Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Once And Future Vegan

I have been vegan off and on for about 25 years. Originally it was for ethical reasons. Then my body started to reject complex proteins and I started getting sick after eating meat. Dairy disappeared from my diet after the first go-around because I lost my tolerance for lactose. Then I started having trouble with beef, then pork, then turkey, and so on. I found out I was also gluten intolerant and probably had been for years. My allergist thinks that it may been damage caused to my GI tract by the gluten intolerance that caused the progressive intolerance to other proteins. My system couldn't digest the proteins and it allowed those huge molecules to break through the intestine wall and cause an autoimmune response.

For years I was stuck with a vegan, gluten-free, nut-free diet. It was healthy, that's for sure. I cooked 99% of my own meals because I could never trust that a restaurant wouldn't have something not listed in the ingredients. I did find a few canned soups and frozen dinners that I could eat, but they get old really quick when there are only 5 of them for you to cycle through. Even high-protein plant sources like quinoa and legumes left me feeling yucky if I ate too much at once.

Earlier this year, I started seeing a new allergist and he got me on some medication that targets the immune system directly. I started feeling better after binge eating hummus or other heavy plant proteins so I tried eating some fish. I actually didn't feel sick after eating it, although it tasted weird after not having any for so long. I found that my taste for cooked fish was almost non-existent, but I loved the sushi with salmon and tuna. Eventually I got up the courage to try the one thing that had been my Achilles heel in the past: Buffalo wings. I found a good place that does them right and they tasted divine. And I didn't get sick. My body dealt with it fine. I started eating wings a couple times a month - it was my guilty pleasure - and I was fine until I tried a new barbecue sauce that had wheat in it. Yeah, that gluten is still a problem. I was sick for about a week.

I eventually tried eating chicken in general, and even some turkey, and it sat fine. I even tried eggs and they didn't make me sick at all. Progress! I was able to go out to eat with my parents and eat "real" food. I started cooking some, although it had to be pre-cooked or handled frozen. I couldn't even look at the raw stuff without getting woozy. That should have been my cue that not all was OK

Well, eating any meat came to a screeching halt this past week. My parents are going out of town to my sister's place for Thanksgiving and I am staying home (yeah, I still can't not panic over traveling). I thought maybe I could find a pre-cooked turkey breast or something similar that I could have at home. I made the horrible decision to go browsing through the meat department. Now, keep in mind that not 3 years ago I couldn't walk past it without "seeing" blood running out of the bottom of the meat cases. It is a section of the store I walk past quickly with eyes averted.

Yeah, it was a disaster. It started with the hams and pork loins. Then there were beef briskets and steaks. There were big ham bones and half chickens laying there raw, some so fresh they still had some feathers in the skin around the neck. Well, I wasn't seeing a ham, I was seeing a pig. I was seeing a cow, I was seeing one of those cute chickens my friends keep. I might have made it out of there just feeling nauseated, but then the pigs started screaming. It was that horrible sound you hear at a farm when someone is forcing the pig to go or do something it doesn't want to and it is terrified. The cows were panting, like they do when they are put in a chute and they can't get loose. The smell of the place went from the already awful smell of raw meat to the coppery scent of a lot of blood.

I had hysterics. I panicked right there in grocery store. I got me and the cart partway down one of the frozen aisles so at least I couldn't see the meat department any more, but that was as far as I got. I couldn't breath without smelling blood and I could still hear the screaming. I know I ended up on my knees holding onto the cart for dear life and I just tried not to sob.

The good news is that I have been going to that grocery store for about 17 years and they know me. They have helped me in the past when I have had sensory overload and had to just leave my cart and go. One of the ladies in the bakery could see down the aisle and saw that there was a problem and she called one of the managers. Her name is Louise and I think she's been there as long as I have been going there. She helped me stand up and had one of the other staff members put my cart in the back freezer so my groceries wouldn't melt. She helped me to the front of the store to one of the benches and just sat with me until I got calmed down. The pharmacy staff could see me on the bench and they know me really well. One of the techs came over to see if I needed anything. I told her I had some emergency anxiety meds in my purse but that my hands were shaking too much to get it out. She got me some water and helped my with my meds, then went back behind the counter. (When I went in a few days later to pick up some prescriptions, they all had to make sure I was OK.) I had already gotten everything I really needed, so when I was calm enough to walk and think, Louise had someone go get my cart so I could check out. She insisted that I have one of the baggers go out and help me get my groceries in the car.

I am still shaking from it. I had some chicken breasts I had cooked the night before so I would have some on hand for meals. I couldn't even look at them. I told my parents to eat them. Last night I tried eating some chicken sausage with my pasta, thinking that if it didn't look like chicken I would be OK. I ate it fine, but when I was trying to sleep I had a sudden panic attack about how horrible a person I was that I had eaten that chicken.

