Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lists: a Pre-list

Another week on Effexor and all is well. The dose has been doubled and will likely be doubled again before long, and there are no side effects to speak of, so all is looking very, very well.

Now, we wait.

I can't wait for things to kick in a bit more and the motivation to seep back into my bones. I'm already getting a bit projecty. I've got, in fact, an absolutely heavenly pile of creative and body-moving projects to do that could keep me occupied mentally and physically for months upon months. I've got enough fuel.

I just need to flip a few switches and get myself going to take them on properly.

First up: I'm building myself a two-wall, wrap-around desk in my small office. One wall will be the writing side, the other will be for sewing projects, with a drop-down leaf that folds up to a huge cutting surface. I found plans online for a really cool and inexpensive way to do this, and we're modifying them to fit in my space and building it from scratch. We're pretty handy over here. I will post pics when we get going.

When that's done, I'll be able to get some sewing projects done. First up there: roman shades for my daughters' bedroom. I found the most FABULOUS fabric: it's got flowers and fairies in it, and yet it manages not to be too fussy or little-girlie. It's got a bit of an art nouveau vibe about it. And it matches perfectly with their bedding and the deep fuchsia fuzzy rug in their room. 

Hold on, Ill show you:


So, those things. Projects. Things you set up to a) keep you focused and occupied, b) give you something to look forward to and motivate toward c) serve as a yardstick for your ability to enjoy things you once found pleasurable.

See, Mr. Former Migraine Doctor? I TOLD you I took the fucking workshop.

For me, the surest sign that I'm heading out of the depression void and back to productive land is the list-making. I make lists. And although all this PTSD work and pulling everything apart has made the next step harder than it was before, I'm working now on pulling my focus in and completing the items on those lists in a coherent, linear way.

The list-making thing isn't quite happening yet, but it feels impending. I'm noticing areas where lists would be helpful. I'm making pre-lists. I'm collecting blank sheets of paper in my mind and pinning them to walls in preparation.

It seems as though there will be lists, soon.

And after lists, tasks.

And somewhere during that time, EXCITEMENT. And that's when I start to feel like maybe this whole thing might work, after all.

Which is good, because aside from a desk and some curtains, I have writing projects galore to get back to. 

And a treehouse that needs building.

And a piano that longs to be turquoise.

And art that wants reframing, and more art that is waiting to be found and brought home and hung on my walls.

And sprinklers in my front yard and back that would prefer to be dug up and placed elsewhere and lovingly coaxed back to life.

And a garden that wants to happen, despite my fears that I will kill it before it does.

And furniture yet to build.

And closets yearning for shelves.

And walls that want paint.

And baseboards and crown molding that knows for a fact that I will someday soon master the miter.

And little-girl short-sleeve comfy summer nightgowns made from old goth t-shirts that simply must become reality. 

This is all mine, all mine for the taking. This is how fucked up brain chemistry is that these projects have felt so scary and overwhelming that I've been afraid to even think about them a lot of the time.

Thinking about them is beginning to give me joy.

In a very little while, thinking about them will begin to give me fire in the blood.

From there, if I'm lucky, I will go fucking supernova in a frenzy of roman shades and nightgowns and front yard vetiver plants. You will know me by my industry.

And you will be smart to join me or get out of my way.

Well. Ahem. One can always hope, right?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

So Far, So Good

Five days on Effexor, and so far, so good.

You usually notice the side effects of these drugs first, and the intended effects accumulate slowly over time.

This one gives me a bit of a lift in the morning, as promised. I need that. So that's good.

I'm noticing a small bit of what I experienced on Cymbalta, but so far none of the deal-breaker level stuff. Like, I have to pee more often, and when I do, I have to go RIGHT NOW.

(Hi, welcome to the yep-she's-going-there portion of today's post. And while we're on the subject...)

I was thinking about all the insane side effects of psychotropic medications-- truly, the lists are staggeringly long and varied-- and just how bloody unfair and singularly self-sustaining they are. So many of these drugs, like my last one, stimulate your appetite or just make you retain weight (or both), which makes exercising harder-- not to mention self esteem-- and exercise is an essential component for depressives. Exercise is, in fact, a more effective treatment for depression than drugs.

Hmmm... suspicious, that.

(Oh, and speaking of that, now that I've moved to the new med, I've lost 5 pounds in a week. The donuts of my little town are safe once again. Sheesh.)

Another really common side effect is sexual problems. Lowered libido, erectile dysfunction, difficulty reaching orgasm. Super fun! Fortunately, the ones I'm taking now are not affecting me in this area, but the first one I took, years and years ago, made it difficult to reach orgasm. All other systems worked as usual. Same desires, same responses, same everything right up until the crucial moment; just almost impossible to... you know. Get there.

