Hang On

WARNING: This contains intense descriptions of a current state of anxiety and stress. Know that i am okay, and take care of you.

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We never left you
We never left you that day
We never left you
Even though we felt far away
~ Hang On, Amos Lee

I’m having trouble leaving the house again, lately. Being around people is scary. Sometimes it’s physically painful.

My anxiety level has been higher than i’ve ever felt outside of a mania. My heart beats so fast. I can feel my guts burning and pushing up into my chest, my throat, taking my breath. I’m barely sleeping because i’m certain i won’t wake up. I sleep maybe 20mins at a time, and i wake up alive, but i still fight the next sleep with the same overwhelming certainty i’m going to die.

I’m being tortured by obsessive thoughts. How i’ve accomplished nothing in life. How i’ve failed my children. How i’ve been a constant source of worry and concern for my husband. How i never went to college, or travelled, or had a career, or found a “passion”.
It’s been eating me alive.

When i’m dealing with my childhood trauma, hygiene can be difficult. I’m afraid to be in the bathroom, i’m triggered by the shower, the toilet, the smell of soap and toothpaste.
Last week i was either switched or too exhausted to cook, so my family ate a lot of take-away.
There was a massive blowup in my home around the issue of personal safety, and it had been a long time coming. I’m already so tired from this therapy i’m currently working through, that i had zero ability to handle it without switching. It’s not how i would have liked to handle it, but at last i feel heard and some important changes have been made.

I will continue to stand up and demand my safe space, if required to do so. Maybe i won’t ever have to again. Maybe if i do, the fallout won’t be a parade of switching. I have more than a small bit of hope.

This week i was able to cook, to clean my house and myself, but i couldn’t make it out the door for peopling.
So another phone appointment with my therapist.
<insertdeepsighhere>

At least i could do that much, so i’ll take it. And it bore good fruit.
She talks me through, not what’s happened this past week, or what i thought about it, but how my body felt when stuff was happening, and how my body felt as i was talking to her and thinking back on those events.
This is the work i’m doing. It’s constant, and sometimes it’s nothing short of terrifying and brutally painful.

But mostly, when i look back at it, it’s like a feeling of malaise, with the occasional intense bout of vomiting and diarrhea. Quite the image, i know, but it’s accurate.
What i mean is, i feel like shit all the time right now, but the times when i feel so sick i might die don’t last for very long at all.

If i can ground myself even the teensiest little bit with that knowledge, that belief, that experience (because that is how it has indeed always been), then i can maybe, just maybe — stay present in the moment and tune in to my body and just hang on.

–HANGTHEFUCKON–

I also had what feels like an epiphany, and boyohboy did i ever need one.
While talking to her, i suddenly realised that i’ve done all this work before, i just did it with regards to how my brain works.

Now i’m doing the same work, but with my body.
She said, Honey, you are in pain because you’ve done all the work that had to come before you could get here.

I’ve seen myself as a disembodied head when i was able to see myself at all.
Completely disconnected from my body. Nothing from the neck down.
My body exists in the land of the dead. It went there when i was a baby.
It hid from pain, from suffering, from unmet needs.

I’ve done the hard work with my brain, and it’s ready to dwell in the land of the living.
Now it’s my body’s turn. It wants to join with my brain and be alive, too.
But first i’ve got to do this work.

I must feel what it feels while knowing what i now know.

I can hang on for that.
I so fucking can.

We never failed you
Even though we might have felt that way
We never left you
Hurt to see you in so much pain
So hang on, hang on
Hang on, hang on
Hang on, hang on
When morning comes you won’t be here alone
~ Amos Lee

Love and Peace To You All,
HANG IN THERE.

~H~

Toast

Hunger has always been more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly.
~ Richard Wright

As i was saying yesterday – i woke up. I had a couple of tough days that involved more peopling than i’m comfortable handling right now, and by “more”, i mean any. I lost a bit of time on the second day, but it wasn’t too bad. I had a friend come and help me, and then i talked to my husband about what happened, and my feelings about it, and how things might have gone better and could go better next time. Because there will be a next time.

