Medication… Again

October 11, 2018

downloadAnyone who’s struggled with depression and been helped by medication knows that it is definitely a mixed blessing. The relief can be so great–you can finally feel like yourself, the way you’re supposed to be! But the process, which is all trial and error, can be SO HARD.

I first started with medication in 1995 when I was in college. I was falling apart so often and so severely that an older woman I know finally took me aside and said, “Honey, we all get sad but this is not normal. You need to get help.” I was put on Prozac, and it helped… a little.

For the next 14 years, I tried medication after medication. They’d help for a while, like I wouldn’t cry EVERY day, just every other day. Or I wouldn’t feel like dying, I’d just feel like I couldn’t ever get out of bed. But I got through college and grad school and 9 years of a career. It wasn’t great, but I honestly didn’t think life really got better.

Then I went through a horrible breakup. It was awful. This was in 2009 and I again, just fell apart. I took myself to the emergency room where the doctor said, look you REALLY don’t want to be committed. Can you wait until next week and get into an outpatient program? Can you hang on that long? I did.

The outpatient program was… dumb. I hated it. Singing karaoke was embarassing and not therapeutic. Art therapy with crayons was not for me, as someone who comes from a family of fine artists. The groups were whiny. But the new prescription I got changed my life.

I had no idea that you could counter brain chemistry like this! All of a sudden, I felt free. I didn’t feel high or manic; I just felt… normal. And I had no idea what normal could feel like before then. It was amazing.

In the last 9 years, things have gone up and down, for sure. And now it’s time for another medication change or addition. This is probably in large part because of the national/political climate and worries that go along with it. It’s partly because I’m 43 and single and afraid that will never change. It’s partly because of major money worries (I’m not in ANY immediate danger, but those worries! They don’t go away!)

And I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to trial and error and see if this makes me sleepy or that one makes me fat or the other makes me anxious. It is such an inexact science that it is horrifically frustrating.

But I need to, because getting out of bed has become a multi-hour process. Wish me luck. I will need it.


Terrible, Thanks for Asking

October 2, 2018

What a wonderful name for a podcast. How many of us have wanted to say something like that at some point?

It’s a podcast about the hard things in life. Depression, suicide, death, etc. Check it out. It is both hard to listen to and incredibly validating. For me, it’s wonderful to hear other people’s stories even when they’re hard.

I’d love to year your stories.

Here it is.


Hot Baths

September 17, 2018

When I was really depressed, people would often tell me to “just take a hot bath.” As if that would make me want to live? As if that would take away the darkness crawling up inside me and threatening to swallow me up whole.  The suggestion was right up there for me with “try to be grateful” and “just snap out of it.” A hot bath may feel good, but when you are severely depressed, it just isn’t going to do anything.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that I’ve been taking hot baths when I’m lonely. I’m not sure what’s going on. I like living alone but it’s still hard to be single (I know it’s hard to be married/partnered also, but in a different way). I am still missing my ex, even though we broke up almost 2 1/2 years ago. Wow, that’s a long time.

As I’ve talked about before, boredom, loneliness, and depression all get mixed up for me. So when I feel myself getting bored or lonely, I worry. Lately what I’ve been doing is taking a very hot bath in the evening when I’m either bored or lonely. I think California is technically out of the drought, but as a life-long Californian, I still feel guilty about the water use, since I’ve been doing this most nights.

However, as a form of self-medication, it’s pretty healthy.

300px-Clawfoot_bathtub


Wave

September 11, 2018

This was originally written for an event for my writing group. The monthly theme was “Wave.”

IMG_3898There is a painting hanging over my parents’ fireplace that is my single favorite piece of art in the world. It is a painting of a bottle green wave, caught in the act of rising up and crashing down on calmer water – the Pacific Ocean in all its glory. You can see every shade of green and blue imaginable present in the wave, capturing the infinite power of the ocean in a still picture.  The obvious violence and power of the wave is clear but its unpredictability also simmers right below the calmer surface. It is incredible, and my grandfather painted it.

My grandfather was an unpredictable man. He could be wonderful. He was an artist who taught me how to paint. The lessons had a somewhat unorthodox beginning: I was about seven years old and visiting my grandparents who lived on Stinson Beach. He asked me what kind of art I was doing in school. I said well, we have art for half an hour every other Wednesday. He said, “Goddamn it!” (that was his favorite phrase) “That’s not enough!”