HOW ON EARTH IS THAT HELPFUL TO A DEPRESSED PERSON? If you cut us, do we not bleed? Et-fucking-cetera?

So then my musings led me to conspiracy theories about Big Pharma and their evil intentions (a drone army. They're building a drone army, I'm pretty sure) and the guinea pig-like feeling of being a person trying to find the right drug and juggling all of these potential weird side effects.

Although if a drone army is the goal, creating a bunch of sexually frustrated doughy people who are constantly doing the pee-pee dance and would shank their own grandmothers for a donut is maybe not the most effective method.

I'm just saying.

Anyway. Side effects minimal so far. I'm having some of the expected, transitional, slow-brain stuff. But just a little. The biggest thing is the sleep disturbance. Amitriptyline was a mild sleep aid, which was great-- it was helping me with my mild insomnia. I took it at bedtime, it made me drowsy and made me sleep more soundly, and all was a bit better in that area.

Effexor, being the opposite, does not help me sleep and is taken in the morning. And while it has created a problem, it also helps to solve it, which is funny-- it has taken away my drowsy-maker and right now, during the transition, I'm sleeping pretty horribly, but I have a morning pick-me-up that actually helps to counter those effects.

A pill to help counter the effects it helps create! OH MY GOD, I HAVE ACHIEVED THE AMERICAN DREAM! :D

Ha ha. No. I mean yes, I am sleeping not sleeping well at all this week, but I expect that to adjust itself a bit as well as this transition continues, and hopefully work itself out.

All in all, I actually feel quite good. My husband has noticed that I seem lighter, happier, in a better mood. I feel that way. 

I am hopeful. I double my dose tomorrow. I'm ramping up relatively quickly. Let's see what this baby can do.

I do have some other new things I've been talking about with Dr. Oz, but I'm not ready to write about it here yet. 

I'm sorry, I don't mean to tease. I just need to get my mind around it a bit more before I can be articulate about it, and as evidenced above, now is not the time for that.

I'm in drone army training at the moment. We've got pee-pee dance drills all day, and then grandmother-shanking relays until midnight. No time for reflection I'm afraid.

Soon though. Like I said, I am hopeful.

That, in itself, seems like a good sign, no?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

We All Have Reasons For Moving

I've been thinking about how difficult it can be to figure out how and when to move forward. How to figure out when moving is what you should be doing but aren't. And if it's because you're stalling or because you still have more to do where you are. Or if it's because you don't actually know what moving looks like so wouldn't know it even if you were doing it by accident.

There come times, in this work, where the next move gets handed to me and it's very clear and it just happens because the handing was the thing and then it's done and there I am, somewhere new. 

And then there are times where the preparation for the next move gets handed to me and seems obvious that the next move is one I'll be needing to make on my own recognizance. 

That one. That's the one I'm trying to do right now.

I hate that one.

I've been handed a bunch of awareness. Awareness of when I'm triggered, and even why and how a lot of the time. And what I need to do for the next move is get a handle on that in my body. 

DO something with it other than just react, react.

Or, you know, pop a lorazepam,

I've done the observing thing. Oh look, there's me, triggered. Yep. That's me, triggered all right. Triggered as all hell. Skin crawling, patience gone, feeling like I want to crawl into a cave and wait it out. I AM TRIGGERED AND I KNOW IT. Situation noted.

I was talking with Dr. Oz about this the other night, and I told her I thought it was time to add a new step to this. I was very good at noticing it. So then what?

"Maybe it's time for some self-talk, then," said Dr. Oz. "Have the Rational Adult step in and talk to that triggered part, and remind her that she's here in the present, she's safe, she's alive, she's okay."

I must have had that Oh jesus parts talking to each other again you've got to be kidding me expression on my face-- I didn't mean to but I can't seem to help it-- because then she said, "Or maybe you do some daily journaling about it. What happens when you get triggered? What are the triggers? What happens in your body? Where do you feel it? What makes it stop? Just doing some writing like this will help you to be mindful about it and keep it grounded in the present, in reality."

Well. Yeah. It would also keep me from just glossing over the noticing part. Instead of Yep, there it is, I'd have to do something more like: 

I notice that I get triggered when I feel defensive, and I feel defensive when I feel overwhelmed by having to hold too many plans or commitments in my head at one time, or when someone tells me what to do. Either something I already knew to do and was doing or was planning to and just hadn't communicated yet because I don't communicate well, or something I should have known to do but didn't because I am not on top of my game.

Both make me extremely defensive because both make me ashamed of the way I conduct myself. And shame = trigger.

And trigger = crawling skin, short temper, restricted breath, high anxiety, panic, hot/cold flashes, a need to escape and lock down, shut down, soothe, soothe, soothe and equalize.

Yeah. That. Daily journaling done for today.

