Slow Trees and Sweet Fruit

Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.
~Molière

To be committed this year to writing through the bad, means that i must write today.
Because yesterday was bad.

I’m not sleeping well. I haven’t in months, but it’s taken a steep downturn these last few weeks. I don’t think i’m getting enough restorative sleep. I sleep without dreams for the first 2 or 3hrs, but then a dream will wake me, and after that i’m awake every half hour or so for the rest of the night. If i have a nightmare, i usually have to get up and write a bit about it before i can get back to sleep. In the morning i can usually catch another hour or 2 unbroken, but it’s not enough, and i’m not sure i’m hitting D-level sleep.

I’ve struggled with sleep issues since childhood:
It started with night terrors, which eventually got so bad my mother actually sought treatment for me (unless i needed stitches, i was generally on my own). Learning lucid dreaming helped me drastically improve my sleep, which was particularly important as a child with epilepsy.
Abuse would sometimes come to visit me in my room at night, so i’ve spent a lifetime as a light sleeper.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in ’95. It’s known to those who’ve heard of it as chronic, deep muscle pain, and it sure is, but what most who don’t suffer don’t know, is that it’s also characterised by an inability to reach the restorative level of sleep that follows REM.
Although i practised good sleep hygiene in my 30s, manic bipolar episodes regularly threw me waaaay out of whack, and i began using alcohol as a way to get some sleep. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it seemed to be a favourite way of my system to cope, too. Imagine that, heh. I’m sure you can imagine the price i paid for it, too. The problem wasn’t so much that, for me it was the toll it took on my husband and children.

The cost is simply too high.

These last few years have consisted of learning how to live with how my brain works, and building quality of life. I settled in to checking in with my brain at the start of the day, tailoring my activities to optimise function, monitoring my inside chatter and maintaining connection with my Bits N’ Pieces, and ending with a little roundtable at the edge of my bed each night. This was designed to set me up for success in the morning, and also to quiet my mind as much as possible, in order to achieve restful sleep.

I’ve plugged away rather successfully at this for some time now, i think. I set a very small goal, and i work slowly and methodically to reach it. Once i do, i practise it until it becomes an unconscious part of my daily routine, and then i set to adding in another little thing. I tweak things a bit here and there to improve my efficiency, and i’ve needed the odd course correction, but i haven’t gone too far astray. In fact, i did so well for so long a time that i felt like i needed to set bigger goals; things like working parttime, volunteering, and more peopling – including building friendships.

You may gasp now. Heh.
You may also understand how i found myself back in therapy, tits deep, and not sleeping for shit.

Looking back at the last year, at first i thought i’d been going too fast. Now, i think that may have played a part, but it’s not the crux of it. There’s a tinge of fear too, the waiting for the other shoe to drop, but that was my childhood. Once i got away from my parents, my physical and mental well-being were no longer in serious jeopardy. After that, when a bad thing would happen it could be traced back to some genuine responsibility on my part, usually accompanied by some unconscious actions/reactions and choices i’d made due to my upbringing.
It might also be something utterly out of my control.

But that’s not this. I think this is homeostasis.
I’m establishing a baseline. It’s a minimum level of quality and safety that i must have in order to live the life of my choosing. I’ve never had this before. I’ve spent most of my life just surviving, much more time than was necessary. I’m not blaming myself – it was all i knew, and like Maya Angelou said, when i knew better, i did better. And i’ve done better. So much better, in fact, that some parts of me are resting now. I think the nightlights inside my brain that various parts of me keep on for fear, my dear, hypervigilant little soldiers, are blinking off because they can finally rest. They’re leaving their posts to go home for a rest, and i think they may sleep for a very long time.

But hey, just because going too fast wasn’t what got me here — fucked up and freaking out — that doesn’t mean that slowing down isn’t part of the solution. I think it is. When i get upset and anxious i’ve learned that dialing it back a bit can free up some much needed energy to deal with the stress. And Boy Howdy! has there been stress.
I’ll tell you about yesterday, tomorrow.

See You Then,
~H~

Inside Out

As we leave behind our last Chinook and move into more frigid weather, my fibro has hit harder. The pressure points are hardest hit from shoulders to wrists, and today my forearms feel heavy and hard to rotate, making typing somewhat difficult. The thing i haven’t told anyone, is that my carpal tunnel syndrome is returning. When i was first diagnosed with moderate CTS in my right arm around 12+ years ago, the man who gave me the news very kindly (/sarcasm) informed me that if i wasn’t super-morbidly obese, my symptoms would mostly disappear. When i lost weight i found him to be quite right, and i’ve had only small bouts of numbness since.

