Barcelona

When my partner was asked to speak at a conference in Barcelona months ago, she didn’t think I’d ever consider coming with her because I hate traveling, especially when it involves airplanes. But I thought about it and couldn’t think when I’d get an opportunity like this again and things in my life have been pretty stable lately, so I took a deep breath and did the unthinkable. I said let’s go! And so we bought plane tickets and booked a hotel room and I found myself making all the last minute preparations I needed to travel last week, like telling the bank not to decline my credit card for being used over seas and exchanging dollars for euros and now we’re here. And I’m so glad I came!

When I was fifteen I got an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a field station in the Bahamas for school credit, but that was the only time aside from the few trips I’ve made into Canada that I’ve ever been out of the country before. Barcelona is full of tiny little cafes and restaurants and tapas and all of it is delicious. Our hotel is a few blocks from the Mediterranean Sea, so every night we’ve sat at a beachside restaurant drinking wine and watched the sun set. It’s been pretty incredible. Even with my very basic, rusty Spanish I’ve been able to get around okay and thankfully a lot of people here speak English for when I’ve needed help.

I’ve been exhausted because this whole trip has felt like a whirlwind of visiting places and remembering to eat and breathe and trying to sleep at night but that’s been a struggle. But I’ve felt relatively calm and at ease here, which I’m often not in places away from home. Yesterday I got lost for forty five minutes walking home from the zoo alone while my partner was at her conference and I didn’t even panic! I just kept checking google maps and figured if I really couldn’t figure things out I’d eventually be able to flag down a taxi back to my hotel and while I wound up walking a long ways farther than I otherwise might, the pride I felt when I recognized where I was at the end and realized I’d done it was awesome. Which, if you know me, is huge. I usually panic about everything, especially when there’s any deviation from the norm!

image

Friday morning, we walked to La Sagrada Familia, an incredible cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí in the 1800s which is still under construction today. Stepping inside it was breath taking and the pictures I took don’t begin to do it justice. It made me miss my Nana a lot, thinking of how much she would have loved to see such beauty and peace. We followed that up today with a visit to Palau Güell, a palace he designed for the Güell family in the gothic quarter of Barcelona and the Cathedral de Barcelona. Tomorrow we have plans to go to Park Güell.  I don’t know what else we’ll get a chance to see before we have to fly back to Boston on Wednesday morning. This whole trip has just been amazing so far though. I feel like I’ve seen so much beautiful history. I’m so grateful to be here and so glad I took the leap to make this trip.

image

And I’m grateful to my partner for bringing me here for this experience. It wouldn’t be the same without her.

Happy Revolution Around The Sun

I just got home from dinner celebrating a friend’s birthday. Today is the first day in a little more than a week that I’ve felt like myself, so being out with people celebrating my friend’s life felt a little bit like stretching my legs after being stuck in the cramped backseat of a car for hours. Due to insurance changes, a medication that I really need to be on for my mental health stability was denied under my policy even though the same company had been paying for it previously for the past year and a half. Said medication also costs $60 per day, so it was not something I could afford to just buy at out-of-pocket costs, so during the week while I was waiting for my psychiatrist to sort of the prior authorization with my insurance company, my mood tanked as I ran out of medication. To make matters worse, I’ve had a house guest for the past five days, which while she was very nice and easy to get along with added stress on to my overflowing pile to the point that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep forever. Today, however, I was back on my medication and I had the energy and mental clarity to actually function for the first time since this nightmare began and it felt good to leave my apartment for the evening.* Which is awesome because I got to wish my friend a happy birthday and eat sushi with him and his friends and who doesn’t like that?

IMG_0370a

(The above image is the birthday card I drew for my friend. It reads “Happy 20th Birthday” and has a drawing of the Crystal Gems from Steven Universe on the right hand side.)

*I want to give a moment of thanks here for my partner who is the reason my medication was actually covered today because she sat on the phone with our insurance company twice yesterday for extended periods of time arguing with them as to why they should be covering my medication and actually got them to pay for it! If it hadn’t been for her I would still be curled up in a ball in bed waiting for the world to end.

Autumn Begins Again

Fall is trying so hard to arrive. Yesterday the temperature never climbed out of the sixties and while it is supposed to be warmer today, I’m hoping the air keeps the crisp freshness I woke up to. There’s something that just feels comforting about slipping into long sleeves again after summer’s end, something about the way the cuffs of my sweatshirts gently curl around my wrists and hands that just feels more secure. Fall has always been my favorite season, even if it is not always the kindest to me. I love to watch the leaves change color, to hear them crunch under my shoes on the sidewalk after they fall. When I was a kid I loved to jump in raked piles of them, to toss them up into the air and watch them flutter back down around me even if this meant more work raking them back up again. I’ve always loved the cold, crisp air of the fall, sleeping under greater numbers of blankets in a fight to keep the windows open in my apartment just a little longer.

Fall for me is about bolstering reserves, building things up to survive the long months of winter. Maybe because I grew up in areas where winters were long and harsh, I am used to equating winter with battle. And these days, winter is just that. Within my brain, winter often becomes all out war. The days grow shorter and I begin to lose myself gradually until there is no sure footing to climb out of a deep, seemingly endless pit. I sleep more because it feels like that’s all I can do, but sleep is no refuge from the war, filled itself with nightmares and its own unique horrors. And I realize this makes it sound like I don’t fight. I do. I fight until I just can’t anymore, until I am numb and bone weary, until every last reserve that I set aside in the fall has been consumed. I fight until the only thing I can do is burrow in and try to hold on until spring rides in to my rescue, if it brings rescue at all. But every fall, every fall I try to find new tricks to make those reserves last longer and go further. Every fall, as I start to decline, I continue to store for the worse days that I know are coming.

