Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

Three weeks ago, I set aside my forearm crutches for an experimental trip to the grocery store figuring that if I was in too much pain to get home on the bus I could always take Uber. I had to take a short break on my way up the hill to the bus stop, but the trip was a success and I started venturing out without the crutches that week, gradually going farther from home as my endurance improved. At first I couldn’t make it to my bus stop without stopping, then my limit was a quarter mile at a time before I needed to sit and rest for a few minutes, the muscles in my lower back spasming around the inflamed joints in my spine. Then things started getting better. I started making it up the hill to the bus stop in one go without that gnawing pain in my spine; I made it all the way home from my favorite breakfast restaurant with ought having to stop once even though it’s a half mile walk from my apartment. Progress.

Friday, I felt restless and needing to get out and move so I asked a friend to meet me for coffee and decided to walk the mile there rather than taking the bus. I’d planned on taking the bus home, but after enough time to sit and rest, I felt like pushing myself and walking back home. It was a lot but I managed. Yesterday, I walked the half mile to breakfast, hopped a bus to a coffee shop farther away and then talked my partner into walking the two miles home after my butt grew numb from sitting around for too long. This morning we walked out to the trail alongside the river near my neighborhood for a mile and back home and then decided to walk downtown for a drink at the coffee shop after dinner. My phone says I’ve walked three miles so far today and I still have to get home. I haven’t quite hit the ten thousand steps in one day to make my pedometer happy, but one thing at a time. I keep reminding myself that three weeks ago I was taking things one slow quarter mile at a time with breaks.

Tonight the coffee shop is bustling as I tuck into a booth with my tablet to read and sip delightfully cold iced tea. I’m tired but it’s the kind of tired that comes from having gotten out and done something rather than being bored from sitting on the couch all day. The only downside to walking so much is that my calf muscles are even more ridiculously tight then usual. It feels like all the stretching in the world won’t fix that right now but if I stretch before and after I walk that seems to help somewhat. At any rate, for now I’m enjoying slowly ambling around my city by foot and having the flexibility to hop on a bus if I bite off more than I can handle is the perfect backup plan.

Another Coffeeshop, Another Post

I’m sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops in my city, waiting for the day’s rainstorms to begin and trying to figure out the right words for what has been floating around in my brain lately.

At the beginning of the month, I drastically changed the way I was eating. Smaller, more frequent and lower calorie meals, more fruits and vegetables, less processed foods, more homemade meals, less sugar, more fiber. I also started getting more exercise as my chronic pain disorder allowed me to. The result has been that I’ve begun to lose weight and been able to gradually increase the amount of physical activity that I can perform. Which sounds great and I am truly happy with how things have been going. I feel good, I feel a little stronger than I did at the beginning of the month, my mood is a little better, I’m getting benefits from all of this, except for the huge shame spiral that I can’t get rid of.

Most of my friends are strong advocates of Health At Every Size and it’s something that I myself agree with, so when it comes to making such lifestyle changes with the focus on losing weight, I start feeling like I’m a traitor to the movement of fat acceptance. Like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t accept myself as I am? I have a partner who loves me and finds me attractive, why can I not love myself at my current size? A big part of what I am struggling with comes from years of emotional abuse that I faced growing up, being told that I was fat constantly, being encouraged to join my mother on whatever fad diet she was embarking on, living in a household where anything with fat in it was considered “bad” and shameful if you ate it, with a mother who only cooked with fat-free and very low-fat foods because anything else would kill you. I know I internalized a lot of messages from all of this that I’m still fighting in my body today.

The other part comes from not actually being healthy at my current size. Despite the fact that I developed type II diabetes ten years ago, most likely from one of the psychiatric medications I had been prescribed, changing the way that I am eating for less than a month has enabled me to drop my short-acting insulin regimen completely and cut my long-acting insulin almost in half. My resting heart rate, which had previously been a little elevated, has dropped down into a more comfortable, normal range which makes my anxiety disorder’s symptoms less severe. Abnormal lab tests are normalizing to the point that my doctor did a double-take last week when reviewing them, then fist-bumped me.The point is that my health at my previous size was not great and I did not feel great. And now that I’ve begun changing that, I do actually feel better and I just wish that I could make my brain shut up with the internalized messages and fears that my friends are all going to call me a traitor and hate me forever. Did I mention I have an anxiety disorder? Doesn’t help that matter.

I posted a photo on Facebook last week. I’d just bought a new pair of shorts and a t-shirt and when I put them on, I actually felt good to be wearing them. For the moment, I actually felt kind of cute, which almost never happens to me. But in that moment, I felt at peace in my skin and damn it felt good, even if it didn’t last.

