So here’s the thing…

I haven’t been in a good mood for a while. I haven’t been upset or in a negative emotional place, at least not one that lasts for very long. But what I haven’t experienced is that feeling of optimism and excitement. Sometimes in the middle of the school day, I’ll find myself thinking about going home and putting my feet up and even that simple thought puts me in a really good mood. Or this weekend, knowing that tonight is Sunday night and I don’t have to work tomorrow because of Veterans Day. That should elevate my spirits, but it’s not. Those temporary moments of joy have been replaced by thoughts of work that has to be done for school, deadlines for extra things that I am responsible for, and guilt for weight gain and blood pressure that is dangerously high–guilt because I’m not currently doing anything to remedy my physical conditions. All of this, plus wondering why it’s been three weeks since I’ve heard from my mother. In an unusual way, I have not received any texts from her. I don’t expect phone calls anymore, that would mean something is wrong, but no communication whatsoever. My thought is that she is holding out on contacting me to see how long it will be before I reach out to her. I could be wrong, but not likely when it comes to her. I’ve been going back and forth with bitter thoughts about this non-existent mother/daughter relationship. Good thing I didn’t decide to abandon therapy. I have an appointment this Tuesday, perfect timing. I have an appointment every third Tuesday, but I tend to cancel every other appointment. I’m keeping this one, as I feel that I’m on the verge of crying a bit too frequently lately.

So much weighs on my mind all…the…time. None of these things seem to be harbingers of that feeling of happiness I miss. I recently finished writing an essay for the annual non-fiction contest I enter every year. I’m almost tempted to not enter this year. I don’t think my writing is what this particular magazine is looking for. I have found other publications that I’d like to submit my piece to, in the hopes that I can continue to get my story out there so I can potentially help break this damn stigma that exists. This stigma is real. To the point where I was sitting in the waiting room at my therapist’s office and I was nearly 100% certain that a parent of one of my students was also in the waiting room. We didn’t speak, we didn’t make eye contact, and inside I was cringing and praying that my name would be called as soon as possible so I could get out of there. Granted, she was there too, but I’m her son’s teacher. How does that make me look? These feelings of embarrassment for being there are absolutely not necessary, but they are also automatic. Automatic because society has made it that way. Recently Lady Gaga became an outspoken advocate for ending the mental health stigma after she openly talked about her own battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed her music, but her openness makes me respect her on a much different level.

I usually try to wrap up posts here on a positive note. An expression of hope for the future or a new found determination to go out and do something…but not now. I don’t feel hopeful and I don’t feel depressed. I’m just here, moving forward, doing my work, doing the best I can, and sometimes, that’s all there is. And that’s o.k. too.

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Sharp Objects on HBO

I had seen previews of this show and read online that there would be triggers in it so caution should be taken when watching it. That got me curious, but I ultimately ended up watching it last night because I saw that Chris Messina is in it, along with Amy Adams, who I love. I am a fan of the two of them as husband and wife in the movie Julie & Julia, so naturally I had to watch this.

The show is very dark, and initially I thought the triggers would be brought on by the fact that the main character is an alcoholic. It doesn’t just show her drunk, but shows the act of drinking–rearranging bottles, buying liquor, pouring alcohol into a water bottle so she can drink while driving, etc. I don’t have a history of alcohol abuse, so this part of the show didn’t affect me. It wasn’t until the last scene that I realized that there was another aspect of the main character that was troubling. She is a cutter. With closeups of her bare skin while taking a bath, you see the pink scar lines on her shoulders and arms. It’s obvious that these are self-inflicted because the word ‘vanish’ is cut into her arm. The show ends after this is revealed.

Seeing this is not a trigger for me like it may have been at one time, and for that, I’m very thankful. If anything, it brought back memories. Throughout the episode, it is clear that it’s the summer in the south, as most of the characters are in shorts and short-sleeved shirts. There is even a large circle of sweat on the back of the lead detective’s shirt. And yet, Amy Adams’ character is always in long-sleeves and pants. I did that. When I was a cutter, I wore long-sleeved shirts out in public during the sweltering summer months. I had to hide the cuts somehow. But oddly, I never cringed when I looked at my cut-up arms. Even now, remembering the blood-red lines running parallel up and down my forearms, it doesn’t make me upset. Those cuts were a big relief to me then, and even beautiful in my mind.

