Integration: A Day in the Life

One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


I wanted to give my readers more insight into how my brain works and with what i’m currently dealing. (There you go, a sentence that didn’t end in a preposition. I think it sounds weird, and prefer to end with with… Heh.) To that end, i took my phone and a notebook, and recorded audio, video, and/or jotted down everything that happened on a recent 24hr period of time.

At 5am the alarm goes off, and it’s time to get my husband fed and off to work with a lunch. As i swing my feet out onto the floor i check in with my brain. Is it quiet or busy up there, and if it’s busy, why? If there’s nothing going on that requires my immediate attention, i ground myself mentally for the day, while connecting with my system. I remind them that i am in charge, that i love them because they are me and i love me, and i reassure them that i’m going to do my very best to take good care of us today.

My husband always asks me how i slept, which provides an opportunity for me to think over the night:
Did i sleep okay?
How many times did i get up?
Did i take more meds? (I live with chronic pain, insomnia, RLS, plus other things that can rouse me and keep me up.)
Do i remember any dreams, because if i do, it’s generally wise for me to go over them, just to make sure my brain isn’t trying to bring my attention to something important.

I make the bed, get dressed, and wait for him to head in to work before i walk our dogs. I catch the basic world news headlines and the local weather, but only if i’m in a good place. If i’m tired or struggling in any way i avoid it. The hubs will inform me of anything i’d want to know. Sometimes i sit through it all – a couple hours worth. I’ve been working on handling triggers more calmly and functionally when i can. Nothing like politics and world events to set me off. If something hits too hard and i feel myself dissociating or getting more anxious than i can bear, i get up and do something else. I keep our house, so there’s always stuff that needs doing.

We live on a farm, and walking the dogs gives me 2 choices; to listen to music, or nature. There’s no rhyme or reason to the choice, however making it helps keep me mindful. Some mornings music helps muffle the chatter, some mornings i’m dragging my ass a bit and all the birdsong puts a skip in my step. There are times when a particular emotion is weighing heavily on me, and listening to the right music can help me emote. (Think “dance it out,” if you’re familiar with Grey’s Anatomy.) When i return home, the dogs are happy, and i have either earned a 20min nap, or i can cruise into my daily chores while coasting on self-esteem. I purposely give myself choices throughout the day, as it makes me check in with what’s going on in my brain. Without the gentle mental poke to do so, i can shift into a dissociative state, easily and often. It’s like sleepwalking through my day, and i’ve done it for the majority of my life. I don’t want to do it anymore.


NOTE: An interesting aside here, is that i’m having trouble tapping into my writing voice. The programming i received as a child was so intense, and being a multiple made me so good at everything they wanted from me. They wanted me malleable and obedient and above all, to keep my mouth shut about everything. They purposefully steered me away from asking questions. (I was regularly beaten for asking anything, even something as simple and innocent as, May i have a glass of milk, please?) My mother was a student of every new pop psychology craze, and became adept at prying into my thoughts to shape them to her will. I was only allowed to think what she wanted, and my survival depended on toeing her line. It wasn’t enough to do what she wanted me to do and say what she wanted me to say. I had to think what she wanted me to think – and think nothing else, besides. I had precisely zero privacy. I couldn’t even hide from her in my mind.

Except i could, and i did. I was a multiple, and unbeknownst even to me, i hid parts of myself that she would have destroyed had she been aware of their existence.

This level of sharing and this depth of introspection, go against all of her training. The parts of me that she and my other abusers actively created, are coming up against this post. I feel scattered and slow, like i’m walking in a fog and keep running into things and getting turned around… I’m having trouble finding my way. I might not be particularly cogent. Nevertheless, i will press on.

**********

Thus begins a day that’s been years in the crafting. I work a bit, and then i don’t work a bit. Sounds simple and obvious, i realise, but sometimes i just have to get there on my own. I have to put my own super unique and slightly crazy spin on it. Okay, maybe that should be slightly unique and super crazy, but let me toot my own horn, will ya? This too is designed to keep me mindful; conscious, in the face and in control.