So, back to moving. I was thinking about how difficult it can be for me to move into a new way of being during all of this. How high the bar seems, how overwhelming it feels to think of adding another box to the checklist. I feel like I can only manage a small number of things at once, and adding more to the list will upset the balance irrevocably.

But I need to add a few, and now: care for my back. Yoga. Exercise. Neuro-feedback for the anxiety.

It's hard to feel like I can add these things smoothly into my day, even though I know there is time for them. I find it extremely difficult to see the ease in transitions between one thing and another. Everything feels too big for its time slot, too urgent, too difficult, too overwhelming. It's like my scale is broken and I can't properly size anything.

Intellectually, I totally get it. But my body is triggered over this right now. I'm refusing to let it escape. The med roller coaster has helped to gain back 25 pounds of the 35 I'd lost and kept off for more than a year. I'm switching to a new med with no association with weight gain, and I'm getting back on the weight loss and exercise horse, and I'm losing those 25 pounds again.

And the other 35 I'd wanted to lose right behind them.

But at the moment, sitting down on the floor and stretching sends me into my frozen cave, because it somehow feels too big and scary for my schedule.

What. The FUCK.

You know, it helps to write it down like this because I can see how ridiculous that is.

Okay, Journaliing for today, part II, done.

Moving. I wanted to talk about this because it made me think of my favorite Mark Strand poem:
Keeping Things Whole
           In a field
           I am the absence
           of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


In my last post, I was feeling really muddled and scattered and like I was just hanging on by a thread: the result of being on the wrong medication and struggling to control the automatic response of my PTSR brain to flee the scene when faced with triggering thoughts.

I kept having the image of myself-- my essential, conscious, "self" self-- as a kite, trailing along behind my robot body, unable to get back in and just be there and think stuff. There were moments where the thought-avoidance would get so bad that I couldn't focus on anything at all, not even the most mundane of things.

It's incredibly annoying and frightening when that happens. I know you'll understand just how annoying and frightening it eventually became when I tell you that it actually... drove me... to try...


I know.

I mean, just a little. Just for a minute. Here and there. Just to get the goddamn self back into the goddamn body.

I'd think, Okay, okay, this is ridiculous, stop, I am right here, I am waaa---





What else? What were the other tricks? Oh, right:


(That last thing is actually really weird-but-true. It helps more quickly and viscerally than just about anything else. I think I've mentioned it here before, but I'll plug it again as a great technique for bringing yourself out of a triggered state. 

Why it works: when the brain goes into fight-or-flight mode, it shuts down all unnecessary bodily functions in order to mobilize to escape threat. Blood rushes from the areas of the brain that record time and memories and into the limbs for more efficient movement--and really crappy conversation-tracking-- and the saliva center shuts down completely, because who needs saliva when there's running to be done?

So if you start making a pool of saliva in your mouth-- for reals, no joke-- it shocks your lizard brain into retreat. It helps, somehow, to flip the switch and bring the other systems back online again. For those of you who get triggered out there, I give you this simple, DIY gift. Try it. You'll like it.)

So... yeah. I did that. A lot. And tried to hang on once I got back in. But it was exhausting and annoying and mostly I was just tired and irritated and sick of being both.

As far as full-time jobs go, this one blows.

I much prefer my other full-time jobs: raising my two glorious daughters and the creative work that results in the writing for this blog and other projects and the visual and architectural art and work and restoration that is slowly (very slowly) transforming our house and garden into an awesome place to live.

Which brings me back to the first thing I said in last week's post, about my medication still being off.

I went to see Psychopharm (I just love saying it, I can't help it), and told her the amitripltyline just wasn't cutting it, and that I was somehow feeling worse on 50mg than I had on 25mg, even though 25mg still hadn't been enough of what I needed.

I've LOVED the extra migraine prophylaxis effects of the amitriptyline-- I've been having 2-4 very mild migraine attempts each month since I started with it, as opposed to the 10-12 pretty solid migraine days per month on just the topomax alone, and the 25 horrible days per month I was having before I started taking preventative meds last september.

But Psychopharm said she wanted to switch me away from amitriptyline to Effexor, which functions more like Cymbalta, which, as you might remember, I had a bit of trouble disengaging with a few months ago, but which, aside from the ugly withdrawal thing at the end and some unfortunate... um... ph imbalance trouble in the ladyparts area that caused me chronic urinary tract infections (because, you know, that's a totally reasonable side effect to expect from an antidepressant, am I right? O.o)... it was actually pretty good at what it was supposed to be doing for me.

So she had me cut back to 25mg of amitriptyline. And then my husband suggested that I wait to do this next Big Med Switch until my sister and her husband, who are staying with us for a few months, get back from their honeymoon in Paris next week (swoon), since he has to travel a lot for business over the next few weeks and we never know how difficult the switch is going to be for me and it would be nice to do it with some support if I can.

