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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stopping To Listen

I am going to admit something to you, something I've never admitted to anyone before. I truly believe that some of the voices I hear are real. Some of them aren't, and I can tell the difference because they "sound" different. I also believe that the "delusional" other world that I visit in my mind is real. I know a lot of my paranoia and anxiety are caused by the unreal stuff, the "voices" that tell me bad things will happen or that I am worthless and better off dead. But there are also voices - they are truly friends - who help me. They tell me I am beautiful, that I can take a few deep breaths and make it through the next 10 minutes and things will be fine. They are my own personal cheerleading squad.

I have never admitted this to any psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or any other medical professional. I have always been afraid of what they would do or diagnose. I don't trust them to believe that there are worlds beyond ours and that maybe - just maybe - those like me are in fact peering between the veils and catching a glimpse of the wonderful, the terrifying, and the awesome.

I am not a religious person - religions tend to label schizophrenics as deluded, possessed, or just sick. But I am very spiritual. If I let my mind go still, I can feel the life blood pumping up the trunk of a tree or feel the fires that forged the lava rock under my feet. Every animal has a pure soul inside of it and every plant breathes for our Mother Earth. It I had to give a name to my beliefs I would have to say I was Wiccan. The "Harm None" rule is one I follow diligently and the Celtic names of the deities and spirits resonate with me better than other cultures. And while I have left the more structured parts of the Wiccan road behind me, at one time they gave me the support I needed and gave me names like empath and seer to let me see my schizophrenia in a softer light. It taught me to meditate, to listen to the Earth, and understand that I am a vital part of something much larger than me. It saved me in one of the darkest times of my life.

And it continues to do so. In the beginning of my Wiccan path, I walked ceremony to find my patron deity. The one who came to me was The Morrigan. She is a warrior goddess, the Great Queen, and a great healer. She reaps the battlefields for the souls that are ready to pass on to the next life and her Ravens clean the field of all the ugliness so that new life can move in. I was terrified of her at first and wondered why she would choose me. I thought it meant that I needed to become a warrior - a belief that led to a misguided and short-lived effort to join the US Army.

Over time I learned that there are many ways to be one of her warriors. I learned to use my words as weapons and as a means to heal. I gave every bit of myself to helping others, fighting against poverty, abuse, and misinformation. It gave me a true purpose, but it was exhausting and eventually I couldn't do it any more.

And so I find myself now cut off from all the ways I fought. I believed that The Morrigan had abandoned me. Instead, I had stopped listening. I feel weak and useless, and it was stopping me from making the connection.

Two nights ago I was meditating in my Safe Place. This is a place inside myself where it is only me. I can't always get there because the voices and anxiety can get so loud that I can't find the stillness. But if I can really get deep into the meditation, I can get there. It is a dome of faceted crystal that holds everything else out - everything except The Morrigan. Over the years she is the ONLY thing that join me in the Safe Place. The floor of the dome is scattered with shimmering black raven wings from her past visits and there are obsidian-like facets in the crystal where she has helped me mend cracks and fissures.

Well, two nights ago I got to my Safe Place and was enjoying the solitude and watching light play off of the crystal. Then a saying popped into my head, one I really dislike. It is one of those inspirational sayings that has never made sense to me. It goes "A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on her own wings." It sounds good on the surface - but I DO fear the branch will break because I don't have wings.

And that was when she came. She wrapped her huge, soft, Raven wings around me and whispered "My dear Indigo Child, I am your wings." (She always calls me that, and She is the only one to do so. I don't really know why.) She cradled me in her arms and her wings and let me sob at the relief and joy that She was with me again. And without words she showed me that my task wasn't to fight, but to heal and clean the battlefield of all its ugliness. I must spread kindness to combat the hate and let my smile shine wherever I go. I am not useless - I am doing vital work simply by writing, painting, and going out and saying hello to strangers and telling my friends how beautiful they are inside and out.

Yes, I have schizophrenia. Yes, I do hear voices that are not real. But there are some who are, I just have to stop and listen so I can hear love and encouragement that is hidden beneath the shouting voices of hate.

Listen. Truly listen. This world is full of beauty if you just take the time to look.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dazed and Confused

It never ceases to amaze me just how easy it is to mess up the routine that keeps me functioning. This past week my Dad's schedule changed from Friday through Monday to Saturday through Tuesday. This, of course, completely messed up my comprehension of what day of the week it was. Yes, I look at the calendar in the kitchen regularly, but my Dad's work schedule is a constant that help me keep track.