Where i’m at mentally, emotionally, and physically determines how long i work and how long i don’t. This keeps me checking in with myself all day, ideally. Lately i’ve been doing so well i’m not watching the clock, i’m just going by how i feel. But if things are tough, i keep track. It’s incredibly helpful. If depression is heavy on me, or anxiety has me nearly immobile, i even use a timer. Sometimes 10mins of work followed by a 50min break is the best i can do. Sometimes after 1 or 2 go-’rounds, i determine even that is too much – and that has to be fine. It has to be because, in my experience, not finding a realistically based sense of peace about my capabilities can push me into a downward spiral. It can also amp up my anxiety, and that can nudge me towards a mania. And the common thread through it all, whether too down or too up, is dissociation.
As Johnny Cash once did so melodically, i walk the line.
Although, my line is rather pitchy.
Think Neil Young.*

Writing this post has taken me a few days, due to some personal issues here at home. As i’ve stated before, this blog is about me only, and i’m careful not to share things that might have a negative impact on others in my circle. However, there will be rare occasions where i deem it necessary and appropriate to include some information that involves someone else.

I have a close association with someone who has debilitating anxiety issues, depression, and struggles with anger and aggression. It makes our relationship rocky and contentious. Over the last couple of days, things have bubbled up again, causing significant strife and stress. It’s been difficult, and has amplified my own anxiety, as well as anger and frustration. Over the course of the last couple of years, i’ve been learning to set firm boundaries with this person. It’s been an opportunity for me to care for and protect myself, rather than the feign/fawn/freeze responses that have been typical for me in the past.

This morning, after my walk and before i write, i was catching up on some emails and a bit of reading, which is part of my daily routine. I read something that grabbed me immediately. While it was about someone and something else entirely, i could see how i could apply it to my current situation with the person in question. It took me from tired and anxious, to refreshed and hopeful. I have fashioned my life in such a way for just this reason, and so many others, besides. It has taken years worth of trial and error, but it is finally, FINALLY! paying off. My job was to hang in there and keep trying. I knew it would bear good fruit( …eventually, usually, mostly), but it is a damn fine thing to be enjoying how right i was to believe it.

And this too is because i practise mindfulness, and am working towards being present and accounted for as often as possible.

Even as i’m writing this, i am taking breaks to do other things, including “nothings,” that are integral to my peace of mind and continued successes. I make myself something to eat, i clean something, i exercise, i do something artistic, i connect with someone, i make a joke, i organise some clutter, i wash myself, i watch some telly, i go outside and weed the garden, i stand in the wind and sing like BeyoncĂ© (okay no, but i am feelin’ myself!), then laundry and doggy shnuggles… And so on and so forth.

And i am regularly checking in with my brain. I listen to my thoughts and reach out to my people in there: Is everybody all right? Anyone got somethin’ to say?

Somebody’s always got somethin’ to say, and i listen for a bit.
Because they are me, and i deserve to be heard, and being heard starts with ME, listening to ME, MYSELF, and I.**

Before i know it, it’s time to get supper on, and the day is nearly done. While i’m cooking i go over things, and if there’s something i didn’t accomplish that i’d wanted to, i ask myself if i can fit it in yet. If i can’t, i let it go. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll decide that in the morning, when i start all over again. The day is gonna do what it does, and people are gonna be who they are. The only thing that i can truly affect is myself: my thoughts, my actions, and my attitude. And to truly be effective, requires mindfulness on my part.

As i swing my legs into bed and settle down to welcome sleep, i rededicate myself to all of this, and i check in one last time. I touch those parts of me that are still somewhat separate, with thoughts of love and comfort, assuring them (ME) that i will be there for them (ME) to the best of my ability tomorrow, and hopefully always.
Perhaps one day i won’t need to reach out at all.

At one time or another we are all called to leave the safety of our homes, the certainty of what we know, the illusions of who we are. Not everyone will heed this call, of course. And those who do will risk losing themselves completely. But if we choose to ignore the invitation, we risk never knowing who we might have become. We risk dying without knowing what it is to live.
~ Thomas Lloyd Qualls, Painted Oxen


Love and Peace,
~H~

*For the record, i love his music. He consistently goes flat at the ends of his notes, though. When David Foster had him do a bunch of takes on his solo line on the Canadian charity single, Tears Are Not Enough, he finally said, “That’s my sound, man.”
It is, and it works. But he is pitchy AF.

**Beyoncé reference, for us fans.

IMAGE: Vitor Machado

Identifying Issues In Real Time

Like i wrote yesterday in my hey-let’s-blog-through-a-mania-and-see-what-happens! post, i can see evidence that i am, indeed, in a manic state. While proofreading i became progressively more wound up and irritated, until i snapped at both my husband and my son for no particular reason. I apologised immediately and arranged to be alone, so as to avoid any further stress. The extra awareness i have from blogging enabled me to mark my churlishness in real time. While the words and the tone were leaving my mouth i knew they were inappropriate for the situation, and had to do with me and my mental state, and nothing whatever to do with my husband or son.
That’s kind of awesome.
As a highly dissociative person i’ve spent more time cleaning up relationship messes than most. My Bits N’ Pieces can slide into the face and do all sorts of damage, but it’s not just parts of my system. I’ve spent a great deal of my life floating around, not entirely focused on other people, my surroundings, or my situations. I’m sure i came off as rather vapid sometimes, but i was distancing myself out of fear. I expected to be hurt, and between home and school, i was right to expect it.