Until recently. It’s been more than 10yrs since i was profoundly overweight, but this last year i’ve noticed the numbness more often and for longer periods. Typing right now i can feel it. I sincerely hope it progresses slowly and doesn’t impede my writing. I’ll handle it of course, but just… GEEZ, y’know?!

My days begin and end with routine, and as i mentioned, i’m increasing my activity level; more things to do and and more focus on the tangible. I’m decluttering, seeking order. I’m working towards accomplishing things that can be observed by anyone. I’m maintaining the relatively healthy functioning of my brain and its thoughts, but also pursuing goals that, once achieved, would be obvious to anyone who was looking. Less esoteric – more skin deep.

It’s time. The foundation is strong now. I’m like a renovated house and it’s time to start making the outside reflect the inside. It’s hard, scary work, but i am committed.

Nothing wrong with a pretty facade.

Body work is tough for any survivor.
I didn’t have a weight problem until i was around 8yrs old. My mother’s relationship with the man i called “Daddy” was over, as was her association with his people and their activities. She had a major psychological breakdown, was committed, and i was thrown into the system. Once i was returned to her, i quickly packed on enough weight to make me the chubby kid, and then slowly packed on a few pounds here and there until i married 20yrs ago. I’d lost weight twice in that time, and both times i was just inside healthy range. However, both times i put the weight back on in short order. I did so many things unconsciously; i wasn’t present in my body so i hadn’t taken much notice either way.

Marriage caused my thoughts and emotions a tremendous amount of stress. I was freaked out that someone appeared to really want me, and subsequently terrified that i’d lose him. I worried that he’d find out i was a phony, that i was actually an awful human being and then he’d leave. It set us up for years of push-pull behaviour by me. Come-here-i-need-you-fuck-off-i-don’t-need-anyone. I felt more vulnerable than ever and i put up a massive wall, one made from pounds and pounds of fat. I ate to numb the fear — fear of being known and fear of being rejected. When weight loss surgery became an option, i took it and the weight fairly fell off me.

I had no bloody clue the chain of events that would set off.

The first thing that happened was i got a lot of attention. It’s not just straight men who are more gracious and gratuitous, either. Everyone is nicer to attractive people. I think it’s mostly unconsciously done when someone is not sexually attracted to you, per se. It started out being wonderful but it quickly unsettled me. You know, not so’s anyone as unconscious as i was would notice. Heh. All kinds of things were going on inside my brain, though. The outside wall had come down and while that appeared to everyone around me to be a purely positive thing, it had unforeseen and unanticipated consequences.

My inside wall came down, too.
I didn’t realise i even had an inside wall.
There were people living on the other side of that wall.
I saw them, and they saw me seeing them.
Until that point, i hadn’t quite believed i was a multiple.
It would not be histrionic of me to say that all hell broke loose.

MORE TOMORROW

IMAGE: Mia Golic

So, That Happened

The other day everything exploded. Why doesn’t matter. It happens to everyone. A bomb goes off in your life and then you lay there dazed and check if all your parts are still attached. I went immediately into shock . I was numb, but really panicky. I recognised the gravity of what had happened and i knew right away, that THIS MOMENT is where the rubber hits the road. All the work i’ve done in order to beat the odds. To find a way to live with my past and to live with my crazy and be useful and good and happy. These things happen to everyone and one major reason for all this work i’ve done is so that when crisis hits, i handle it without wrecking my world. I made an appointment with my therapist for the next day.

After Tuesday’s dazed, numb, and panicky, was Wednesday’s hurt. It reopened that pit inside me that sucks everything into it. That ache that begins way back in the ether of my emotions that i imagine filling up my insides instead of my guts. Emotional pain always has an affect on Fibromyalgia, and so my flare-up, well, flared up. Anxiety was there too, of course. Sitting on my chest and somehow reaching inside and squeezing everything with frantic fists. It hurt to breathe. I went to a group of online friends that i’ve had for over 10yrs now, to let them know i was going through something awful, and could really use their support in the coming days. They’re perfect for me because, as i discussed in my prior post – i don’t people much anymore, but i still like and need people. They’ve been there for me since it happened, and i return to them daily just to check in emotionally and reaffirm that i’m okay. That part is important for me, of course. I’m not really telling them I’m okay, so much as i’m telling myself. I’m still here, still breathing, and the world is still in one piece.

I had a phone appointment with my therapist, and as soon as i heard her voice i felt more grounded. Her voice reminds me of years of work. Years spent figuring out how to deal with the ugliness and pain in my past, along with all the resultant dysfunction. Learning and practising new ways to think and to cope with thoughts, feelings, people, life. How to stay present at all times, no matter what’s happening around me or to me. It was an opportunity to speak directly to the crisis itself, and i felt heard and acknowledged. I listened to her suggestions and felt calmed. I had some educated and trustworthy perspective outside of my own. We made another appointment and i promised to touch base.

