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.

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.