Well, I was totally confused all week. I thought Tuesday was Monday, that Wednesday was Tuesday, etc. I didn't have any appointments so it wasn't a huge deal. But on Saturday I had my monthly appointment to get my hair buzzed off. First off, I don't usually see Nikita on Saturdays, but she had been on vacation so I had to move the appointment from my usual Thursday or Friday. So, double confusion. I went for my appointment and, like always, I felt good and relaxed afterward (she includes an awesome scalp and neck massage). Naturally, I didn't feel like going home yet so I decided to stop at Target and pick up a couple of things.

Yeah, Friday at 2 p.m. is the perfect time to shop. Saturday at 2 p.m. is a complete madhouse. I started walking through the store and I couldn't figure out why it was so busy. It was an absolute crush with babies crying and people pushing their carts every which way. It didn't take long for me to reach total overload. I couldn't remember what I had gone in for and I was shaking so bad that I dropped my cane twice. The second time I had trouble picking it up because people were just walking over it. One lady tried to just push her cart over it and gave me a dirty look when she couldn't. Another lady sent her son - probably about 6 years old - over to pick it up for me. I smiled and said thank you, and then made my way slowly to the cafe at the front of the store.

I was shaking so bad by that time I knew I couldn't drive. Fortunately the cafe was fairly empty and I got a smoothie and just sat at one of the tables, focusing on the cup and nothing else until I finally started to calm down. It was then that it finally occurred to me that it was Saturday, not Friday, and I wanted to kick myself for being so brain dead.

I must have been sitting there with that smoothie cup for at least 40 minutes. I got a water to go and made my way to the car. I sat in the seat with the AC going while I drank the water and then finally felt OK to drive. I got home, took my anxiety meds, and then crashed for a couple of hours. Even after the nap I felt drained and confused. It had been so long since I had been overwhelmed like that I had forgotten what it felt like. I have become a pro at knowing when the slow times are to shop or go out to eat. The trick is knowing what day it is.

I am feeling better today. I still haven't done much - I didn't have enough focus to paint or read, I just played mindless games on the computer and watched TV. It's like my brain is still shaking even though my body has recovered.

So ... note to self ... double check what day it is before going out.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mourning and Fighting Paranoia

I am slowly crawling out of the physical health breakdown and subsequent mental health decline. The second Xolair shot is slowly making itself known and the hives have been waning - provided I don't get myself too stressed. Of course, with the weather being unseasonably hot - it "only" hit 106 today - just leaving the house to run an errand is a lot of stress on my body. Still, there has been progress.

And then a bombshell hit. I have never been overly affected by the death of a celebrity. Robin Williams' suicide was sad and I had a fit of depression for a couple of weeks, but usually I get sad and chat about it but they are basically strangers so it isn't immediate. But the suicide of Chester Bennington, one of the front men for Linkin Park, hit me really hard. His music has literally saved my life and it still keeps me together. His lyrics are brilliant and insightful and obviously came from the mind of someone who has been in the depths of addiction and depression. That, of course, is why his death hit not only me but a multitude of people who fight mental illness.

Yesterday I was so depressed and agitated that I couldn't stay in the house. I was on the verge of cutting myself, the depression was so bad. I have no hair to yank out and I cut my fingernails down to the quick so I wouldn't gouge my skin. I had no outlet for the mental pain. My first stop was the tattoo shop that I love. I wasn't really expecting anyone to have an opening on a Saturday, but I was still crushed that I couldn't get inked right then. The pain of the needles would help with the itch to hurt myself and I would be covering up one of the spots I had cut myself in the past (the inside of my forearms are already tattooed just for that reason). I made an appointment for Tuesday, even though I can't really afford it. I am justifying it as a medical expense. It is something I NEED to keep myself from something more drastic.

I drove around town a bit, stopped and got some lunch, and then walked around PetSmart and looked at the dogs and cats up for adoption. The heat finally got to me - I was feeling dizzy and nauseated from it - so I finally wandered home. I felt a bit better, although I rubbed the skin raw around the earrings in my right ear, and I watched a movie and had a light, cold dinner so I wouldn't make myself sick. But the whole time I had "Heavy" - one of Linkin Park's songs from their latest album - looping in my head and it was all I could do to not start crying.

Well, I stressed myself out way too much. By bedtime I was all out in hives again, my stomach was irritated, my sinuses were irritated and draining down the back, and I was utterly exhausted. I was so miserable I couldn't sleep and by midnight the draining sinuses and my upset stomach left me dry heaving for about 10 minutes. I ended up watching Netflix on my computer for a couple of hours and finally tried to sleep again. I dozed on and off until my med alarm went off at 9 a.m. I hurt so bad I took my 9 a.m. meds and my breakfast meds - which include my main pain med Tramadol - at the same time. Because I took the Tramadol so early, I ended up taking an extra one, spacing them out by 4 hours.