I went to bed and sleep took me more quickly than it has in some weeks. I woke up a couple of hours later though, and i was hungry. I was more than hungry, actually – i was starving. I used the bathroom before i went to the kitchen, and i was so hungry my hands were shaking, like i had low blood sugar or something. I’m sitting on the toilet and i have to pee but i can’t, because i’m panicky and tense. So i reach over and turn on the sink faucet, and the sound of running water has the desired effect of intensifying my need to urinate to the point where it overcomes my clenching pelvic floor. As my muscles relax a little and i feel relief, i have enough clarity to recognise that i’m having an intense physical and emotional reaction to something.

If it was a dream, i don’t remember it, but i don’t think that’s what’s up. I feel small. I feel young. My little Bits are up and active and upset. They need comfort and reassurance that everything is okay. When it hurt me to walk that morning it was more than a physical pain, it was a distressing emotional loss. Walking is an important and valuable tool in my coping kit. I work off stress and worry and i find peace and equilibrium in walking. It’s a place for my system to communicate more efficiently and freely. When they’re in upheaval they want to walk, and i get self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment from walking, so it’s mutually beneficial. It can be nearly impossible to communicate with my system when it’s particularly busy. Walking is a distraction. Walking deescalates. Walking is the oil that gets the gears moving in synchrony. As long as i get to be in charge of where we go, it’s worked exceptionally well for all of us.

But when my back signalled us that it was in too much pain to walk, we all cried out in my brain at once. It was too much for me, and BLINK i was gone.

Grocery shopping the day before had sapped too much of my strength; i had no stores upon which to draw. There was too much peopling and too much anxiety and too little sleep and some unmet needs that hurt and scared me. It’s hard for me not to see those things as rejection, and it takes effort to process it correctly.

Concentrate. I am loved. I have a history of being loved here. Experience tells me that this is a misunderstanding. Shhh. It’s okay. I know this feels like pain and terror and fury all at once. Breathe. This feeling will pass and another will take its place. It’s never not happened that way. I can ride this through until i’m in another place where i can look back and i know i know i know that perspective will come. It always comes. Breathe. Hug the pillow close. Adjust the fan so it cools the sweat on my face. Shhh. It’s okay. This feeling will end and another will come and take its place.

And one did. I slept fitfully. I made it to the point of drop off, where my husband drove to work in the city and i was to walk the rest of the way to the hospital to get my tests. But when it immediately became clear that i couldn’t walk, i had nothing left inside me to deal with losing something that i hold so dear. That we all hold so dear. I’ve got to feel my feelings and listen to my body to get to the next level of healing, and this is what i get? My emotions are hurting me and my body is hurting me too, and now one of my favouritest-best coping tools is no longer in the box.
Too much, World.
Too fucking much.

So i’m on the road trying to walk to the hospital to get my x-rays but i can’t walk and we all cry out and BLINK i’m gone. When the day is over and i’m processing the events with my partner, i tell him of my unmet needs and the feelings i had about it and how it took all the spoons left in my drawer, so that i had none left when i was standing there on the road, barely able to walk. It’s why he received a call from crying children wanting to go home, and it’s why they tried to jump out of the vehicle later when he picked us up, full of frustration and exasperation for being late to work on an important day.
I’m not easy and he’s not perfect.
So a raised voice and cuss words are heard and they’re further rattled, and they bounce around and wail and whine in my head all day long. And now older, caretaker types are pissed off and stompstompstomping through my brain…

After discussion between he and i it’s all good, but i’m spent and jangly.
I fall asleep feeling fairly content, and then wake up suddenly, so hungry i can barely focus. Another moment of toilet-clarity (i’ve had a considerable number of them), i know it’s my wee ones who need feeding so badly. I wash my trembling hands and head to the kitchen. I know it’s going to be a frenzy, and i make a conscious choice to let it happen; to do my best to stay present and watch, perhaps to learn and to be a better help next time.
I’m in the kind of dissociative state where i’m still there, watching, but i cannot affect what i’m doing.
They want toast. They want toast and the lamb gravy from supper. I sit down in my living room with no lights on, and they eat it so fast i think i might accidentally bite my fingers. Once it’s all gone the frantic feelings fade, and i’m able to talk to them again.
Concentrate. Breathe. It’s okay. There’s more. There’s enough. You can eat whenever you want to eat, and you can have whatever you’d like. Wash your hands and face. Look in the mirror. Hi. Breathe. It’s okay. Go rest now.

