Friday, October 30, 2009

Healing Feels Weird

Hello Friends:

We all want to heal, of course, however we individually define that term.  But as you may know from personal experience, or the reports of a friend, healing can feel ... weird.

The post yesterday on one of the regular sites I visit for PTSD was Can We Plan for Healing PTSD?   The issue in question for that post was - healing can be strange, so how we can anticipate and plan for it so that we have a smoother transition?  This reminded me of a few things I've read recently about the out-of-kilter feelings that healing can bring.

From my perspective, this sort of parses into three different issues, which I think are all related.  The first is that healing itself feels different and therefore weird.  Nothing feels 'right' even though you may now feel 'right' for the first time.  The second issue is that fear of 'losing' the healing.  We might not know how it was we really started feeling better, anyway, so what's stopping it from going away?  Third issue is the identity crisis.  We often identify ourselves with our feelings and our experience.  So if I'm not the person feeling angsty all the time, then who am I?  

In Prozac Diary, the author Lauren Slater recounts her early experiences with the drug.  The sense of things feeling more right, and therefore 'wrong'.  She says to her doctor, "I don't feel like me.  I mean, I feel more like me in some ways and less like me in others.  I'm scared.  I'm really worried."  I resonate with that sentiment.  I now have transient times of calm and peace.  Which last until I realize I'm not worried about anything.  But that's too weird.  Feels wrong.  So even though I don't want to, I immediately spin my wheels looking for something else to worry about.  Shouldn't I worry about something?  I'm always worried about something.  Apparently I don't know how to ground myself without worry.

The 'fear of losing the healing' thing is one of my favorite anxieties.  Or at least it should be if statistics alone determined 'favorite'.  The author of the post above, from Heal My PTSD writes, "I didn’t believe this relief would last. I expected it to go away at any minute. I waited for it to abandon me."  Yep.  Whenever I am happy in any way, I have to stop and try to figure out WHY.  I need to know what caused it, and how I can keep it.  Which is folly, since nothing lasts forever, and a lot of the time there is no 'reason' we are happy.  Like any emotion which can come and go, sometimes you are happy or not and you have no idea what's going on.  Also, if you haven't been happy much, the feeling of happy is like a drug shot right in the vein.  Wow.  The need to grasp it and hang on to it is intense, and so with it the fear that it'll slip away.  Which is exactly what it does when you start obsessing about it ...

As for identity.  I've seen myself as a combination of the tortured artist who 'feels deeply' and the crazy-clever scientist who 'knows things'.  I learned how to use some of that mangled and crazy energy to produce writing and work.  Well, some of those feelings are gone now.  I just don't feel quite so drama-queen anymore.  Again to Prozac Diary, where the author asks, "Do you think (Prozac) can take away your creativity?"  I happen to think the answer to that is no - I've been plenty creative since I've been coming through this last depressive episode.  But the tenor has changed; the nature of the creative urge.  I'm not very tortured or crazy right now, and so who am I, exactly?  Tortured artist is cool.  Occasionally put-out or moderately miffed artist is not so very cool.

So this brings me to my point.  I think.  (Did I have a point?)

What I think it means (at least for me) is that there is, in fact, some grieving of past self to be done here.  Oddly, I think I'm actually sad for those parts of me I've managed to heal.  In order to make the continued journey on the healing path less scary for myself, I need to acknowledge that I need to grieve for what's gone.  For example, I need to accept that I can't be a tortured and bleeding artist at the same time I'm a balanced and mindful meditator filled with equanimity.  Doesn't mean I can't make good art anymore, but it does mean I have to find new avenues for channeling my creative energies other than a downpour of emotional screed in the form of ink on a page.  So I need to grieve that loss.  The requirement for that change.  The need for that adjustment.