We spent the next few hours in his studio which smelled gloriously like a mix of linseed oil, turpentine, salt water, bourbon, creosote, and other smells that I can’t identify but bring me right back to 1982. He showed me how to mix paints, clean brushes, sketch out the basics of the painting before starting, and use a paintbrush correctly. Somewhere in my parents’ house, there’s still a small rectangle of canvas with the beginning of a terrible painting of polo players, which I had inexplicably chosen for the subject of my first painting.

My grandfather could also explode, violently. My grandmother was often skittish, and as an adult, I think I know why. During my next painting lesson, I stuck a paintbrush through a tube of lavender oil paint, for a reason I cannot remember, and I saw all the adults in my family flinch. My mom started yelling at me, probably to stop my grandfather from punishing me, but he told her, crudely, to leave me alone, and began berating her, saying, “Kids make mistakes! Leave her alone!”

I wasn’t his favorite for long though. As he progressed further into alcohol and mental illness, I saw the other side of him. He died when I was about nine years old but before that he found plenty of opportunities to tell me that he didn’t want me and that I wasn’t his favorite.

One memory is especially strong: I went to visit him in the skilled nursing facility at the end of his life, wearing a purple gingham sundress, with my hair in two pigtails. The seniors in the home were starved for attention and became visibly excited about seeing a cute child, dressed up to see her grandfather. But when I walked into his room, he yelled, “I don’t want you! I want your sister!”

My grandfather died shortly after that and I’ve always thought it was a shame that his ashes weren’t scattered in the Pacific, because he loved the ocean. It seemed like he loved the ocean more than he was able to love his family members. He taught me to be afraid of men, to cringe when people raise their voices, to hold my breath when adults blew cigarette smoke in my face, and to shut up and pray when drunk people drove me around as fast as they could with no seatbelts. But he also taught me how to paint. And he also gave me my deep, deep love for the ocean.

I spend as much time as possible on the Pacific Coast. I love the warm waters of the Caribbean or swimming in Hawaii, but the Northern California coast is my kind of ocean. I bundle up in a down jacket, settle myself onto the rocks, and watch the pounding waves, in awe of their power.

 


Empowered to Take Up All My Space

December 14, 2017

It took a LOT of courage to do this, but the person after me doing the poem with the drums asked me to partner with him and… I did it.

Here’s the text:

With sweat pouring off me, I’m stomping my feet and swishing my long skirt around me. I’m not quite on rhythm and I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror because I know my steps look nothing like my flamenco instructor, but I feel free. I’ve taken dance classes before – ballet and tap when I was young, swing and salsa in college and as a young adult – but flamenco is the one I want to continue with. Even more, it’s what I want to be a metaphor for my life.

When I took ballet, it was always about trying to be graceful, staying quiet and in my place, and – even as a young child – not being too large. It took me until I was about seven or eight to lose my baby fat and slim down, and my ballet teacher poked at my belly and told me that I ate too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and that I needed to suck in my stomach. I was five.

Ballet dancers look beautiful and I admire their hard work and dedication. But I also know the sacrifices they make for their art – the long, unbroken lines come from brutally carrying their weight on the tips of their toes, something the human body is not made for.  The slim physique of ballet dancers comes from strenuous physical activity, but also, too often, from disordered eating or substance abuse.

Flamenco, on the other hand, embraces whatever size, shape, or age a woman is. My flamenco teacher is constantly telling us to “take up all your space.” It’s about being stable on your feet and your hips, using all the body that you have, and learning the technique in a way that you can impart the dance with all the soul and feeling needed. You are encouraged to land heavily on the floor, to lean into steps with all your weight, and to use your hands and arms in large, sweeping movements. You are also encouraged to make noise.

Another thing that draws me to flamenco is how empowered the women look. There is a specific look cultivated with this dance, and empowered really is the best word I can think of for it. Women keep their head up, look proud, and don’t lower their eyes for anyone.

There’s also the stomping – which is clearly not the official term and my flamenco teacher would be angry with me for using it – that is so cathartic. I found the perfect description from the unlikeliest of sources, Wikipedia.) “El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms, and rhythmic stamping of the feet.” Female flamenco dancers often use large, colorful scarves and skirts, taking up all their space like proud tropical birds, but fiercer.