So ... I guess we're back to being vegan. I might be able to handle fish. Maybe. I don't think I'm going to push it right now. And Thanksgiving dinner will be a grilled Portabello mushroom. No turkeys need apply.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

No More Promises

Yeah. Remember when I said I would be doing a bunch of posts for Suicide Awareness Month? That totally didn't happen. I triggered myself. Brain fried. Writing didn't happen.

Well, now it is October and there was still a bunch of stuff I was going to write about. But I'm not making promises any more. They just stress me out. I lived so much of my life writing under a deadline that I think I have at least some degree of PTSD when I sit down and know I HAVE to have this thing written by a certain date. I just can't do it. At least not yet.

So, this won't  be anything deep or insightful, but a general update.

I am doing OK. I think. It is really hard to tell, to be honest. I have in general had more energy since the CellCept really kicked in. But I don't know what to do with it. I have had days when I really run with it and I end up really overdoing it. And it has messed up any sort of schedule or routine that I had, which stresses me out. I mean, if I usually don't get up until 11:30 or 12:00, what do I do with myself if I wake up at 9:00? I have more energy, but not that much. It's not like I can spend the extra time cleaning the garage or pulling weeds.

And although I have more energy, I seem to be more brain dead. I find myself messing up simple tasks like making coffee and I am getting a LOT of exercise wandering around the house trying to remember what I was doing. I just honestly don't know what to do with myself.

And to make matters worse, I have had a LOT of alone time. My mom had ankle replacement surgery and has been in a rehab center for the past 4 weeks. I don't do well with a lot of alone time; my brain likes to run away with itself. I don't know how many panic attacks I'm narrowly avoided. And my poor dad comes home from work and I start talking non-stop because I have been alone all day.

And now I am panicking because my mom comes home tomorrow and now I won't be alone and I don't know how mobile she'll be and she has been alone a lot, too, and will want to talk and talk and talk and I don't know if I can do that with my brain being mush.

I need my routine back. It makes me feel safe. But I also like feeling better. I feel more productive and like I'm getting better. But I don't trust it - experience has taught me that I always end up crashing again. I keep trying to establish a new routine, but my energy levels are varying too much from day to day. For instance, yesterday and today have been awful because a cold front went through and my arthritis is flaring up bad. I also had doctors' appointments both days so my stress is up. Everything just keeps fluctuating all over and it's freaking me out.

So ... status report. Doing better. I think. Too much time alone. Freaking out over not having enough time alone. Routine screwed to hell. My hands hurt. I'm tired. I want to clean my room all in one day. THE ROLLER COASTER IS GOING ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE.

Yeah, that's about it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why I cannot be a Christian

I have dealt with depression and suicidal ideation for as long as I can remember. And although I wasn't diagnosed until I was 19, looking back at my younger years I definitely had traces of the schizophrenia as well. I was fortunate that my mother recognized depression and got me treatment at the age of 11. That helped for a long time, but the darkness never fully went away.

When I was young, being a Christian is what kept me alive. If I thought about killing myself, I would also think that suicide was a sin and that I was put here on Earth for a reason. I was still young enough that those thoughts were enough to keep me going. I also didn't have the physical disabilities I have now. Still, there were a lot of times when my connection with God kept me here.

Then, as I got older, I started to question. I started in High School when I was taking seminary classes for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (if you go to high school in Utah, it's pretty much a given; seminary is part of the regular class schedules). It was during seminary that my logical mind got me into trouble and shook my faith. I was told that I just needed to have faith that God knew what he was doing when I would go to my seminary teacher with conflicting scriptures. I was told to have faith the God was still blessing us when the young man blessing our sacrament was a boy I knew for a fact had gotten at least 3 girls at school pregnant. I was always told to just have faith and everything would be fine.

When I moved to Los Angeles at age 19 I had the first of what I was sure was a psychotic episode. I was hospitalized and medicated. And the member of the LDS clergy they dug up was horrible. I actually had more in common with the Catholic priest that the LDS one, which was a sad state of affairs. I had given up a while before that on "just have faith" and that was my first suicide attempt.

Fortunately, several of my new friends were Wiccan, and they taught me a new way to look at the Earth, the Universe, and Divinity. With their help, I was able to integrate my schizophrenia into the religion and help me deal with it using meditation. I did well for several years, then the friend I had followed to LA abandoned me and went back to being LDS, saying that all that had happened over past several years was a hoax and she had been lying about everything. I had to find God again or I was going to hell. Cue my second suicide attempt.