On Thursday i got angry. The first thing i want to say about that is how amazing it is that it took me so long. See, when i used to get hurt, you could count on one of two things happening. One, i shut down and disappear, or the other, I feel angry and i get mad. I go on the offensive. I attack. You hurt me and you’d better run, because i’ll come for you and hurt you. Not physically, but i’ll say things that will deeply wound you. I learned from a very young age how to read people. It was a survival mechanism that carried on past the constant imminent danger of my childhood. I didn’t know i was doing it, let alone that it wasn’t always particularly helpful in my quest for good relationships with other people, but it persisted and it’s only been in the last year that i’ve been making an effort to stop. So before around a year ago, if you hurt me, and i might read your personal mail to you. Strip you naked and make you look like a fool. Say things that might very well haunt you for a long time. Now, i only did that on a rare occasion, i usually just closed myself off from you and that was it. But the closer our relationship was, the larger the latter possibility loomed. Someone very close to me was the one to toss the grenade, and yet i didn’t even see the need to make a choice between get mad or dissociate until Thursday. That’s good.

And even better – i didn’t do either of those things. I did something completely different. Something i’ve been putting into practise for some time now. It’s taken a lot of practise, and will continue to take more. I have the angry conversation without the person being there. It’s a fine balancing act because i can easily dissociate, but if i couple the pretend conversation with grounding techniques (i.e. being present in my body and aware of my surroundings), it can be effective in deescalating any intense feelings.

I have a pretend conversation. Well, it’s one-sided in the literal sense, but mostly in the figurative one as well. I say -sometimes out loud and sometimes just in my head- the things i would say if i could let ‘er fly, so to speak. You see, my brain is never quiet. There are always conversations going on in there. So yes, now you know – i hear voices. (But they’re always mine, and they’re always inside my head, so i don’t hit on the shizophrenia spectrum, just in case you wondered.) My point is that my brain is always busy and always full. When something upsets me, the intensity of the conversations can rise, and even more voices can be added. This can cause what i call a “bursty” feeling, like my mind may explode. I begin to panic, partly because it’s overwhelming and frightening, but in recent years it’s also become because i know it leaves me vulnerable to dissociating, something i try not to do. So, i say all the vicious, hateful things that are inside my head -all the things that i would say if i really wanted to get under someone’s skin- within the bounds of an imaginary conversation, where the other person can’t be harmed. It’s like bleeding a pressure valve, which leaves more room for problem solving and positive thinking.

Which left me free to be sad on Thursday. Which i was. I felt heavy and hopeless and lonely. I felt numb and anxious and hurt. But i took care of myself and i took care of my house – we’re both clean. That is much improved from the last time i was hurt and upset this much. I was able to remember some of the things i’ve put in place and practised to live a better, happier life. I knew i’d feel even worse if i allowed my house to get messy, and didn’t try to cook some kind of meal for my family – even if all i could do was set the table and microwave something in a box. As i got up and began to do these things, only doing them because, while i didn’t expect to feel any better, i sure as hell didn’t want to feel any worse, i discovered i was able to do more than the bare minimum. And that did, in fact, make me feel better. Not just not worse, but actually better.

I kept in touch with my therapist and my online community once a day or so. Even just to say, Everything is awful, but i am alive and have no plans to change that. I was careful to maintain my schedule as much as possible, but i did allow more time in bed. I drank a bit too much, and i ate waaaay too much, but i knew i was doing it, that i was choosing it, that i was coping as well as i could while i processed what had happened and waited for the next appointment with my therapist. I tried to write a few times, but it was a minefield. I’ve banged out a bit here, but my mind fogs over really quickly, either that or i suddenly feel like crying, and i am currently avoiding crying like a junkie avoids their old neighbourhood. It’s a dangerous place to go, because who knows who you’ll meet and it’s hard to say No to some of those people.

***NOTE: This was the week of November 7-11. Although i’ve written something every day since, it’s devolved and not even as intelligible as this – if this is at all. I waited to publish it until i was certain it wasn’t just chock full o’ crazy, but i’m still not sure. In fact, i fear that i may be careening in slow motion towards some kind of head-on collision with something in the road that i can’t yet see… Something my son said to me yesterday encouraged me to post it anyway. I write this blog to try to help someone, to help anyone, to help even just one, by sharing how my brain works and how i try to cope and strive to be a happier and more functional human. I’m currently completely shut off from the rest of the world, and trying to piece together something to post for Monday the 12th of December at the latest. I’ve written a fair bit, but i don’t know what i’m willing to share and what i’m not. What would be helpful to me or you or both of us is hard for me to figure out right now. I’m not fully in control of my thoughts or actions as i’m in a highly dissociative state.