Yesterday, i knew i’d spoken out of turn.
I knew it was about my mental state and not about them.
I apologised, and made amends by changing the situation to reduce stress. I took some time alone to ground and centre myself.
I reaffirmed that Yeah, i’m acting manic, but i know it.
I can identify the behaviours as they’re happening:
– i saw it in my blog post;
– i saw it in my interactions with my family;
– i marked it in my racing thoughts;
– i felt it in my intense emotions.
I reminded myself how much work i’ve done and that i’ve accumulated many coping skills.
I told myself that it’s gonna be okay and i can handle this –and if i can’t– i know i can and will seek help. I know what to do, i know where to go, and i have excellent, completely trustworthy support.

Today my pinched nerve flared up and it was hard to breathe and move around. I reached out to friends and asked for support by way of funny and/or lovely distractions, which were quickly provided. I took some pain relievers and rested in bed, reading and watching a movie. I easily banished any guilty feelings. When i felt able to, i got up, made my bed, got dressed, did my skin care and slapped on some makeup. I was able to be there for a friend who needed to talk. I taught my son how to make homemade tomato soup.

My husband came home from work early, so we grabbed a drive-thru coffee and talked about our day.
I can still feel irritation bubbling around inside me, but i know it’s coming from me and not anyone else. I’M the cause of my hair trigger annoyance, not anyone or anything else. The knowledge gives me enough inner strength to stand down, take a step back, and breathe through it until it passes. I was inexplicably gripped by panic a few times today too, and i handled it the same way. I acknowledged it, i knew where it was coming from, and i took some time to breathe and tell myself positive and encouraging things until the feeling passed.

Now i’m going to make grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup, and i’m going to spend time with my guys and shnuggle my pets.
Today was a fine day.
Looking forward to tomorrow.

Love and Peace,
~H~

IMAGE: Jennifer Burk

Diggin’ Around in My Toolkit

Okay, so… Physically, i ain’t doin’ so hot.

For months now, my fibromyalgia pain has been intensifying, and radiating to other areas. My RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) has worsened, spreading to my arms and back, coming on during the day as well as night, and increasing in frequency until it’s most days i’ll have at least a short episode or even 2. My headaches have moved from a band squeezing across my temples, to originating at the base of my skull and pulsing out in electric lightning bolts over one side only. My hands are stiff and painful, my forearms regularly numb, and my sciatica has returned after years, although thankfully it’s intermittent. I have a pinched nerve near my right shoulder which was further limiting my mobility and ability to complete simple housework and hygiene. I can explain it all with fibro and its accompanying issues (IBS, RLS, chronic headaches), plus having osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis), severe Bruxism, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (diagnosed many years ago and whose symptoms mostly disappeared due to significant weight loss). However, the rise in severity and frequency of these issues is seriously affecting my quality of life.

I’ve been avoiding my doctor (whom i generally see every 3-6mos), the ER, all of it, due to extreme anxiety – practically instant panic attacks at the mere suggestion of going there. Finally, it became such an impediment to my daily life that i mustered my nerve and went in to see her. She ordered a bunch of tests, as i’d known she would. Before i could get them done, i managed to mess myself up even worse.

I’ve had terrible balance my entire life. I think it’s partly due to being so dissociative, but also a result of the type of epilepsy i have (dormant for years, no meds), which affected my inner ear and hence, my balance. I’m incredibly clumsy. Not that sort of oh-i’m-such-a-klutz that so many deal with. I know that’s a thing, and it can be problematic, but what i deal with is significantly more than that. I’ve broken my ankle, my coccyx, my finger, my nose, and my leg in 3 places. I’ve had multiple concussions, hundreds of stitches, and i’m sporting a few bruises at any given time. My ears can start ringing so badly i can’t do anything but sit down and wait for it to pass. I also have vertigo. All this to say i don’t know which of these played a part in what happened, but it could have been any or all. Or perhaps something else.