I keep going back to these dance lessons because they remind me that I want to live like that. Not proud in a narcissistic way, but proud in a non-apologetic way. I had to spend so much of my life apologizing for who I was, in both words and actions, that I didn’t get to have that proud carriage. I still feel so often like my spirit is broken and flawed in an irreparable way that it’s hard for me to accept that I have the right to have a “proud carriage.” I come off as empowered to many people because I’m opinionated and not afraid of public speaking, but that’s not how I feel. I want to have the empowerment inside too.

I also want to feel like I have the right to take up all my space. I don’t want to try to be smaller or shrink into spaces that don’t quite fit me. I want to take up the space that I take up and stomp if I need to. Not to be angry and reactionary, but to be myself, proud, expressive, and fighting for my rights. I want to express myself in stomping if I need to. I want to stomp because I am beautiful and persevering and have learned to hold my head up high.

 

 


Autumn

October 3, 2017

I’ve always had a hard time with autumn. I’ve described it here before.

It’s starting to be fall here – it’s still warm in the daytime most days but it’s chilly at night, dark is falling earlier, and there’s that fall smell. That smell I don’t even really know how to describe but that brings dread. Maybe only to me – plenty of people seem to love the crisp fall smell.

It’s not as bad this year. I hope that continues to be true. I feel like I have to be vigilant or it will sneak up on me.A7091F9B-0521-4173-B02A-A364E83FEA29


A Reprieve

September 19, 2017

Something has shifted lately. I don’t know if it’s meds, therapy, prayer, or what, but I’ve been feeling… content. Maybe even joyful sometimes. And much less sorry for myself.

I went to a family event over the weekend. When I spend time with my family, I go way into self-pity mode. I’m the only adult there who’s not married, who doesn’t own a home, who doesn’t have children. Mostly, I’m just the only one alone.

But something about this time was different. I got to spend time with my nephew and nieces who I love very very much. My youngest niece just warmed up to me (she’s two and VERY picky about who she spends time with) so I got to read her books and have her sit on my lap and play games with her. My nephew and I have always had a really strong bond and even though he managed to spill a whole jar of syrup all over my lap, we still had fun.

Things feel good. The tough part is that depression waits. You don’t get cured, you get reprieves. One of the triggers that has been most consistent for me is the season change from summer to fall. So here we are on September 18, and I feel like it’s tapping me on the shoulder. I don’t want it, I don’t want anything to do with it, but there’s a reminder.


I Felt Hopeful Last Night

August 25, 2017

I’m really tired so it’s hard to remember details, but last night, I felt really hopeful.

I felt like my life was good and I was going to be OK, and I felt happy and hopeful.

I just feel like it’s important to write that down and remember. Today wasn’t bad, but last night, there was a flash of incredible hopefulness.


Worrying, Again

August 23, 2017

I’m so tired of worrying. But I don’t know how to stop. The Bible has a million verses about not worrying, but they’re all verses that tell you not to worry. None of them tell you HOW.

I’m worried that my landlord will sell my house and I’ll have to leave. (He hasn’t said he was considering it but he sold one of his three properties last year)

I’m worried that my dog will die soon. (She’s seven and in good health)

I’m worried that I won’t have enough money to keep living in my area. (While not a ton, I’m making more money than I ever have)

I’m worried that I’ll never find a partner. I’m worried about car accidents. I’m worried about health problems. I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m worried.

It’s exhausting. And I don’t want it. I just don’t know how to end this cycle.

Any ideas?


Worry, Worry, Worry

July 24, 2017

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this here, but fairly recently, a friend of mine, who is an atheist/agnostic, depending on the day, called me out on something. She said, “Listen. You believe in this God who takes care of you. You believe in a God who created you and loved you. That should make a difference in your life.” She went on to explain that this was something she (and a to of people) didn’t have. She doesn’t believe there’s any higher power or anything past humans, and she thinks that if I believe that, my life should reflect it. I should have more hope than people without this.

She explained it better, but you get the idea. If I believe in a loving God, who I can even TALK to, why doesn’t this make a difference?

I need it to make a difference. Either I believe this or I don’t. If I do, then I should, well, not give up worry entirely, because I’m human, but I should have a basic confidence that God is with me. Who can be against me? What can “man” do to me? I shouldn’t be afraid of housing prices or illness or anything else, but have a “peace that transcends all understanding.”

I know that a lot of people who read this are not necessarily people of faith, but many of you are. Do you have any ways to remember this, really deep down? As someone very very prone to anxiety and depression, this is essential for me to not go down.