Tomorrow i want to talk about my mother, and food. I touched on it on my old blog, the one where i disclosed my story, but there is so much more now. I know and i see so much more. It may be triggery stuff for some. For me, i think i might be a little excited to get it all out. I’m done hiding and i’m through with glossing over it.
My body has been trying to tell this story since forever.

No I will not lay down 
I will not live my life like a ghost in this town 
I am not lonely swear to God I’m just alone 
~ The Sound Of, Jann Arden

Thanks, I’ll Pass

I’m not celebrating Christmas this year. This will be the third year i’ve not done so. I’m certain about my decision and very comfortable with it, but i’m 100% open to returning to it at some point.

Christmas had become my personal microcosm. It was a vignette of how i once viewed life and the living of it. But as i was getting healthier mentally and emotionally, i could see that it was getting hard for me to continue my growth through the holiday season, or even maintain the status quo until it was over. It had become a frantic sketch of the overwhelmed wife and mother who is desperate to be Martha Stewart but only manages Lucy Ricardo. It was like looking at an old snapshot, with yellow seeping into all the colours and the edges curling up.
Quite a few things were happening for me back then. I realised that i was doing the backstroke in my ocean of despair, which was probably a sign that it was time to get out and dry off. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that i needed to swim around for as long as i did, but i thought so, so that happened and there you have it. When i stepped out onto the shore i immediately felt the sun’s warmth. I realised the ocean had been cold and brackish, and i had turned blue and prune-skinned. My mourning clothes lay on the ground where i’d left them, but they proved scratchy and a poor fit, so i left them behind and walked on, keeping an eye peeled for something more appropriate for the walk and the weather.

I loved Christmas as a child for all the regular reasons, but mostly because my mother was almost always on her best behaviour. She loved the music, the decorations, the gifts of course, and Oh my! didn’t she love the food. When i was young she made a real effort to make things beautiful and festive, she gave care and thought to my gifts, and when she wanted to, my mom was a helluva fine cook. When she was happy, everyone was happy. She could be brilliant and charming and funny and dear. My grandparents, although they had become careful what and how much they gave her, were wonderfully generous with me, and to the best of my recollection, we spent all, or at least part, of every one of those Christmases with them until i was 7yrs old. Christmases slowly, but steadily declined after that.

The year i turned 8 she fell out with the man i believe to be my biological father and suffered a psychotic breakdown. She was committed, and i was removed from the home and placed in foster care. During that time my uncle was killed while on holiday, and my grandparents were devastated and never recovered. They were completely unable to handle my mother, and they gradually lost interest in seeing me (i’ll never know how much she had to do with that, but i suspect at least some). When she was released it took her some time to get me back, and interestingly enough for this piece, i was returned to her on Christmas Eve. The honeymoon period lasted a couple of weeks,  but by the time next Christmas rolled around she had taken an underage lover and moved us to a small town to hide her crime. She made him a father at 16. She was 34. I was 11.

She proceeded to have 3 more children in the next five years. The boy she stole from his family became a man, but had dropped out of school in grade ten to be with her, and she wouldn’t let him out of her sight long enough to get any education or training that could translate into enough income to care properly for all of us. She wouldn’t even permit him to put in the kind of overtime that might be parlayed into more money or a dogged climb up the ladder won by the sweat of his brow. Even if they liked him and gave him opportunities for advancement, people would eventually figure out that something was off about him, or his home life. Mom’s mask would eventually slip, the house and/or the children would be seen, and then suddenly he had a new job and we had to move, or the other way around.

Mother became less and less able to keep her mask in place, and she coped by isolating and eating. She became angrier, lazier, and fatter. The places we lived became more broken down and she filled them with dirty dishes and piles of unwashed laundry. The children were beaten when they weren’t ignored, and they responded by fighting constantly and destroying everything in the house that wasn’t already broken.
And every Christmas was a little worse than the one before it.

After she died and i had a child of my own, Christmas suddenly became important again. I wanted him to have the perfect ones i’d seen on tv, and i had those distant childhood memories to help me. Some of the people who live in my brain were a great help in this, and they derived happiness and healing from it as well. We all did. It’s probably worthwhile to mention that my son was born a week before Christmas, and i spent December 25th alone with him in a room at the YWCA, listening to Christmas music on the local radio station.  On his first birthday he set fire to the apartment we lived in, but it was professionally cleaned and ready for us by the 25th. Both of them were better than any Christmas i’d had since my grandparents.