It helps that I know what some of my triggers to collapse are. It helps that I am so familiar with my depression, though after so many depressive episodes it would be difficult not to. Treatment resistant depression is fucking awful and I don’t get many periods of complete remission. Medications help, therapy makes a huge difference, I’ve done group programs to learn skills for coping with overwhelming feelings and urges to make my life more manageable but no one can really prepare you for life when the best for what you can hope for on average might be someone else’s mediocre. It helps that I know that I usually get worse in the winter because I can plan for that, but I can’t depend on winter being the only time I have an episode or that things will get better when winter ends because my brain doesn’t work that way.

For me, there are things that always make my life more manageable. How much success I have with following these things, especially when I am depressed or triggered from trauma symptoms, are varied, but there are specific things that I have found make a difference. Waking up earlier in the day rather than sleeping in until ten or eleven AM make me feel a little more mentally alert and less fogged over. Eating regularly and often enough that my body is getting balanced, adequate nutrition helps keep my blood sugar from spiking or dropping, both of which make me more emotionally unstable. Getting out of my apartment and outside makes a huge difference. My partner knows that something is going wrong immediately when I start resisting leaving home. My agoraphobia is a lot better than it used to be so my usual resistance to going out is much lower now. When I start inventing reasons why we shouldn’t go someplace, or my answers revert to agoraphobic ones, something is wrong. I see a therapist once a week. When my life is unmanageable, I see her twice a week. Exercise. I hate to get up and move when I’m depressed and I hate to be told to get exercise, but when I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode, going for a walk makes me feel better! Hot showers. Deep breaths that fill my lungs with air because I tend to hold my breath or breathe shallowly. Watching something gentle and calming on TV. Drawing, if I can feel at all creative. Listening to music, though it can’t be depressing music that drags me deeper. Petting the cat who these days is almost always willing to be affectionate.

Next week I have my first session of trauma-informed yoga. I’m hoping that this will be something to ground me in my body and help me through this winter. Between this and the other tools I’ve gained over the years, I’m hoping to make it through the winter without a hospitalization. In the years that I’ve been back on the east coast, I have yet to make it through the winter without being admitted to an inpatient unit. The header image on this site is from a piece of artwork I made in art therapy at the hospital I was in over Christmas of 2013 (the holidays are a huge trigger for me). The hospitals are always my fallback plan in an emergency, but I would really like to not need to use them this year. I would like for my work this fall to be enough to prepare me to get through the winter without needing an admission. For now though, fall is beginning and I am beginning another year’s journey of making preparations and readying myself for what is to come. And today, I am enjoying my long sleeves in the process.

IMG_0318

Recognizing Patterns, Making Changes

When I came out to my parents, I was offered an ultimatum: change my mind and pretend that I had just been going through a phase or get out of their home and their lives completely. Years later, when I’d begun talking with my mother again after years of cut off communication she got angry with me about something I’d said and called me a liar. She didn’t respect liars, she told me, writing that my family had never disowned me, seemingly rewriting conversations that had long ended. In some ways, I wish I still had a copy of that e-mail from her as a reminder to myself of her remarkable ability to not only reinvent the past but thoroughly believe it.

After a recent argument with my partner where I shut down emotionally, I realized that I don’t have the ability to discern between healthy disagreements and gas lighting. Because of years of living with my mother and the years I spent in an abusive relationship, both of which where it was common to be told that my memory was incorrect, especially when they had done something particularly manipulative or cruel, I get really defensive or shut down when my version of the past doesn’t match someone else’s. If my memory of the events leading up to an argument differ from my partner’s, I can’t deal with the argument. I either feel like I’m going to be be punished for arguing that she’s wrong about what happened, upset that no one ever believes me, or paranoid that no one will ever believe me and that my memory is really just shitty and not to be trusted. It doesn’t help that my memory isn’t always trustworthy about certain things. When I get emotional, my ability to recall what is happening around me goes out the window. This has gotten worse over the years as I’ve been in more aggressive treatment for recurring major depressive episodes to the point that I don’t always trust my memory of current events.

A good friend of mine has a habit of asking me if I remember when x happened, only I have no recollection of what he’s talking about. And under normal circumstances this would probably be fine, but at times, I feel like he’s trying to convince me of a memory that isn’t mine and I feel an urge to protect myself against what feels like a “false” memory. All of this makes me feel like I am losing my mind, which is the way I felt when I was actually being gas lit by people in my life on a regular basis. Only now that I’m not, I don’t know how to convince my brain that it’s not happening anymore. Part of how I protect myself is by limiting conversations with my mother to things that we agree on and by refusing to argue with her about things. If she says something that I disagree with, I say one thing while mentally reassuring myself of my own truth at the same time and then change the subject. By not engaging her, I don’t give her as much opportunity to gaslight me. Which, I realize is kind of the same thing I do with my friend subconsciously, agreeing and changing the subject but disagreeing in my head and telling myself that it’s okay.

I think it is progress to have recognized this pattern in myself even if I don’t know how to change it yet. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, but that’s how these things usually go. My partner and I talked this over the other day, so she is aware of what is going on in my head. My depression being in remission makes it easier, I think. Thankfully it’s summer, which is always easier for me to get through. Between the light and the endorphins from walking everywhere, my mood has been pretty even. I’m hoping that I can keep things stable through the fall and maybe even into the winter months if I keep walking and getting outside. My therapist and I are already starting to talk about tactics for hopefully keeping me out of the hospital this winter, so maybe if I’m able to stay on top of everything for once, it’ll make a difference. I’m certainly starting out in a strong place. As for all of this, it’s something I’ll bring up with her the next time I see her because I’m sure she’ll have ideas too. It’s just another one of those gifts in the never ending cycle my past brings. Thank god for trauma therapy.

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.