I was a bit switchy during and after my wedding anniversary. I wasn’t in the face when i fell, but i was thrust back in as soon as i hit the floor. From what my husband and i can gather i’d gotten up from bed for something, and slipped, hitting my face on the wall and then slamming down on the hardwood floor, with my arms at my sides, palms facing up. I had the wind knocked out of me and my arms were paralysed. I could not move them to push myself up off the floor (i’m size Amazon, so it was quite the feat for my husband to get me up and back on the bed). The next morning i had a Neanderthal brow, 2 black eyes, and a massive hematoma across my jawline, spreading up onto my cheek. I couldn’t look to the left or right, nor up or down. And my arms were basically useless – they felt like they were skinless and just a mass of screaming nerve endings. My brain felt like it might explode, and my skull as if it could shatter at any moment.

Since then, the bruises have faded and i enjoy some movements free from pain, but still, i’m relatively incapacitated. I rely on my son to help me cook and clean, and exercising (treadmill, elliptical, dog-walking) has had to be put on the back burner – again. GRR. And now my guts aren’t working well at all. No TMI, but i’m not digesting very much of what i ingest, and so i’m hungry all the time, but i can’t eat without pain and discomfort quickly following. ARGH.

As i blogged yesterday, i did go in to the city and get my tests done. Things are now in motion and we’ll have a better idea what’s going on in the next couple of weeks. Since my symptoms have become this level of debilitating, no one in this house goes into any building we don’t absolutely have to. No matter what, if indeed anything, is going on, my resistance is down due to sheer exhaustion, so we’re being extra careful. Drive-thrus, curbside pickups, and online shopping only.

It’s been incredibly frustrating. Since i fell i haven’t been able to have anything touch my arms without pain. Up until a couple of nights ago i couldn’t lay in any position without my nerves going all hyper-jangly, and i couldn’t shnuggle my husband or my pets for comfort. The day before yesterday i was finally able to –slowly and carefully– turn my head to the right. Yesterday i couldn’t turn my head to the left for most of the day (i had to laugh, because i woke up up saying Yay, i can look right! to swiftly and painfully realising that Boo, i can’t look left!), but the pinch lessened late in the evening. I was actually able to cuddle up to my man for the first night since it happened – heavenly. So comfort. Very sleep (3hrs straight, whee!). WOW.

This morning i woke to pain and exhaustion and worry. After slouching around feeling like a grouchy sack of poo, i made a decision. I took some of my frenetic energy, and channelled it into making my bed and getting out of my jammies. My son cleaned up the kitchen as i ate some food, and while i’m still having the same tummy issues, the act of eating is still pleasurable. I’m getting some nutrition, and i’m not in danger of starving. Heh. I put on an outfit that i’ve always saved for when spring is in full swing (spring is decidedly NOT swinging, mmkay?). I changed my jewellery out for some pretty pastel earrings and a silver atom necklace, and i’ve even managed to slap on some makeup. My son enjoys cooking, and i’m looking forward to my husband coming home, as he’s been working for 7 days without a break. I’m watching terrible found footage horror movies and i’m about to stuff my face full of popcorn.

I’m a seriously mentally ill human who’s haunted by a terrible childhood. I will always be this human. But here’s the thing: I am learning to live life on life’s terms, and make the most of what i have to work with. I’ve worked so hard and for so long to get here.
This morning i got up, and within 15mins i’d snapped at my husband and son for no reason. After sulking for a bit, i stopped and took to my room. I sat on my bed and took stock of myself, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I’m manic. My thoughts are racing and tough to catch. My emotions are running high and momentarily spiking higher. I’m physically exhausted and in a significant amount of pain.
I got up, left my room, and got myself properly caffeinated. While power slurping some freshly ground and french-pressed Irish Cream coffee, i asked myself how i wanted to handle today’s set of challenges. I knew how right then – as soon as i’d asked. I decided to use my mania to pull myself out of my funk and stiff-upper-lip it with regards to the pain and worry. Not to have a bunch of exciting interactions with other people online. Not to spring clean my house, not to make a 3-course supper, not to make myself up like a supermodel… Just to get dressed, do a bit of light housekeeping and self-care. Eat, read, learn something, have a low key convo with my Kiddo, pet my pets. And blog.
That’s not the only double-edged tool i have, though. I could dissociate from the pain if i wanted. But that tool stays in the box. If the pain was too much, either on its own or in combination with a bunch of other things, i might have picked it up and used it. But dissociation + mania = potential for disaster. That’s magical thinking. That’s mania unleashed. Not today, Satan.
Oh look, i’ve gone and done a blog post.

Now, for tea and popcorn.
Also, this movie SUCKS.
Blargh.

I’ll try to check in again tomorrow.
Monday-Funday.
Love and Peace,
~H~
P.S. It’s just another manic Monday, oh-ooh-oh… /lalala