Good idea.

So I stuck with the 25mg past the three days I was supposed to and I didn't make the switch.

It's been almost two weeks now, and I have to say... I feel pretty damn good.

It still doesn't do much for the anxiety-- I think there's still something missing from the cocktail-- but I like this 25mg of amitriptyline so much that when I go in for my checkup with Psychopharm on Tuesday, I'm going to tell her that rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, I'd like to try adding something to this mix instead.

The Effexor can't be taken with this. But maybe there's something that can that will provide the promising features of Effexor; most notably the "lift" of energy that I am sorely missing, and the anxiety relief as well.

Anyway, wish me luck. While I'm still on the merry-go-round, this is the first time I've felt like I've had a sense of where I was and what I wanted. I've felt at the mercy of Psychopharm and her whims until now. Now I'd like to have a say in the matter. 

So I'm going to give a bit of pushback: I've found something that works in ways that are very important to me. Now find me something to fill in the gaps. It may not be possible, but let's at least try that first.

Huh. Would you look at me, standing my ground and demanding stuff. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers around here! These drugs might be working better than I thought! ;)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What It's Like In Here

Things have been difficult lately.

The medication problem still hasn't been sorted out-- I've got a doctor appointment on Tuesday to discuss a new approach. Ugh.

But I've also been working on being more engaged-- with people, with the present, with the moment-- and it's leaving me triggered and scattered and struggling to focus.

The opposite of engaged, really.

This is something that's going to take a lot of practice. It is not something I'm used to doing. But as I push myself to do it, I'm getting a glimpse of the gymnastics my brain is willing to do to keep me from doing it.

I was struggling to describe what it feels like to Dr. Oz the other night, and she seemed to know what I meant and was able to give me the language to use to describe it to you. I hope this makes sense:

It's as if my brain is refusing me access. It won't allow me to think about certain things-- why I disengage, how I do it, how to slow my automatic responses down and stay with the moment. I can't even hold these thoughts in my head for a moment, let alone put in any time thinking about them. I try, and my brain skips right off the surface like a stone on the surface of a pond.

It won't let me go there.

That sounds crazy, doesn't it? Not being allowed to think certain types of thoughts, or have certain types of inner dialogue, because your own brain refuses to let you get a grip on the idea for more than a second?

I can describe it to you like this, but I can't actually do it. It's like I try to reach for the thought and it disappears before I can wrap my hand around it. 

What's more, I've learned this week, if I try to push the matter and keep bringing myself back to it, my brain starts to go into "don't go there" overdrive, and I get pushed further and further from what feels like my intellectual center and more to the outer surface of my consciousness. 

Meaning: I become unable to concentrate on anything. 

It's the strangest feeling, to feel locked out of my own brain. I feel like I can't think about anything for more than a few seconds, like my thoughts are so scattered that I can't gather them back together again.

Disengage, my brain seems to be telling me. DISENGAGE!

And it's true: the only way to stop this scattering process is to find something innocuous to distract me from what I'm trying to do and lull me into complacency. 

Facebook. Fan fiction. Stupid TV.

Instantly calming, soothing, and clear in a way that my thoughts refuse to be.

Escapism at its finest.

"You're being triggered," said Dr. Oz, "and you're going into the fight-or-flight response. Your brain is switching off the processes it deems unnecessary, and throwing you into flight mode. You feel like you can't focus because your lizard brain has taken over and is pushing you away from what it sees as the source of the threat."


That makes sense. I mean, it works as an explanation for what this is. It feels true, to the extent that I can hold the damn concept in my head for a moment and judge its validity.

It sounds true. Let's say it that way. It sounds true.

What I don't get is why I can't stop it from happening. This is MY BRAIN we're talking about. It's not like I'm trying to have a conversation with someone else and can't express my thoughts coherently. 

I'm only trying to hold a thought in my own fucking brain for a few minutes and have a dialogue with myself,  and it's still impossible.

To feel out of control of your own brain, not just on an unconscious level (which, lord knows, I am quite used to by now), but on a fully conscious one?

That feels... crazy.

Words disappearing before my eyes. Disappearing from my own mouth. Disappearing from the theater of the brain. The inner lizard (as I've begun to see the amygdala-- a green, sleeping dragon within) throwing up obstacle after obstacle, force field after force field, until I sound my own retreat and give up the fight.

I step back from the work-- because that's what this is, it's the work that I need to do in order to get to the next phase of recovery-- and I look for what is soothing instead.

Don't push, I decide. Just float.

It so much easier just to float.

All of this, as you might imagine, makes me feel farther than ever from getting to the bottom of this thing.