I fell in with another group of pagans, who unfortunately weren't very stable or peaceful. I also became engaged to a man I thought really loved me, even though he cheated on me - I even caught him in the act a couple of times. I convinced myself that I had to become a warrior for the Goddess in the very real sense and joined the Army. By the way, if you are even half intelligent, it is really easy to fake those psych exams. This coincided with the beginnings of my autoimmune disorders attacking my joints and muscles and I washed out of  boot camp with busted knees and ankles. I returned to a cheating fiance who was still there for me anyway and a feeling of being a complete and utter failure at my purpose in life. You guessed it: suicide attempt number 3.

I guess it's a good thing I really suck at killing myself. I found new friends - some of whom were Wiccan, started college, and threw myself into scientific study. My physical pain was bad, but bearable. I was afraid to tell doctors that I was schizophrenic so I told them I had depression and the anti-depressants kept me functional. Long story short, after 6 years my "fiance" finally left with another girl, I couldn't handle the stress of college and working 3 jobs, and I ended up moving back to Utah. And the LDS Church came back into my life.

I won't go into the next 16 years of ups and downs. I never attempted suicide again, but I came close. I have been hospitalized, I have crashed and burned, I am now on disability, I have come out of the schizophrenia closet, and I live with my very LDS mother. She struggles with depression and physical disabilities and I don't know how she does it. You see, to be LDS, or a Christian in general, is to believe that everything you are is dictated by God. The Book of Job is often quoted "be patient in adversity" and all that rot. Well, I can't do that. I can't believe that. There is no way I can be patient with the utter shit I have to deal with.

If I were to believe like a Christian does that God has seen fit to give me schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, chronic nerve pain, severe body-wide arthritis, chronic hives, the list goes on - well, there would be absolutely nothing for me to live for. You see, if I believed that, I would have to believe that he hates me and is punishing me for something I have done or that I am supposed to be some sort of Job whom he tortures just to see if I'll break. I can't believe either of those.

It is still hard, but I believe the Goddess has my back. You see, in my beliefs, the divine doesn't act to give people cancer or send a hurricane to destroy a city. Instead, they work within the constraints of nature and science (as much of it that we know). Basically, I am tortured by some really fucked up genetics, but I have the Goddess and other spiritual beings there to help me, guide me, and give me strength. They do not cause my pain, but are part of what relieves it.

My mom has tried to tell me that this is what God really does, but then she reads the Bible and listens to the Church authorities and they preach the all-knowing God who controls everything. And my soul just won't let me pray to a God who would let millions die in earthquakes and hurricanes and floods - guilty and innocent - when he could stop it. I cannot follow a God who gives a small child a horrible disease and lets a murderer live until he is 90. This is not a loving God in my eyes, but a capricious one. I might as well pray to Zeus.

I will take my Goddess and my God and all my other spiritual guides that choose to tread lightly and let the Earth be herself. They are there for me. The Christian God isn't.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Suicide Awareness

I was going to do this particular entry as a video, but I kept breaking out in tears as I was filming. So ... text it is.

September is Suicide Awareness Month, so I am going to hopefully post quite a few things on the subject. Already I have seen a lot of good articles, blogs, and memes on the subject, but there is one vital topic none of them cover.

ONCE A PERSON HAS ATTEMPTED SUICIDE OR EVEN FULLY PLANNED IT, THAT THOUGHT NEVER GOES AWAY.

Suicidal thoughts are like addictions. You go through a crisis; you fight with it; you get help; you recover. But just like an addiction, that itch never fully goes away. The next time you feel that depression or sense of loss, your brain easily goes down that same path. It can be months, even years, but it is still there. Just like a recovering alcoholic with his 10-year-sober chip can fall into the bottle again if his life takes a turn for the worst, someone who has previously attempted or considered suicide can fall into that mindset again easily and faster than someone who has never been suicidal.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you have a friend or family member who has been suicidal in the past, you need to pay special attention to them if something bad or traumatic happens in their life. The warning period can be drastically shortened. PLEASE do not EVER discount a comment that they are suicidal or don't want to live any more. You shouldn't with anyone, but you need to be extra careful in these instances, no matter how many years have passed. You see, the brain is programmed to take certain actions when you feel a certain way. And if they feel that depression, anxiety, worthlessness, trauma, etc. again, the brain will go down that same road. Also, if they have attempted suicide in the past, the plan is already there. It has already been considered and thought out. It is as simple to the brain as the alcoholic who falls off the wagon - he knows exactly where to go and what drink to order to deal with how he is feeling.

And if you yourself have been suicidal in the past, don't assume those thoughts are dead and gone, and for the same reason. There are things you can do yourself to help slow down the fall down into the abyss. I have had some wonderful therapists and they helped me set up what I call road blocks in my thought processes. Basically I have trained my brain to identify when the depression or schizophrenia or my physical illnesses get severe and I start getting close to suicidal thoughts. I then have thoughts or actions that I take to derail the process.