The other thing that I got from the show is a reminder of why I will never again live in the town I grew up in. The main character on the show had a very disturbing childhood and is now having flashbacks of those times, now that she is an adult having to revisit the town to cover a story as a reporter. So many terrible things happened to me in the town I lived in from the age of 12. I can’t stand going back there. I really never have a reason to. In fact, they recently built a by-pass around the town so that when I have to travel north, I don’t even have to drive through the middle. The one time I had to actually go to a place in the town, I was quick to get out. I dropped off something that I had made for a friend and could not wait until my husband and I had driven out of the city limits. I am Facebook friends with a few people who still live there, and I just don’t get how they can stay. But then again, I didn’t live there my whole life. Maybe if I had, things would have been different.

In any case, the show only just premiered last night. I’m pretty sure I’ll watch the whole series. Like I said, the triggers that viewers were cautioned against don’t affect me. They are not making me want to cut myself again. Nothing will ever make me do that again. But I know that I will have to mentally prepare myself to watch each week. The show is seriously dark, definitely worth watching though.

There are those days…

There are those days like yesterday, when my husband left to do laundry at his mom’s house and I had to convince myself it was not a reason to cry. When I got dressed and got in the car and headed to the store to go grocery shopping only to turn around halfway there and come back home because I was afraid I would break down crying in the middle of the store. When I’m usually early with emailing a weekly file for my second job but decided yesterday that I just didn’t want to put the effort into finishing it at my normal time. When my nap on the couch turned into something I had to force myself to get up from. When my Saturday routine and joy at being alone turned to torment until my husband came home again.

There are those days like today, when I had enough energy to do everything I wanted to get done yesterday and still had motivation left over to clean the apartment from top to bottom with my husband. When he and I cracked jokes while putting away the laundry and I remembered why I was labeled somebody’s “loudest friend” one time, all because of my laugh. When we went out for dinner and had a nice conversation while we ate. When I marvel at the difference a day makes to someone battling mental illness.

There are those days like all of the ones in between when I am constantly grateful for medical science and all that it has done to help me find a life I can live without the intensity of an untreated mental illness. When I can look forward to going to my regular therapy appointment because I have found someone who can help me understand so many things about myself that I never could before. When I am in awe of the man I married whose patience and willingness to see me through every single day that I am here.

Yes, there are those days.

Strange Days

It’s a strange time of the year. Every year, the beginning of May brings the promise of summer break. My school year ends right around Memorial Day…every year. And yet, this year, I feel anxious about school ending. Things don’t feel right. I’m not excited as much as I usually am. I feel the same exhausting ‘teacher tired’ that I’ve seen expressed in countless memes online. There’s more to it this time though. It’s entirely possible that the events in my  life over the past several weeks have contributed to this sense of strangeness.

To take stock of what has happened lately, here’s a quick list:

-My 13 year old ginger kitty, Joey, died while I was at work one day. Though it was a blessing that he died at home. He hated the vet and I worried about having to put him to sleep at a place that caused him so much anguish.

-Work has been difficult, demanding, and defeating, for my husband–and since marriage makes us a team, I have felt his stress. It has made me feel closer to him than ever. A strong need to comfort him and be physically near him has consumed me.

-My grandmother died in hospice this week–I drove 10 hours last weekend to see her before she passed, and 10 hours back home in a brutal drive that I do not want to make alone again for a long time. She was not the easiest person to love. Being set in her ways made it difficult to communicate with her around the time that I got married. I hadn’t talked to her since before my wedding. But she did give me so many wonderful memories from things we did together when I was a kid. Her passing has made me very curious about where she is now. Did her devotion to the Catholic faith bring her to the place she yearned for? How did that transition work? What is she experiencing right now?

-My physical health has reverted back to how it was before I returned a 2nd time to exercising. Terrible food choices and lack of physical activity have led my blood pressure and weight to balloon up again.