I've torn down plenty of walls along this journey, but right now I'm bashing my head against a big one and I see no way in.

Is awareness enough? If I'm aware of this phenomenon and keep chipping away at it, will I gain access at some point?

Will the right medication help? Will I find a drug that will help me to hold my focus and actually have these conversations with myself, so I can get some of this work done?

Is it the medication that is causing this disconnect in the first place?

I don't trust my brain chemistry. I don't know what's working and what's not, in there. I don't know which reactions are true and which are affected by too much of this chemical or too little of that.

IT'S NOT RIGHT IN HERE, is what I'm saying.

I'm sort of afraid to post this one, because I don't know if what I've said makes any sense.

This makes sense, though: the things I usually choose to to to distract myself from the discomfort and exhaustion of trying to find a way in-- the mindless, soothing things that make me disengage further from the moment or the person or the presence of mind I seek-- aren't helping to reduce my anxiety or strengthen me for the next battle.

Mindless reading, Facebooking, TV-watching... those things aren't fortifying. They're not recharging my batteries, the way I've let myself believe they were. 

In fact, they tend to make everything worse, because then not only do I still have the original problem, but now I've managed to create new ones by insulating myself from reality and letting everything else slide, too.

The truth of the matter is that my brain gets recharged by creativity, thought, and action, just like everyone else's, and if I'm not engaging in others, I'm not engaging in any of those things, either.

So I end up taxed, unfulfilled, exhausted, and no closer to a refueled tank than I was before.

I've been thinking, all this time, that disengaging was the only way I could recharge.

Turns out, disengaging is just as much a drain on my resources as fighting. 

What I thought was a refuge from the battle has been a battle in its own right, and I never understood that until now.


I used to have a post-it note on my computer screen, years ago, that said, "THE OPPOSITE OF "STRESS" IS NOT "NOTHING."

Because that was my counter-weight for the stresses in my life: come home, shut down, disengage, retreat.

It didn't help me. I couldn't figure out why.

And then I noticed that there were times when I felt recharged. After I'd engaged creatively with something. Written something, made something, done something productive and satisfying. I began to push myself to choose those things, rather than continue my trajectory of permanent retreat.

It's time to choose that again.

The opposite of stress is not nothing. Stop turning off completely in response to threat. Turn instead to creative work, and come back stronger than before.

Hard to do in the moment, when things are as they are right now, but worth the challenge, in the end.

Does this all come down to breaking a habit? Instead of choosing the easy path to the couch, choosing the more difficult path to the creative spark?

It might. It might just be habit. And breaking the habit might just be as simple as repeatedly forcing myself to choose a new reaction.

Has this made sense to anyone? I'm not sure I can rewrite it any more clearly than this, right now. Does anybody else have stuff like this happen, where you can't get close to an idea in your head without being forced into distraction mode?

Well. Incoherent as this post may be, I guess it's a faithful representation of where I am in my head: locked out of the part that knows how to make sense of things.

I've done my best. I'd love to hear your comments if you think you can tackle what I'm trying to say here and shed some light on it for the rest of us.

Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd let you know that I just applied for the Amtrak Residency for Writers program, which grants up to 24 writers a 2-5 day round-trip "residency" with their own private sleeping car, desk, and inspiration from the changing scenery out the window. Just because.

Cool idea. Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Closet: Open. Stuff: Everywhere.

My husband thought I let myself off the hook too easily in last week's post.

He thought I got to the heart of the matter and then shifted focus to my daughters and talked about them rather than sticking with it and talking more about what was happening with me in light of this new understanding.

It's true. I totally did that.

Upon rereading the post, I think I sort of glossed over the heart of heart of the matter, too.

The real point in last week's post, I think, was the part where I was repeating to myself, and receiving with extreme prejudice, the mantra "All of your feelings are welcome here."

That isn't true, for me, just yet.

It is true in my environment: my husband, my therapist, my support system. They are all as sound as they come. I trust them completely.

They are not the problem.

Nope, the problem is all within. I don't trust... something. Somewhere. There are parts of my limbic system that have never seen the light of day. The emotional center is still in lockdown.

I said last week that I wasn't "having feelings," I was "just having an emotional reaction."

Does this resonate with anyone else? 

I first experienced this when I was pregnant. I'd go in for an ultrasound, and find myself weeping, but not moved in a specifically happy way, as one might expect. I wasn't allowed access to the whole spectrum of feelings-- way too overwhelming. I just sort of registered the WOW of it, and then got the tears.

And since I wasn't a crier in the first place, and then suddenly found myself crying but not crying happy tears, or tears that I could identify as belonging to any particular emotion at all, I'd get a little freaked out, but I wasn't freaked out by the experience, just sort of irritated and mortified and confused by the tears, which seemed to present as distress to every doctor I saw and subsequently freaked out by my weird crying.