IMG_0128(The above image is a person standing wearing a red striped shirt and blue shorts taking a picture of themself in a mirror.)

 

Keep On Pumping

Last weekend I went to a party celebrating the life of one of my friends. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us and it was nice to spend an evening with good people for a highly worthwhile reason.

Keep on pumping

(The above image is an anatomical drawing of a human heart with the text “Keep on pumping”)

I saw Inside Out recently. I liked the movie but it left me a little emotionally wrecked, feeling like I’d been sucker-punched in the feels. One scene in particular, where the main character’s control panel goes dark, was really difficult to watch because it was a really accurate depiction for me of what it is like to be dissociated from my feelings among other things. I’ve been thinking a lot since about how far I’ve come in the past year and a half with my own mental illness and while I might still have a long way to go it’s important to keep on fighting every day. Which is why I drew the card as I did for my friend as a reminder to him to keep on fighting as well because I don’t think you can ever have too much support or too many reminders.

Summer Showers

With the arrival of June first, the temperatures have dipped down into the fifties, so I’m spending the day tucked into a corner of one of my favorite coffee shops downtown. I’m finding it more than a little comical that May brought days into the nineties and I’m welcoming June with jeans and long sleeves. The weather might be a little messy today, but I’m actually really enjoying the rain and cooler temperatures even if I did get wet waiting for the bus this morning.

I just spent four days in Florida with my partner while she attended a conference on Javascript. I had a good time while I was there, but it’s definitely good to be home. We were staying at a fancy resort paid for by her employer and it’s an oddly disconcerting world to be in. I’m more used to staying in places like Motel 6, so being someplace with room service and cabana rentals is definitely a bit of a culture shock.

I’ll be having surgery in two and a half weeks, so I’m trying to enjoy getting out as much as possible now while I’m not recovering. The procedure itself is routine but relatively major, so I’m expecting for it to be a while before I’m back to my baseline. The idea of surgery itself makes me nervous, so I’m taking things one thing at a time and trying not to let my mind run away from me. The surgeon has a really good reputation and I really liked her when I met her, so it’s really just a matter of remaining calm. The worst of my worry stems from my fear of anesthesia and that is mostly due to treatments I underwent for depression which are very different from this surgery. I do want this over and done with, really, and I think if I can keep my anxiety under control for the next 17 days while I wait it’ll be a lot easier than canceling and having to deal with rescheduling and being scared and waiting all over again. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

I guess for now, I’ll enjoy the rain and my cup of coffee and try not to dwell on the worry thoughts too much.

In Full Bloom

It’s hard to believe that it was only two months ago that I was despairing about the massive piles of snow that had taken over the city. Now we’re in the first week of May and I’m almost ready to whine about it being too warm. With the temperature already above 80ºF, I broke out my shorts last week to welcome in the new month. Everything is blooming and green and I’m reminded everywhere I go why I love this time of year. I get a little giddy when things are coming to life after an especially hard winter and this year definitely qualifies.

If I still drove, it is days like these that would make me yearn for country roads twisting and turning to make my way down with windows down to feel the wind in my face. I’d turn the radio up and sing as loudly as I want without any cares to who could possibly hear, which in the middle of nowhere isn’t much to be feared. I miss that occasionally, thinking about all of the late night drives home from work I had as a teenager in the spring and the music that delivered me home safely at the end of a shift at the grocery store or thinking about trips to the city half an hour’s drive from the town I lived in when we were still in Colorado with the mountains framing the windows to and from. This city is my home now and the music I listen to adds the beat to my steps on the pavement, but I’m in my own little world here, just like everyone else, rather than being a part of a larger whole like in Colorado. I miss the connections, the constant nonverbal reminders that people aren’t just rushing past me to get to their next destinations. I miss watching people out of a coffee shop and knowing things about the people who are passing by me.

There are things now that keep me tethered to the city. Access to good mental health care is a big one, public transportation is another. I like not having to drive to get from one place to the next and keeping my brain functioning is crucial. Right now I can’t even imagine picking up and moving again, in as many ways as the city doesn’t feel like home it does have a sense of permanence to it, if that makes any sense. I don’t know what I’m waiting for to be able to put down roots though, it’s exhausting to never feel comfortable settling down completely. Maybe someday I will figure that out. For now, it’s spring once again and I’ll enjoy the nature coming back as a sign that winter didn’t succeed in beating me back completely.