At my annual women’s exam, the doctor questioned my mental health after reviewing my answers to several questions about how I have felt in the past seven days. After assuring the doctor that I do have mental health professionals that I see regularly, I simply explained that there has been a lot going on.

The feelings linger though. Good days happen. I was happy this afternoon–it’s Friday–I got a lot of work done at school, meaning not much work to do this weekend so I can have plenty of free time. However good of an afternoon it was, here I sit with tears brimming in the corners of my eyes. I know why. It’s not the specifics of everything that has happened lately. They are a part of life. But for a person like me, who relies heavily on structure and routine–this is hard! It’s funny because usually anxiety is my biggest nemesis, but through all of this, it hasn’t been anxiety, it has been just plain sadness and concern.

I’m happy that it will officially be summer break when I get home from work on May 31st. But what happens next? I don’t know. Something has to happen though, I have to create a routine for myself for the summer. Not just a list of goals or things that I would like to do over the summer, but a daily schedule. I have to. If I don’t, the daily laziness will begin to erode my mental health faster than it normally does each summer. I usually get a little depressed and stir crazy by the time summer break is almost over. It will happen instantaneously this year if I don’t prepare. I haven’t gotten very far with ideas, but I know one of them will be exercise. I live in the south, so running outdoors won’t be easy in the blazing summer months, but I have an elliptical. As much as I hate using it, I will need to force myself. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I don’t know when things will improve, but I know they will. There is possibility and good things to come in the future, but getting there, through this transition time, it sucks. And that’s okay, for now anyway.

 

Positively “lucky”

The thing about a typical Monday when you’re a teacher, or at least a teacher at my school, I have to submit lesson plans to my principal. She checks over them and then gives us some quick feedback when she returns them. The feedback is usually a hand scrawled note on the paper copies that are turned in, or a response to the e-mail that I send mine in. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years and a teacher under her for 10. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to rise to her expectations and I can honestly say that at this point, I think I have risen high enough to exceed them.

Despite this tooting of my own horn, I know too, that I’m not perfect. She and I had a difficult relationship in the beginning. And it is because of fear of her blunt nature that I often have anxiety before a faculty meeting or before I am to receive feedback from her because I fear her criticism. Certainly nobody likes to be criticized, but I especially want to please her. When she brings prospective parents around to meet the teachers, she always tells them our names and a little bit about our role at the school. I’m always introduced as the person who edits the yearbook, manages the website, mentors beginning teachers, and the list goes on. It’s made me wonder lately if I am only as good as the things I do around the school. Is my way of pleasing her simply the fact that I am in charge of more things than most teachers at my school? Or does she genuinely think I’m a good teacher? After all, she taught the same subject that I do before she became an administrator, am I as effective of a teacher as she was?

Her feedback to me this morning was reassuring to my mind. In part, her feedback said of the students, “They are lucky to have you”. I read this e-mail before the first period of the day was over and it is a good part of the reason that the rest of my day was good. It was a very validating remark and it made me realize too, just how powerful a positive comment can be. It certainly made my day and yet I have such a hard time giving that same positivity to the people I encounter on a daily basis. Why is it so difficult to smile and engage the few people that just get on my nerves? What makes me want to engage in gossip about these same people?

It’s the 2nd week of Lent and I am determined to make my “sacrifice” about being more positive in my relationship with the people I am challenged by. As our priest said on Ash Wednesday, Lent is about “growing up”. For me, growing up will mean being nicer to everybody, while I’m in their presence and when I’m not. To speak kindly of those not favored by all and let them know that they are valued, just as I felt this morning, the positive effect of knowing that I too, am valued.

Mental Health Set Backs

At the deepest point of my depression, when the dark red razor cuts lined my forearms and I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a time when cutting myself didn’t make me feel temporary relief from the emotional distress I felt on a daily basis, I turned to my psychiatrist. A man who saved my life. Who was the person who knew that I had to take a semester off of school and have ECT treatments (shock therapy) in order to get better. To say that I got better is an understatement. Those treatments changed my life. Four of them altogether plus a combination of three medications, and 15 years later, I am still as stable as I have ever been. That is, until last week.