I’m hypervigilant right now. I’m easily hurt, and when i’m not quite myself, i’m liable to hurt back. I can’t do much about it except associate with people as little as possible.

And that’s where we’re at.

Blargh.

I do not know if i can maintain this way of coping with my pain, or for how long.

I got the Kiddo off to school, ate breakfast and tried to get to the business of the day. The ache though, it’s settled in like it’s hibernating for the winter and my body is the cave. My skin hurts and i feel the ache in the muscle all the way into my bones. So i went back to bed, to see if i could find a little sleep and maybe relief. I doze fitfully, and the ache follows me into my dreams until i hear a little doggy scratch at my door 2hrs later: Mom, we have to pee now. I get up and i have that overslept feeling; my head feels like it’s stuffed with cement chunks that are grinding against each other. Not fair, because i don’t feel any more rested than i did at 5:30 this morning.

I have had to return to hot showers. This is a difficult thing for me to do, as it’s highly triggering. The bathroom, on the whole, is the most triggery room in my house. I was attacked in bathrooms, i would get cleaned up in bathrooms, and in later years, i would try to scald the filth off of my body with water hot enough to do damage. Personal hygeine has been a problem for me on and off through the years, due to the abuse. If i didn’t go in, i didn’t get assaulted, and my unclean body was screaming out DON’T TOUCH ME!
I recognised the problem many years ago, and taking luke warm showers is part of what i do to cope with my anxiety. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much for the pain, and so i do mindfulness type exercises while standing under water that’s as hot as i dare.

I remind myself who i am, how old i am, and that i’m not being abused anymore.
I feel my feet touching the tub.
I leave the curtain open a bit so i can see it’s my bathroom.
The door is open and the dogs are less than 5m away.

Chronic pain doesn’t leave much energy left over. My brain is in a fog, logy and sluggish. I finally remember to take a pain reliever. I stagger 2 different kinds. I don’t take too many anymore, and i don’t know if what i do take helps very much. I think it does? My head aches measurably less, but when i’m in full flare-up, it never goes away.

The pain in my face is returning. It’s one of the things that troubles me the most.
People don’t realise how much they touch their face. I do, though. I know because i hate my face being touched almost more than anything. It can trigger immediate and violent dissociation if someone touches my face. Even my own touch can be disturbing to me. I’ve worked very hard to remain present during morning and evening skin care, and the occasional makeup applications. When my face aches though, i can find myself unconsciously touching a painful area. If i catch myself stroking or rubbing my face, it can be hard to stay present and aware. I can suddenly feel disgusting and disgusted at the same time. When i feel like that i want to distance myself from my body – i don’t like the feel of it, so i check out.

So this is the absolute shit of it. I’m in pain, which dissociation could relieve, but i don’t want to do that, so i’ve got to just feel it. This is a mirror of what’s happening with my mental/emotional health and i try to find it funny, but i struggle with self-pity.

I’m not trying to be a martyr here. I’m not saying this is the way to deal with chronic pain, either. In fact, i’d strongly recommend against this. The only reason i’m doing it this way is because i have to right now. I’m not using alcohol or pills or street drugs to get away from my brain, my body, or my past any longer. I’d love to get away from the pain for a while, but abuse of alcohol only works while the intoxication is maintained. The inevitable sobriety brings greater pain for days after. Street drugs don’t generally work, and pills… Some opiates cause pancreatitis for me, and i’d rather feel the fibro pain, thank you very much.

I’m also no superhero. I don’t know how long i can continue to handle it all this way.
I’m going to try not to think about it too much. This little bitty piece of writing has taken me nearly 2 weeks to write. I bash out a few sentences and then go distract myself with something else. I don’t want to dwell because that leads to obsession which always leads to rash decisions and poor choices. I get overwhelmed and i want to stop feeling the way i do, so i grab a quick fix, which always costs more than it’s worth.

You know, the more i open up about how my brain works, and what i’m doing to manage it and have a happier and more functional life, the more i wonder if it’s even possible that anyone out there can relate. But that’s probably just the pain talking, at least i hope so. I’m going to take it as a sign that i’m tired and it’s time for me to stop this piece and go to bed.
I don’t know if it’s done yet.
I’ll ask tomorrow.

I think it is. I needed to share what i’m going through, but now i have and i’m going to move on. I’ve made the best decision i can with the resources i have available: acknowledge it to myself, share it with someone, have a moment of how shitty and unfair it is – and move on.

It’s all balance, isn’t it? I’m trying to look at just enough of the minutiae that i can tweak what isn’t quite working and have a better life – but not get obsessed, overwhelmed, and completely out of touch with the rest of the world. I’m also trying to see just enough of the big picture, so that i can maintain my focus, and see my progress as more of an evolutionary process, in other words, it’s gonna take time.

Love and Peace to You,

~H~