When really, I felt great about the pregnancy; I just couldn't figure out why I was crying.  

Because I wasn't having feelings, I was just having an emotional reaction. 

And it was weird.

It's like... instead of being hit by a wave of emotion, being borne along on top of it. You know it's there, you just sort of glide along on top of it and never dip your toe in.

I'm not often aware of the wave. Only during big, high-emotion times, like the pregnancy.

Or when there are moments, like last week, where maybe I'm dipping my toe in a bit. The moments when the tears come for no reason, like they're trying to take advantage of a weak moment and force their way through. 

Those moments always feel like communication from the other side. Someone is trying to reach me, then. Some other me, in some other place. The me with the healthy limbic system, the me with healthy emotional functions, perhaps.

She's trying to push through, in those moments, and say, Relax, we know how to do this, you can let it happen, you can let it come, and let it come, and let it come... and when it's over, we know how to let it go, too.

And therein lies the problem, I think. That's what I don't trust. That I will be able to let it come, whatever it is, and then that I will be able to let it go.

I've learned through this process that there is so much more to come than I ever imagined.

I've also learned that I am much less willing to let some of it go than I would have thought, even though it is damaging and painful and I've spent years searching for ways to do just that. 

When it comes down to it-- if it comes down to it-- would I? Will I? Can I? Let it flow through me, as it always should have, painfully at first, and then let it ease the pain, and finally, in the end, let it run its course and truly leave me for good?

Who will I be then? What will I do with what's left of all this wasted time?

Went to the doctor this week. Another great doc at this new clinic I've been going to; this one a GP. She renewed my lorazepam prescription and we discussed my current antidepressant, which is doing great work for my migraines but isn't quite cutting it for the depression and not at all for the anxiety.

It's time to add another element. <sigh> Here we go again.

On top of that, I've got monthly hormonal upheavals adding to my mood-- these things are always so much stronger when on meds. Hence today's post, I guess.

Basically, after a relatively good and productive week last week, this week I feel like I'm barely holding it together. Which is a humiliating way to feel.

That closet is definitely open. I need to go back to reminding myself that deep struggles like this are signs of progress. They are, right? They must be.

They'd better be. Because I think I've pulled the knob off the door and there is no way that thing is getting closed again, let alone with all this stuff crammed back inside.

It's just that sometimes I get tired of rearranging all of this junk into new piles, trying to makes sense of it. Some days, it seems like if I configure it just right, I will make a magic staircase that will lead me out of here.

Other days, it just feels like it's all going to cave in and bury me one more time.

Guess which one today is? :/

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Okay. Back to write the rest of the story.

I've been thinking about it, and I think the reason this is so difficult to write is not so much that these memories are so painful-- they're not; they're so time-worn and familiar that they don't have sharp edges anymore-- but that I've been doing a lot of work in this area and I've been deeply triggered along this particular wavelength (shame, self-worth, fear of achievement and praise, fear of no achievement or praise), so every word is like an electric shock to the system.

It's like... imagine this first-grade experience is at one end of the wire, and I've just grabbed hold of the other end, so now everything in between is swinging around like a jump-rope.

Yeah, that. That exactly.

In fact, that can be said for a lot of this therapeutic work. It ain't a bowl of cherries, or a field of wheat, or whatever metaphor you use to signify a period of contemplative growth.

(Would you use a bowl of cherries for that? That would be weird, I think. You figurative cherry people. Weirdos.)

I've realized lately that this therapeutic work has become my more-than-full-time job. It is what I do. What I am always doing, 24/7. Everything is done relative to this work. Everything. It is never not present. 

It's a can't-put-the-toothpaste-back-in-the-tube sort of thing, only not funny. Or minty-fresh.

Remember that post, last year, with the picture of the woman holding the door closed on the closet bursting with junk?

Yeah, I guess I opened the door. Somewhere along the way, I just flung it open. I don't really know when it happened. 

I thought it would be different than this. I thought there would be a movie-like epiphany; maybe a sudden, shocking flashback to the accident where I relive the whole thing and get to release all of the trauma energy the right way, and then everything would just settle down and start to adjust back to something more closely resembling normal.

I mean, I didn't really think about it, but I guess if I were forced to describe what opening that door would be like, I'd say it would have to involve a major accident-related flashback.

Turns out, no. Turns out, I'm just standing here in a pile of junk, holding the ends to a lot of jump ropes, and a lot more of those ropes than I would have thought seem to disappear into a tunnel in the back wall of the closet that I didn't know was there.


So I just feel triggered all the time now, and I get ramped up to body-numbing, vision-narrowing, breath-constricting, mouth-drying, full-on fight-or-flight-response-style triggered by more things every week. 