Since recovering from the two foggiest years of my life, I have looked back only long enough to know that I don’t ever want to go back to how I was then. So when there were three days last week when I could not control my urge to cry, I worried. The anxiety that I felt was of a familiar intensity. There was a feeling of confusion because while I have been stressed at work, it hasn’t been out of the ordinary in the amount of work I had to get done. My husband and I tried to analyze everything in my life that could be causing these crying spells. While we tried to rationalize my depressed and anxious feelings, I attempted some of the mindfulness techniques that my therapist had been teaching me in each session. These meditative strategies only made me cry harder when I tried them now. Fear gripped me. What was happening? How could it be that all of a sudden my medication wasn’t working? It had worked for the past 15 years, despite a minor setback when my psychiatrist, for the 2nd time, tried to take me off of a particular one. With that setback being three weeks prior, what could be going on? This came out of nowhere and with it came the paranoia that the past was going to repeat itself. These were similar distressing feelings that I felt before having my life-changing ECT treatments.

It finally became clear that I couldn’t go on. I had a previously scheduled appointment with my therapist on a Tuesday, so I added an appointment with my psychiatrist for earlier that same day. I left early from work and met with my psychiatrist. It wasn’t a change in medicine that caused this, and he assured me that the fact that I could verbalize my feelings to him was a good sign. He prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication that I took immediately after getting it filled that afternoon. What I discovered in my appointment with my therapist was what truly turned it around for me. The medication calmed me to the point where I could talk to my counselor without emotional hysterics. And while I know without a doubt that no professional will ever compare to Dr. Simpson–the man who knew what was best for me even when I couldn’t comprehend it myself at the time–my current therapist is someone that I now hold in high regard. I have been seeing her for a little more than half of a year and after this last meeting with her, I know that I need her. There was a moment when I thought the 50 dollar co-pay ever three weeks might be an unnecessary expense, but after last week, I won’t ever mind paying that co-pay again.

After my appointment with her, I felt immediately better and haven’t needed the anti-anxiety medication since. She assured me of 3 things during that time: I don’t need to worry about going back to the way I was because I have a much better support system in place now; It is o.k. to feel anxiety–in fact, I should acknowledge the feeling instead of trying to explain it and worry that it’s there; also, while my husband and I tried to dismiss the fact that my parents had gotten re-married only days earlier as a trigger, it was in fact, the thing that set it off.

My parents getting re-married after being divorced for the past 18 years is a story for another post, in fact, it’s a story that I’m pretty sure is still not finished, but what is finished, is my fear of returning to the past. I know that I will never intentionally cut myself again, but now I also know that the same feelings that made me want to do that all those years ago are o.k. to feel now. They are not dangerous, they are real and as long as I turn to my support system, I will survive them. I don’t have to give in to them. In fact, I can’t give in to them, I’m too busy. I’m busy with my job as a teacher, and I’d like to get busy again being a fitness fanatic. Intense anxiety does not make it easy to work up the motivation to get on the elliptical or pull out the weight bench to strength train (which I’ve added to my work out routine). Anxiety is not forever, life goes on and I feel confident in saying that I will go on too.

Not as long as I thought

The past two months have not only seen my physical health improve, but also the relationship with my sisters. The improvement in my relationship with them came about through a mutual anger at our mother. I spent this time not talking to her, and talking about her to my sisters. And while we are related through her, we are all different in the reasons we are mad at her. The texts with them and numerous phone calls all came to a head when our mother found out that they knew she and my father would be on a cruise to the Bahamas over Christmas, rather than at home. I was the only one who knew and as I was sworn to secrecy, it was apparent that I had told them. When this “betrayal of trust” was revealed, I braced myself for a major argument with my mother. She texted me and when I told her I didn’t want to get into an argument with her, she simply said that she argues with the middle sister, not me.

It was then that I immediately let go of my remaining anger toward her. I realized, in that moment, that while I had been caught up in all the negative feelings toward her, I failed to realize that she and I have a much different relationship than she does with my older sisters. I also realized that my own anger toward her had faded and I was holding onto it simply because my sisters were.