I became the Christmas queen. I did it all: the decorating, cards, gifts, cooking, baking, entertaining. Capital E entertaining. Family, friends, friends that were like family… Anyone and everyone. And i was good at it. Maybe not Ina Garten-good, but i put on a mean Roseanne. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I felt happy and functional and almost normal.

In the years that followed i had another child, fell in love and got married, gained a tremendous amount of weight, had another child, had weight loss surgery, and then fell head first into the deep end of my first clinical mania. My childhood was catching up to me, becoming inescapable as i saw myself reflected in my children. My fears and flaws were magnified in the lens of a committed sexual relationship. My old wounds were still raw. Being a mom, being in love, and playing house had proved merely a Band-Aid. I felt like a failure and a fraud and the anguish became so unbearable that i couldn’t control my people. December became one long bender for me, but i still had to keep up appearances for everyone else.

How do you throw a fabulous holiday while you fall somewhere on the scale from tipsy to pass-out drunk? I had varying levels of success. It was never a write-off, but my mental health was lousy and my drinking to cope was obvious and my family is not stupid…

These last few years i’ve been doing markedly better. Don’t misunderstand me though, through all of it i was trying very hard not to be a mess, and i spent time, money, and most of my energy trying to figure my shit out. It just took a long time. You know, wearing mourning clothes and swimming in the ocean of despair and all that, heh. It took time and patience and a lot of work to get some damn traction in my life. Along the way i learned some things about myself that i didn’t know, like:

– I’m not religious;
– I’m much more of an introvert than an extrovert;
– I crave a simple, quiet life;
– I’m a terrible driver;
– I’m a helper and a giver and a lover.

I realised that putting on Christmas was not bringing me the excitement and the joy that it used to. My 2 oldest children were grown and gone, and our youngest was close to legal. The holidays are culturally enjoyable and edifying, but no longer hold any spiritual significance for me. We’ve been experiencing an economic recession where we live for the last few years, and the money could be better spent on other things. I wanted to curtail my drinking, and the holidays are a skating rink made from all the booze i’ve spilled on Christmases past.

So i put up a few decorations, we had a fancy supper and exchanged gifts. And it was pretty good.
The next year i broke my leg and couldn’t put up any decorations or even make supper. We decided to spend our money on a fancy spread in the city downtown, and then we went and saw Star Wars: TFA. There were a few gifts for the kids, but hubby and i didn’t exchange anything. We both liked it.
Last year i cooked and baked for our children and grandchildren, but that was it. Our youngest prefers us to take him shopping and spend the money on new clothes, which i love. Everyone was satisfied.
This year’s holiday season will include Star Wars, Chinese food, and feeding the entire family all day long until they can roll home on their own.

This year i knew i was doing well enough that i could do the Christmas thing if i wanted to… But i just didn’t. The other 2 years of not celebrating Christmas weren’t super-conscious choices. Hubby and i discussed it a little from the mental health and financial standpoint, but we didn’t go much deeper than that.
This year i went deep. I gave it a lot of thought. I was my own 3 ghosts and took myself to all the places and looked at all the Christmases and contemplated what could be.
And i still love Christmas. I’m no Scrooge, humbugging all over other people’s holidays. The decorating is gorgeous and the music is fun and festive – it’s just not in my house right now. Even though there’s no religious meaning for me anymore, Christmas remains very significant from a cultural perspective. I like the generosity and the parties and the FOOOOD! but i’m really enjoying the freedom and power i feel in saying No, i’m not buying anything. I don’t feel guilty or less than or left out by refusing to do so, either. In fact, the rebel in me is revelling in telling corporate North America and conspicuous consumption to shove it up their Black Friday.

I see a very real possibility, even likelihood, that i’ll return to some of the things i used to do during Christmas, like decorating and music and parties. For now though, this feels so good and so right. It’s not often that i have no doubts about a big decision, but i have zero regarding this one. If and when i do return to marking the occasion, it will be on my terms, and in my way. There’ll be no more trying to fix what was wrong with the Christmases of my youth, and i won’t need to put a pretty bow or a star on top of a pile of unresolved issues.
Whatever you do or don’t do for the holidays, i hope it’s a minimum of stuff you don’t want, with a maximum of what you do.

I’ll be here on the other side of all of it, no matter what.

Love and Peace to All-a Y’all,
~H~