Sometimes the things are obvious, in that you might expect a car accident victim with PTSD to get freaked out by them, and sometimes they're not.

Here's an example of the first:

I was watching the Olympics the other night with my sister and bro-in-law, the adorable newlyweds (I'll get tired of calling them that at some point, but Not This Day).

We were watching Alpine Skiing, the Women's Downhill event, one that already freaks me out a little because it's so fast and dangerous-looking and I'm jumpy about such things (because... duh).

And if you saw the event, you know what happens next. Alexandra Coletti of Monaco crashed hard on the big turn.

Until that happened, I'd never connected my jumpiness at watching these events to my PTSD (um... duh is right). But when I saw that crash, there was no room for doubt. My body tensed and braced, my mouth went dry, the "cold fire" started up everywhere, my arms went numb from the tips of my pinkies to my shoulders, my vision got dark and cloudy around the edges and narrowed to a bright, focused center.

I couldn't watch the rest. I probably won't ever watch that kind of competition again. I'm getting the cold fire just writing about it.

But it makes sense, that response. You can easily connect that to the car accident. You can see how A led to B, there.

Here's an example of getting majorly triggered and not being able to connect it to the accident, but to something that happened way, waaaay before the accident did, and was just cemented into my fight-or-flight response by a car on the wrong side of the highway one night.

This is the story you came here to read:

I'd actually uncovered the whole shame/migraine/first grade teacher link with Dr. Oz a few weeks ago in therapy. We'd just scraped the tip of the iceberg at the end of the session one week, and then really dug into it the next week, and by then I'd realized that this was a Really Big Deal.

Getting to the root of the shame thing, for me, feels like an essential piece to this PTSD puzzle. The fact that the headaches also spring from there makes it all the more important to push myself to get in there and try to unravel that tightly wrapped little knot. 

It feels like the beginning of everything, that time in my life. I don't know why, but it does.

So I was already walking around half-triggered over it, sort of crackling with electricity. It's an uncomfortable state to be in-- raw, vulnerable, weird. But I've never felt this close to the source f things before, so I was trying hard to stay in that place.

Two days after that big therapy session, I went to pick up my 4-year old daughters from preschool. I was waiting outside for the doors to open and the line of kids to pour out, as usual. My girls always burst into huge smiles when they see me and yell, "MAMAAAAAA," and run to me and give me what we call in our house a "Mommy Sandwich," which consists of my face as the filling and their kisses on my cheeks-- one twin on each side-- as the bread.


So, smiles, yells, Mommy Sandwich, and then they handed me their daily worksheets, where they practice tracing and then writing a letter or a number and then doing a couple of activities involving that letter or number. Each child does the worksheet one-on-one with a teacher.

(To protect their identities, I'll refer to my children by the names on their favorite Superhero t-shirts)

Supergirl, who is a natural performer and pleaser when it comes to academic skills and usually thrilled to show me her work, handed me her worksheet with a frown and said, for the first time in her entire life, "I am really, really bad at eights. I can't do eights very well."

I was stunned. "What?" I said.

Batgirl, who likes to march to the beat of her own drummer but who still manages to get there in the end and who is also very proud of her work, handed me her worksheet. "My eights are really bad too. I don't know how to make eights."

"Who told you that?" I asked.

And they said their teacher's name.


(that was me, speechless for a minute)

As you might imagine, I had quite a few things going on in my head right then. 

In the next 10 seconds, I had to do a bit of prioritizing:
  1. I'd been crouching down to their level for Mommy Sandwiching and worksheet viewing. I went ahead and let my knees hit the deck, and then just sat right down on the ground for some physical stability.
  2. I bit my tongue on pressing for details about what, exactly, was said and by whom. More on that in a minute.
  3. I put the worksheets down, put my arms around my smart, hilarious, kind, beautiful daughters, and I hugged them and said, "I think you did a FANTASTIC job on those eights. Eights are tricky, and nobody knows how to do them the first time they try them, so you're off to a great start. Now all we have to do is practice them together at home, and pretty soon, you'll be EXPERTS at making eights!"
  4. When they looked at me and repeated that they didn't know how to make eights, I looked right back at them and said, firmly, "I will help you. Don't be afraid. I will be with you, and I will show you how to make eights, and we will make eights together."
And that seemed to be enough for them to get on with. They skipped off to run around with their friends as everyone wandered toward their cars, and I sat there, arms numb, vision narrowed, muscles buzzing, halfway to panic, triggered as all hell.

What the actual FUCK?!

I had to get away from the school and calm down, get my body back under control, so I could think about all of this rationally. So I collected my munchkins and we went home.

I fed them lunch, and they were droopy and over-tired, so I put them down for a (rare and wonderful) nap, which they actually took.