I began talking to her on the phone again and we soon made arrangements for she and my dad to stop at my apartment on their journey to Florida to hop on their Christmas cruise. The day of their one night stop has come and gone. And in its wake is a text that she sent the morning after.

moms text

The three of us had gone out to dinner during their visit, the service and food were terrible, but we enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards, we exchanged gifts and chatted for a while at the apartment before they headed to their hotel to rest after a long drive during the day.

They’re on a cruise ship right now, somewhere in the Bahamas, and when they dock next week, they will be stopping here again on their way home. I’m looking forward to it. Because no matter how angry I was at them two months ago, I’m not anymore. It is very obvious to me that they are happy. One look at the engagement ring my dad gave her shows me just how happy they are.

I will forever be touched by the text that she sent me. My mother was never one for sentimental, affectionate words when I was growing up. She didn’t have them, herself, when she was young. It wasn’t until much later in my life that she began to say “I love you”. I never doubted that there was love there. I never needed to hear the words. But despite that, I’m happy to hear them now. I’m happy that the anger didn’t take as long as I thought to get over. I’m happy to talk to her again…but really, we’re all happy, and that’s fine with me.

Unsung no more

One of my coworkers today had another chapter to add to the captivating drama of battling her ex-husband for custody of their children. She has shared much of this story with me over the past several years. It truly is a very frustrating experience for her, to say the least. Today, her ex took it the next level by bringing it to our school and trying to get our principal involved. She related this to me after school, around the copy machine, as we were both winding down the day. Her concern was about our principal seeing this drama first hand and how she would feel knowing that this is happening. It was then that I reminded my friend of the conference she and I went to with our principal at a convention center a couple hours away. After a day of seminars, the three of us had gone out to dinner and then sat around the deck of the hotel  pool with drinks from the bar. We spent about two hours out there and we talked about so many different things. We shared personal things about ourselves–from my battle with mental illness to not being able to have children. It was not a one-sided conversation either. I reminded my friend that our principal shared some personal things about her family as well.

My friend took solace in knowing that we are two people that our principal has put her trust into. She knows who we are…who we really are, and yet she treats us just as professionally as she did before finding out these things about us.

I left soon after and while I drove home, I thought back to that poolside conversation and what my principal had shared with us about her sister. From what I can recall, her sister has a severe case of schizophrenia. She told us that on her very worst days, her sister’s husband has to take complete care of her, to the point of having to tend to her hygiene needs during the days of her monthly cycle.

Remembering this account from my principal made me think back to my own husband. He and I have only been married for four years. But we have been together for 17. We met just as I was beginning the descent into bipolar hell. And hell it truly was. I think the end of the battle for my mental stability finally came with my last ECT treatment in 2002. I’ve been much better for quite a long time now. Looking back on that time, my husband and I sometimes recount how bad it was. He’ll say that he often wondered what he had gotten into back then. And as hard as it was for me to experience the anguish I went through, I know that it was just as hard for him.

Driving home today, I felt tears welling up thinking about how much my husband did for me throughout my struggle. He may have had doubts then about sticking by someone he hadn’t known for very long and I don’t know what compelled him to actually stay, but to say that I am thankful that he did is an understatement. He never left my side. My every high and more importantly, every low, saw him right there helping me get back to the stability of the middle.

Now that my history of mental health is longer than my history of unchecked mental illness, I have to remind myself not to get frustrated when he asks me questions about my medicine whenever I’m upset. Or when he doesn’t relent in trying to understand and help when I cry. He knows me and he knows what I’ve been through…what we’ve been through. He loves me enough to know that he doesn’t want me reverting back to how I was before. It is because of him that I am so happy to just simply be home. Because I know that home is where he is. Where he is next to me on the couch or next to me in bed. Simply being around him makes me happy.

I don’t know that I have ever really thanked him for those years of never letting go of my hand when I held onto it the tightest. He is my husband, he is my hero, and as a hero, his heroic deeds are unsung no more.

