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.

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(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.

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(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.

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

Perhaps I Was Wrong

When I said that it was too early for green sprouts in my own yard, I might have been speaking prematurely. Walking home this afternoon, I had to stop to appreciate these along the front of my building. Spring really has arrived!

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(The above image is of green crocus shoots beginning to make their way out of the ground.)

Spring Is On The Way

Spring is almost here. I can tell beyond my bottled up cabin fever because yesterday temperatures in the city soared above fifty-five degrees and friends are starting to send me pictures of crocuses poking shoots out of the earth hesitantly. I am anxiously awaiting the melting of the snow so that traces of green might start to be seen in my own yard, but I think that is still a little ways off still.

I love spring. Not just for the freshness and the green sprouting everywhere but for the sense of renewal that it brings with it. Especially after a hard winter, which this past certainly qualifies, I yearn for the chance to shed layers and start fresh and spring gives just that opportunity. There is a literal shedding of layers after all, sweaters and coats and scarves giving way to lighter jackets and caps, skin starting to be exposed to the sun again as it dares to peek out from the gloom of New England winter.

Here sitting in this coffee shop, I chose this seat intentionally because the sunbeam hits it fully. It sometimes makes the screen of my tablet a little difficult to see, but it is warm and enveloping and on a day where temperatures have dipped back near freezing, it is more than welcome. Tomorrow, the sun is due to shine and the actual beginning of spring frowns nearer. Those green shoots of spring, the crocuses and daffodils won’t be far behind the melting of the snow. For a winter that I was once sure would never end, I now have fledgling beginnings of faith that March will it allow a break through and spring will once again bring that renewal, as it has so many times before.

Anti-Valentine’s Day

I’ve never really celebrated Valentine’s day as an adult.  Probably because the one year I had a dating-friend as a teenager around Valentines day it went so abysmally that I decided it was a terrible, marketing-driven holiday intent only on convincing people that they had to spend huge amounts of money to prove their love to someone on one particular day of the year otherwise they were scum. I think that’s stupid. If you love someone, you should show them you love them far more than once a year and I find the endless commercials for diamonds obnoxious. I prefer to celebrate February 15th, the day Valentines candy goes massively on sale. That is what I find worth celebrating.  I’m a sucker for peanut butter chocolate shaped like hearts and eggs and trees,  depending on the time of year. But I digress…

I’ve been drawing a lot lately because I’ve been having a lot of psychomotor agitation (extreme restlessness) and focusing intently on something other than bouncing my leg up and down helps to relieve it. Also it saves my muscles from cramping and exhaustion and the occasional build up of lactic acid when I forget to breathe. I jokingly told my partner that if I did celebrate Valentine’s day, that this drawing would have been her gift, but I don’t so it isn’t so she shouldn’t read into the fact that I happened to try this particular design based closely on something I saw online at this particular moment in time rather than three months from now. Fortunately, since she’s as pro-Valentine’s Day as I am, I’m fairly confident she’ll go along with me on this. Otherwise I’d have to hide the drawing for a month or so and show it to her then.

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(The above image is a pen and ink drawing of three hearts intertwined with geometric filled shapes.)

 

Steady

“Trauma tries to erase us. Oppression tries to erase us. Ignorance tries to make us disappear so we don’t mess with the tyranny of the status quo. We were taught to stay silent, to smile while bleeding, to pretend it wasn’t so bad. We were tricked into thinking our stories were shameful and stupid. Writing and speaking these exquisite truths – the truths about our story, our gender, our sexuality, our races, our biochemistry, our memories, our dreams – and revealing the ways in which we heal and keep on healing, this is how we fight for our lives. And this is how we win.” – Caroline Harvey

A friend posted this quote on Facebook recently and it instantly resonated with me. There are some days where I just feel instantly defeated from the beginning, like the cards in the deck are stacked against me while I’m still asleep and I just have the misfortune of waking up to everything being piled on in a way I can’t look away from or ignore. And then some days, I wake up without the overwhelming sense of the world crashing down on my shoulders. Those days, I feel like I can pause, at least for a moment and breathe and even if that’s the only moment of peace that I get within my skin for the rest of the day, it’s a relief. Lately I’ve been lucky to have had a string of good days, those days where I can breathe throughout the day, where I can smile even, where it doesn’t feel like my skin itself is the enemy, muscles twitching uncomfortably, leaving me twitching and agitated.

When I left the hospital last week, I was glad to be home not just because psychiatric units are uncomfortable and assuming of all of your agency but also because I felt ready to be home. I know that things will never return to the way they were two years ago when I had not begun to scratch the surface of the years of trauma that I had shoved down and assumed buried forever. I’m not the same person that I was then, but in some ways I think that’s for the better. There are some ways in which my life is more difficult now, for sure, but I think that person was on a collision course with something very dark and if I had not begun to deal with my scars, I would still be hurtling along that trajectory at a frightening velocity. I am still fighting with myself to not pretend many days that things are okay, to make out that that things are not as bad as they really are because it is what I’ve always done and it is what I was taught to do. But the road to recovery is a much slower one, the path is rocky, it’s uphill with many switchbacks and the truth is that there’s no quick way to get through this, much as I wish there were. I’m not patient, but I’m learning because that’s the only way to be these days.

Tomorrow I hope for peace, for as many breaths as I can have it for. That is my goal. Start small. Not that reaching for the stars is bad, but too much is daunting and that doesn’t accomplish anything in the long run.