And I sat on the couch and folded laundry and but on some mindless television. The American Idol auditions, in fact: something dumb and non-taxing, but which occasionally provokes an emotional response in me through some manipulative back story. The perfect outlet for the emotionally-crippled, who tend to take our tears where we can find them.

I found some there, that day. Only once they started, they were hard to stop. A little desperate, those tears. A little scary. Something big seemed to be threatening to happen. 

It's happening, I found myself thinking, wildly. It's happening.

...What's happening? the Sherlock part of my brain barged in and asked. What's going on here?! Have I authorized this?!

Oh. Hmmmm. Tears immediately ceased. Trying to analyze what was happening seemed to be the quickest way to stop it from happening.

A few minutes later, it happened again.

It's happening, I thought, so quietly, so as not to intrude. It's happening. I reached for, and found, a mantra supplied by Dr. Oz at my last therapy session as she spoke to the 6-year old girl within me: All of your feelings are welcome here. All of your feelings are welcome here.

I didn't really know what feelings I was having or what was trying to release itself from me just then, but I thought I'd offer some words of encouragement anyway and just facilitate the release instead of try to clarify what, precisely, was going on here, since that seemed to be part of the problem, maybe from the very beginning.

All of your feelings are welcome here.

All of your feelings are welcome here.

It's happening.

And then... it faded and stopped. And all the other contestants after that were idiots without moving back stories and no more tears were forthcoming.

But a little something happened, I like to think. A little movement occurred. Something. Somehow. 

My husband came down from his office around then to see how things were going, and I told him what had happened with the tears, and he asked what I was feeling.

"I'm not," I said.

"No, I mean, what feelings is this bringing up for you?"

"I'm not having feelings," I said. "I'm having an emotional reaction."

He looked at me. "Um."

"Yes, I realize that those technically mean the same thing."

Raised eyebrow.

"They do not necessarily mean the same thing for me. My body is having the reaction. My intellectual brain is not involved, and if my intellectual brain tries to get involved, it makes the reaction stop, so I'm just staying out of it and letting the reaction happen without trying to figure out what's causing it, you know?"

"Ah," he said. "Got it."

He does, too. He totally understands. The poor guy.

So, that happened. I got majorly triggered by a 2014 mini-repeat of the 1977 incident that I was just discussing in therapy and which might be at the heart of all that ails me.

Everything is so close to the surface now, so easily overcharged and electrified. The lizard brain is as activated as ever, but at the same time, I'm learning how to soothe it more and more directly every time it happens.

I realized that although my intellectual brain and emotional brain are still not really on speaking terms, the intellectual brain is now able to allow the emotional brain to have its say once in a while without enforcing a smackdown. That seems like progress of the first order.

And as for what happened with Supergirl and Batgirl and their teacher, I am not making any rash judgements. I think that a thousand things could have happened to give my girls that impression, and the likelihood that this teacher (who I know and like and have been able to observe in the classroom) said something that mean to them-- especially just to be cruel) is extremely low. 

I know that they are stepping up the rules and the standards in the classroom to prepare the kids for kindergarten, so they may be getting more direct feedback than they've had before. I think they may interpret less-than-stellar-praise negatively. I think that regardless of what was said, the message they got was potentially damaging, but that I have an enormous amount of power in diffusing the impact of that message and turning into a positive learning opportunity for my kids.

So I have. For them, and for me, too. We're all in this together, we smart girls who find ourselves faced with an unexpected challenge:

They weren't superstars at making eights. We've been talking about how, when you're a smart girl, it can be really scary to not be good at something. You feel like you have to always be good at everything and never make any mistakes.

But guess what? EVERYBODY makes mistakes. NOBODY is good at everything. NOBODY does everything right all the time. In fact, if nobody every made a mistake, there would never be any reason to learn anything. A mistake isn't a bad thing, it means you get a chance to try again, and maybe try a different way, and learn something new. 

A mistake doesn't mean you're bad or wrong, it just means you're learning. And it takes a lot more courage to learn than it does to just be right all the time.

I tell my girls that I am so, so proud of them for all the wonderful things they know how to do, but I am even more proud when I see them trying something they don't know how to do so well yet. Because that's when I know that they're not just smart, they're brave and wise, and even though they're only four years old, I already admire them for their courage.

Failing is scary. Learning is hard.

But with just a little courage, by next week, we're gonna be making eights like we were born making 'em.

And after that, they'll know I've got their backs, and they won't need to be afraid of whatever comes next. 

Reading? Bring it.

Minute Tests? We've got your number.

My girls will be fearless. They have 36 years' worth of preparation up their sleeves. They're going to destroy you.

And if I cheer a little too loudly from the sidelines, well, I can't really help it. 

I'm not having a feeling, per se. It's just this pesky emotional reaction.