As Night Progresses…

….the melancholy increases. Watching the end of La La Land for the first time makes me teary. It’s going to be another one of those nights apparently. A therapy appointment today didn’t leave me as wrecked as my husband and I expected. The texts from my mother afterwards, however, did. This is a new sensation, being angry at my mother. It’s an intense anger. It’s almost safe to say that this feeling is on a different level than all the years I spent loathing my father. But as my therapist pointed out today, I eventually forgave my father and was able to find a peace in knowing that he was never going to be a part of my life again. I am capable of doing that again where my mother is concerned.

My mother asked in a text if this was about the past or the present. How do I answer that? It’s everything! I simply told her that it’s complicated and it’s both. I declined her offer to talk about it later. I want to rage at her and scream and cry and fight, and she insists that they can handle it and it’s better out than in, but what happens when I’m done? Nothing will change. She’ll think I got it out of my system and we can all move on now.

It took many years to recover from my father’s betrayal. I hope it doesn’t take as long with my mother. Tender-hearted people need their mothers. All people need their mothers. A young girl injured in Las Vegas last week said all she wanted was her mother when she woke up at the hospital. My sister is right, home isn’t a place, home is hearing your mother’s voice. And yet, I’m ignoring her phone calls and deleting her voice mails before listening to them. I’m only capable of handling texts at the moment. That’s after a week of having both parents blocked on my phone. My father is still blocked. I don’t need him interfering and trying to convince me to talk to my mother. I haven’t reached my terms yet. I don’t know what those terms are. I want peace…both in my mind and heart. They’re not in agreement right now. And when they do agree, I’ll know the time is right. Advice that came from my mother when I was an angst-ridden teenager.

 

Forgiveness Came Too Soon

Another night sees me up late filled with inspiration to do so many things. My body is tired, it’s the school year, I’m always tired. While I’d like to say that I’m staying up in order to be productive with my thoughts, I’m honestly just waiting for the season premiere of Saturday Night Live. Besides Ryan Gosling hosting, I am madly in love with Kate McKinnon. While I wait through the late news, I know that there is much that I want to say tonight. It’s a mystery as to why I’m so inspired every night when I’m too tired to do anything about it. I wake up without a shred of the same inspiration that nearly keeps me up some nights. Exercising and eating right and making myself healthy again are in my thoughts on a nightly basis. Do better tomorrow! Wake up and make the most of your second chance! Just do it! It just doesn’t work on me anymore.

But what really doesn’t work for me, is the forgiveness I gave my father so soon after he rejoined my life after being absent for 16 years. Whisking my mother away on a charter bus to be his assistant while he drives groups of school kids and senior citizens around the United States seemed like an awesome adventure for them. They are happy together now, they divorced in 2000 and married my now former step-parents. Forgetting the meaning of wedding vows, they divorced their spouses and got an apartment together. Forgiveness came so easy for my mother, he’s a changed man, he’s truly sorry for what he did to us. Sixteen years of hating him and feeling bitterness when he came up in a conversation, she forgave him. I did too. They came to visit for several days last summer. It felt nice having my parents together again. It was like we just went straight from my high school graduation to the present. Old times. Same dad jokes and everything.

Then my anxiety began to take over in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve never been able to say what I’m thinking. My husband can say something off color and in the past, I would simply stew about it and get upset slowly rather than call him out for his comment. Lately, the same type of comment will bring me to tears in an instant. It wasn’t a hard decision to start seeing a therapist. Mental health medication can’t solve every problem. Learning to cope with what medicine doesn’t fix was of interest to me. Several sessions of counseling later and I am at a loss for what to feel now. I can’t handle talking to my mother now. There are frequent texts of pictures and exciting things that they are seeing on their travels. And here I sit, feeling hurt about the distant past and growing up with these two people who were hands-off in their parenting. Who were absolutely ill-equipped to treat their daughter with respect. Who now wish to put that past behind them and be happy now, in the moment.

And still I sit, knowing that I’m not as fine with it as I had resigned myself to be. I forgave him too soon and I never thought I would need to forgive my mother, but I do. But not now. The pain has returned, the hurt is fresh again, and texting when I feel better, as my mother said, is not going to be next week. I hope she’s ready, because I’m not. The journey that I thought I had finished has started again. Wish me luck, therapy isn’t easy, triggers have already emerged, but I have to see it through. And I will.