But as I've said before, change is good.  I love change.  Something new and different.  I'm a little tired of constantly unearthing new things to grieve about, but I suppose the act of doing that at all is already a change for the better.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image is 'Hand to the Ether' from Orin Zabest on flikr via Creative Commons.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Writing Like Crazy

Hello Friends:

I've chosen not to carry full time work for more than a year, now. This is the first time I've gone through a major depressive episode and have also backed off on my 'day job' at the same time.

A couple of reasons for this. Reason 1 is that I experienced my first three episodes of major depression when I was a student in one form or another. I didn't get my Ph.D. until I was 30. I found the life of a student to be generally conducive to hiding mental illness. Reason 2 is that you can't just quit your job and still pay the bills. During my forth major depression, this was a serious, serious problem. I was almost unable to function at my regular day job. I desperately needed a break, and could not take one.

So, some comments on student-and-depressed situation. It is amazing what you, and the people around you, will overlook so that they don't have to deal with the truth of depression. For example, I went from valedictorian of my high school class to being on academic probation in college within the span of a year. This might indicate a problem to anyone paying attention, but since I managed to retake a few courses, pass them over the summer, and then get back to straight 'A's by my junior year, no one really got what was happening. It was chalked up to 'adjustment issues'. The major depressive episode I had in grad school was covered up by the fact that I was out of formal classes and doing research lab work most of the time, on the night shift. Not too many people saw me during a regular day, and as long as I collected data and wrote a few abstracts, again, no one really got how sick I was. (Including me, really. I was in therapy for my OCDs by that time, but did not understand how the PTSD was ruling me.)

I have had two major depressive episodes since I've been working 'real' jobs. The first of these was the worst of my life. I was between the proverbial rock and hard place (usually my head) - we needed the money, but the job was killing me. Almost literally, since this particular episode, which lasted about 2.5 years, had me suicidal for about six months of that time. It was that which pushed me to take meds. I really didn't have a choice since I felt I had no options left to me. I couldn't take a break from work to put my dwindling energies into getting better, and I couldn't kill myself (because my husband didn't want me to). I probably would have completely lost it, except that my husband was offered a great job elsewhere, and we moved.

Which brings up depressive episode number five, i.e. what I'm in now. After the move I had a couple of years where I felt pretty damn good. I didn't go back to working for someone else full time, instead I was able to put together a 'job' for myself with temporary contracts, teaching classes, writing, doing workshops, and more. And it was great. But the only reason I could do that is because the financial pressure was off. My husband could now carry us both.

So when episode number five began to take it's toll (and of course at that time we had no idea we were in this episode - you never do until you are well on the way) I figured I could simply cut back on the work until I could handle the load. Turns out I've been so messed up this time around, that unless I wanted a repeat of number four, I had to drop almost everything. I dropped my professional volunteer work, my teaching, my workshops and contracts, and kept only the writing. This was very, very hard for me to do. It felt like failure. It still does, really. So much of my self worth and self image is wrapped up in work, in getting a paycheck, and in doing what it was I spent all that time in school for. And my perfectionism makes it very hard to accept the fact that some days I'm just not going to produce excellent work.

So here I am, having just turned in the last bits of the book I've been poking at for quite some time, now. It's my first textbook, and without my husband as coauthor it never would have happened. The first year was so steeped in my depression that I got almost nothing accomplished, but as I've been coming out the other side through the last six months, it began to come together.

And when it gets published I'm going to be afraid to look at it. Because I know it won't be perfect. I'll find typos and things I could have said differently and probably issues with some of the diagrams. I'm trying very hard to focus on the fact that I actually DID IT. My first book, and through one of the worst depressions of my life. Instead I'm seeing what I didn't do, on the book, and more importantly, with any other work.

So I'm looking for some ideas from the readership here. How do you deal with your anxiety, depression, and other mental illness when you are trying produce something you get paid for? How do you deal with the imperfection, missed deadlines, dropped balls, missed calls, and unreturned emails that are a part of being too depressed or anxious to think straight?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image is via Creative Commons from flikr: 'highlighter pen - photocopied text - 9Mar2009.jpg

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