IMG_20150507_093929

(The above image is of flower blooms on the tree outside of my apartment.)

Balance

Brains are fickle. Yesterday I woke at seven o’clock, which unfortunately meant that I was on schedule for a panic attack by ten. I’ve been going to an intensive day treatment program at one of the local hospitals last week, extending into this one, to help get a handle on the recurrence of depression symptoms that have flooded back into my life again. It seems to be helping but something about having a strict structure  to follow throughout the day always has. Structure is something I need to find a way to implement when I am no longer in this program and back at home full time. My program therapist says I’ve been doing to much that is focused on my disease and not enough that focuses on me and what I want out of life. He might have a point.

Lately the program has shifted me back onto an early morning schedule where I am waking by six or seven o’clock every morning and thoroughly exhausted by the time nine PM rolls around. I like being up early though, my head feels clearer for a few hours in the early morning. I tend to feel a little more hopeful about the day earlier on than I do as time progresses. As long as I don’t lie around in bed for too long after I wake up, that is. Staying in bed makes me not want to get up, makes the weight of my blankets feel too comforting and safely warm. I just want to curl up in my nest of pillows and stuffed animals and never put my feet over the edge. But I like the early mornings, with the window open just a sliver so I can feel the cool air and hear the birds now that it is really spring even if my allergies might prefer it be closed.

I’m gradually starting to claw my way out of this pit that I’ve fallen into. I feel like I’m stuck there less permanently now, at least. Everything I drew the past weeks was a figure dangling over a cliff with a monster or flames licking up from beneath, which I guess goes a long way to showing my lack of optimism with my situation. Things feel less dire at the moment, which is a start. I ate a salad for lunch. It’s always a good sign when I start asking for green things again. The challenge now is not getting ahead of myself and not falling behind: not getting so caught up in feeling better that I forget that this is a process and not getting so caught up in feeling better that I through structure out the window because I think I don’t need it anymore. It’s about balance, this game. It’s slow and steady and there isn’t any finish line. It’s just a balance.

Begin Again

When I die, I want my ashes put in one of those biodegradable cups that grow into a tree and planted someplace off the beaten path but where people might still find respite in the cooling shade of my branches. Maybe someone would bring a notebook and pen on a warm day and sit with their back leaning against my trunk to write while the wind blows through my leaves with enough ambient noise to filter the static of the quiet that might otherwise prove to be too much. I want to be someplace where my roots can take hold, where I’ll have water and sun and nourishment. I want to be strong.

I don’t mean this to sound morbid, but I’ve been coming across as seemingly morbid lately even as the days grow longer and the skies brighten. What I had hoped a week ago was not the beginnings of an inevitable downslide into depression and just plain old boredom was just that and sometimes it’s hard to not come across as a little morbid when you feel defeated. Today has been a good day though, all things considered. I left my apartment willingly, I ate relatively well, I was creative. All things considered, today was a success story. Still, I can feel it lurking below the surface, waiting for an excuse to bubble up and take over and I know it can at the flip of some invisible switch.

For me, depression feels like a darkness inside of me that I can’t escape. It starts somewhere deep and grows from there, infecting everything like a virus running rampant through my mind and body. It feels tight until my emotions are either running full tilt all at once and alarmingly overwhelming or until I am shrunken and shut down and numb, unable to feel anything except all consuming defeat. It sounds melodramatic, even to me, until it hits me again and I am living it and then I’m just riding it out until something gives. Sometimes I just want to sleep, curl up in bed and pull the covers up forever with my stuffed animals until I start to worry I might rot there. Other times, I can’t eat, can’t sleep and I alternate between needing to be in constant motion and feeling like my limbs will falter from exhaustion. I feel like when I was a kid, being “crazy” could be brushed aside almost as a phase that I was going through but now that I’m in my thirties, it’s not cute anymore and if it’s a phase, it’s one that keeps repeating.

An art therapist a couple years ago challenged me to draw something that encompassed hope in my recovery and this is what came out of the project. I’m not sure what she thought of it, but to me, it’s a little representative of this fight, something trying to pull me under, me standing at a precipice with a huge weight on my shoulders having to make all of the decisions again and not knowing how things will wind up.

155723_787396609470_174849201_n

 

(The above image is a color drawing of a person standing at the edge of a drop-off with a river raging in one direction, fire in another and a ladder leading to the unknown.)