Well, I finally fell asleep and woke up about noon feeling a bit better. My stomach was still touchy but I managed breakfast. And I was feeling better than I should have been. I still felt sick, but I wasn't nearly as achy as I expected and I had more energy than I should have after not sleeping most of the night.

It was while I was taking my nighttime meds that it occurred to me that I likely felt better because I had taken 4 Tramadol throughout the day at set 4-hour intervals instead of just 3 spaced out to 6 hours. More pain meds = less pain. Yes, that should be obvious, but I am seriously paranoid about taking ANY medication. And I am especially paranoid of taking something like Tramadol. I had a scare last October prior to my hysterectomy where I ODed on the Tramadol because my instructions didn't say that I could only take 400 mg per 24 hours. I was in major pain and was taking 600 mg per day and it made me sick and almost landed me in the ER. Ever since I have taken 3 pills - 150 mg - per day and have been terrified to take any more than that.

I had to talk it out with my Mom to convince myself that I really should switch to the 4 pills a day instead of 3. It is still well below what I can take, but I just couldn't convince myself to change it. My Mom had to give me her Mother/Former RN look to get me to open the medicine cabinet and change my med planners. I am still having fits over it. Paranoia isn't easily overcome. And, of course, fighting the paranoia puts me back to having that itch to hurt myself. The good news is I found my worry stone and hopefully I can hold off until Tuesday and my new tattoo.

Wow, this is a long entry. I guess I just needed to get it all down in words. I am starting to have trouble typing because I'm getting shaky. Time to try that sleep thing again. And tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Little Things

The old saying says "don't sweat the little things". Well, I unfortunately don't have that choice. The littlest thing can bring everything crashing down.

I have had an absolutely miserable week, to the point that I couldn't even talk about it. All I could think or do was swear and try to keep myself from getting completely suicidal. I am hoping - knock on wood - that I am finally pulling out of it.

It started with one small thing: My second shot of Xolair, the new medication we are trying to control the chronic hives and other inflammation - was delayed a week because of the July Fourth holiday. The Xolair was definitely working; there was drastic improvement. But that fifth week brought the hives and the GI tract inflammation back in full force. With it, of course, came all the anxiety and hallucinations and everything else that comes with my being miserable and not able to eat or sleep well.

And then came the second little thing: I was so exhausted that I slept until almost 1 p.m. a couple of days after getting the injections. This meant that my midday medications, which are taken at different times depending on when I get out of bed and take my morning meds, would be taken at the same time as my afternoon anxiety medications, which are always taken at the same time. Well, you can guess what happened - I took the anxiety meds but not the others. Since my midday meds include Tylenol and Tramadol, this meant that by bedtime I was in major amounts of pain and couldn't figure out why. My nighttime meds, which also have Tylenol and Tramadol, hardly made a dent in the pain and the stress on my body had me vomiting and breaking out in major hives. I had to take extra Tramadol at about 2 a.m. - something I try to avoid at all cost - and I hardly slept, just dozed on and off. This made the next day even worse because I was beyond exhausted and any attempt at taking a nap was interrupted by major itching, muscle spasms, or vomiting.

Well, I'll just say that it has taken days for things to finally get almost manageable. I am still waiting for the Xolair to get back into my system enough to take the hives down again. They are waning, but I still smell like a mix of Benedryl cream and hydrocortisone lotion. The pain is down enough that I can at least function and the depression is manageable again. I even convinced myself to get the paints out today and I worked on a project I've been wanting to get done.

But the takeaway from this is that my life is just miserable. I hate saying that, let alone putting it in words, but it really is. My physical and mental illnesses work together to keep me from getting anywhere. More old saying: Nothing lasts forever, things will get better, etc. Bullshit. When you have a chronic illness or a mix of chronic illnesses, things really do last forever. Yes, they can try to stabilize things, but it just takes a little thing to throw all the progress in the trash. I am right back to screaming at the heavens and asking why the fuck I was given all of this. It is really hard to not be suicidal when you just can't see an end to the pain, the confusion, the stress, the paranoia, the depression, the anxiety ... the whole fucking mess.

I am holding on. It helps to paint again, to put that color on a canvas and make them swirl and dance together. I have a painting on my computer desktop that a friend - I don't remember who - posted on Facebook. It says "I'm going to make everything around me more beautiful - that will be my life." I am clinging to that. I am looking at a streak of green paint on my wrist that somehow escaped the hand washing and it almost makes me smile. And that almost is better than nothing.