The more mental road blocks you can set up, the better. You can use scriptures that help you feel better or you can meditate on a saying from the Dalai Lama. Basically, find a thought or feeling that distracts you from how horribly miserable you feel right now. I have photos of my nieces and nephews scattered all over my bedroom along with notes and cards from family and friends. I will make myself pick one or two of the photos and make my mind only focus on how much I love those kids. I also have friends and family I can text or message at just about any hour to help me out of a funk. And, as a final lifeline, I have programmed myself that I will contact the Suicide Helpline before I do anything to myself. I have the link to their chat option on the bookmarks bar on my computer.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand this. Not two weeks ago I reached that final step. I have a ton of roadblocks set up to derail suicidal ideation when it is a mental health issue. But this time it was a major bad reaction to a medication for one of my autoimmune disorders. I was physically so miserable - I couldn't eat solid food for days and I had hives the size of my hand on my thighs and arms - that it bypassed all the roadblocks. The pain and weakness jumpstarted the suicidal thoughts so fast I was on the edge before I or anyone else realized. Thankfully that last roadblock - to contact the Suicide Helpline - was still there. It was a Sunday night and I was on the chat for about an hour. The wonderful person on the other end got me to promise to talk to my allergist before doing anything. They were smart about it and had me chanting it over and over before they would let me offline. And my wonderful doctor got me in to see him within an hour of my calling the next morning. He took emergency measures to get my physical symptoms under control and he wouldn't let me leave his office until I had promised I wouldn't hurt myself.

I am still reeling from how fast I went down that road. I have had years to retrain my brain and I still got far too close to killing myself. It can happen to anyone, even those who think it is a thing from their distant past.

Please - pay attention. Never ignore any sort of talk of self harm, not wanting to live any more, or wishing it would all end. Don't ignore it in yourself. And don't ignore it in others. Lives CAN be saved if we all just agree to help each other.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Safe Place To Go

I mentioned in my last entry that I have a Safe Place in my head where I can go and be calm and alone. Well, my psychiatrist has me working on building Safe Places in the real world. It is part of the process of overcoming my paranoia of going outside the house and dealing with the social anxiety. I have successfully developed several Safe Places outside the house where I can go and feel calm and relaxed - the cafe at my grocery store, a favorite restaurant, etc. I have even miraculously made my psychiatrist's office into a Safe Place, the only medical/doctor location I have been able to do that with.

Well, today I went in for a Dexa scan, which measures bone density or something like that. My primary physician ordered it because I haven't been taking any kind of hormone replacement after getting my hysterectomy. It was a medical place, and a new one at that, so my anxiety was already up. The whole thing was quick and painless - I think I was in the office a total of 20 minutes - but it totally freaked me out. The scanner was an arch that moved up and down my body in lurches and stops. It would move toward my face, jerking closer and closer, then go the other way, then back again. I don't know why it triggered hysteria, but it did. I got out of the care and I was shaking so bad I had trouble getting the keys in the ignition.

I didn't want to go home. I would just sit and shake and the hysteria would probably get worse. So I sat and went through my head to find a Safe Place. The first to pop into my head was a restaurant I really like, but I wasn't hungry. Next to pop in was Affogato, a beverage food truck owned and operated by my dear friend Elise. When it isn't driving around to fairs, concerts, and farmer's markets, the truck has a parking spot at a bicycle shop not far from my house. It has an awning and chairs and, best of all, fair trade and absolutely yummy coffee, tea, smoothies, and other delightful things.

I made it over there and had to sit in my car for a few minutes before I could even get out. I was still shaking like crazy and trying to not break out sobbing. I got over to the order window and Elise was there with a huge smile and a "It's wonderful to see you." She mixed me up an iced Chai made with coconut milk and I sat in one of chairs in the shade and I could feel the hysteria start to drain away. Elise and her friend and cohort Chris and I chatted for a while and I sipped that luscious Chai and just let myself listen to the traffic and the wind chimes and just be for a while. I probably sat there for about an hour, and it was wonderful. I finally said my goodbyes and made my way home.

My mom, of course, wanted to know how it went. A bit of the hysteria tried to surface while I talked about it, but I remembered the cooling breeze and the taste of the Chai and I stayed calm.

I realize now just how vital it is to have those Safe Places to go to when I feel like I'm on the verge of breaking down. Home usually does it, but not always. And sometimes I am too far from home to make it there in time. It is a work in progress, but I see now just how important it is to push my comfort zone just enough to stretch its boundaries.