We Get By

My partner is out of town this weekend and has been for the better part of the week at a conference on the other side of the globe, so I’ve been working to keep myself busy while I’ve got the apartment to myself. The quiet is nice, as long as it doesn’t get too quiet, and I’ve found myself enjoying working on little projects for myself. The ability to stay home alone for longer stretches of time is a newer occurrence these days that I am taking to hesitantly but gladly. I had spent so many years fighting deep depression that the idea of being left alone on my own was not just daunting, but possibly dangerous at times, and I pause to say I’m reveling in this newfound freedom, but it’s certainly nice to have the option.

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing to pass the time, mostly a larger project that I started after my partner left for New Zealand. A couple weeks ago, I bought a mixed media pad that measures 18″ x 24″ because I thought it might be fun to take on some larger projects. I finished the drawing today, though I found it’s really hard to get a good quality photo of something that large and my scanner is much too small for the paper.DSC_0006 scaled

 

(The above image is a pen and ink drawing consisting of a large swath of circles, each slightly overlapping with a different textured design inside.)

Still, you get the gist.

There’s still a fear I have that as quickly as this remission in some of the more severe symptoms of my illness came about it, the illness itself could rebound. I’ve been trying to fill my life with quality things I enjoy, hence the art, but lately I’ve been wanting more. The terrifying part is that being dissatisfied with the size of my world and the beginning symptoms of my mental illness don’t feel terribly different to me, at least not recognizably, and so I keep having these moments of panicked thoughts that the world is really crashing down around me. I think I’m a bit too Chicken Little at times. Fortunately, I have a really strong support system and people to help me realize that I’m not slipping back into despair but rather into regular old boredom and that this is actually a really good thing! It just doesn’t feel like a good thing…

Art is one of those things that makes me feel alive though. There was one time when I was in the hospital where I drew almost every spare moment I had because it was one of the few things that made me feel connected to anything. I don’t consider myself to be an artist, probably along the same reasons I don’t consider myself to be a writer. That would involve taking some sort of positive credit for what I do, but I do enjoy it. I’m hesitantly looking forward to seeing what comes out of this slow expansion of my world, that is if I can keep from running for fear that the sky is falling.

Dear Kid

My therapy assignment over the past few weeks was to write a letter to myself as a child about the truth of many things and while I’m not going to post the contents of that letter here because it is long and deeply personal, I did really like the last paragraph and decided that I would share that.

The truth is that you are a math problem. You are the product of your environment and your upbringing and you are the sum of your parts and your only saving grace is that when you multiply a negative times a negative, somehow you wind up with something positive, no matter the size. Not that you will be able to ever hear yourself or any aspect of you as being positive without claiming it to be a lie, because even at thirty-two, that is something far beyond what you can let go. But you have survived thus far, to thirty-two and that is not a negative number so there must be at least a small positive in there somewhere and perhaps that’s not nothing.

Thinking this is bringing me a small bit of peace tonight.

 

Spring Is Here!

Yesterday was one of those pre-spring days that I love. Blue skied without a cloud in sight, warm enough to get away with wearing a lighter weight jacket with layers underneath, feeling optimistically cheerful while waiting for the bus to go down to the center of this urban area for a cup of tea and wait for my partner to be done with work for the night. Just knowing that the spring equinox was today was enough to put me in a good mood.

When we got the first twenty-six inches of snow and the city ground to a halt in January, I didn’t realize how badly the end of winter was going to weigh on me. And really, with almost no snow for the first months, the cold temperatures felt bearable and as I struggled to hold the areas of my life that were falling apart in other grandiose ways together, winter seemed like the least of my problems. And then of course I got the other pieces of myself to fit back together in their jigsaw puzzle and with cautious optimism laid a thin layer of modge podge over the top right as the flakes began to fall and this hell of a winter that had apparently just been saving everything up for its last six weeks unleashed itself with a fury upon Boston. All I can think now is thank god for that thin layer of glue for holding me together until spring because now that it seems certain that spring will indeed arrive on this coast, everything just feels like it’s becoming easier to deal with again when for a while I wasn’t sure we’d make it through.

And of course today, being the actual equinox, brings with it another layer of snow depth still to be determined which does put a slight cramp in my spring-welcoming plans since it is the sort of weather that makes me want to hole up inside where it is warm and dry. Still, I think back to a month ago when I was making snow angels literally standing up while leaning against snow banks and a dusting of snow suddenly doesn’t feel like it will crush my spirit quite so easily. I’m able to remember how perfectly blue the sky was yesterday and hold onto that despite the less than choice weather conditions outside my door currently.

10848867_915450643160_1987096314317962406_o

(The above image is of myself making a snow angel against a six foot pile of snow standing up.)