It's a lucky life.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gonna talk about mental illness. Not gonna be cheerful.

So there's this "mental illness awareness" push going on. 

I think it's great, but it also frustrates me, because it feels like "mental illness" has become a sort of code word or even synonym for "depression."

In both my opinion and my experience, this misses the mark.  There are many times that depression itself is either a symptom or a side effect (or both) of a particular mental illness. 

Being open about depression is still different from being open about a mental illness, where, for instance, you have to lie in bed for several minutes after you wake up trying to figure out how old you are and what year it is and once you do that, figure out how many other people of varying ages you're sharing headspace with on this particular day, and reassuring them all that where they are today is safe, so you can stand up and get out of bed.  And then maybe one of the people you live with who isn't a morning person frowns on their way past you on the stairs, and you have to start all over again.

Or one (this one doesn't happen to me personally) where you love to have people over, but if someone puts their street shoes on your couch, your brain instantly becomes an uninterruptable loop of "germs germs germs must clean clean now germs germs GERMS" and then you don't get to visit anyway because that part of your brain just took over your entire personality and yet you know if you SAY anything, your company will laugh it off and suggest you lighten up.

We'd sort of prefer it if people didn't talk about those kinds of mental illnesses.  They make us nervous. There's no box for them.

It's just so much easier to put mental illness in the "Depression" box.  We understand it, and we're pretty sure there's even a pill for it.  It can all be fixed and tidied up and we don't really have to work out a response.

Those other mental illnesses, a lot of which ALSO lead to suicide ideations ?  Let's put those ones in a different box, maybe a box labelled "Get Professional Help and while you're at it, hand me some earplugs."  That's a good box for those ones.