Friday, November 26, 2010

Gratitude and Thankfulness

Hello Friends:

I wasn't going to add to the many lists of thanks out there, I really wasn't. But after reading all the well-thought-out and moving expressions of thanks on your blogs ... well ... I felt an urge to express some of my own gratitude to the universe.

So I went looking for a neat picture to express my feelings, and found something absolutely perfect. I love the image and so made it bigger than I usually do to show off the amazing detail. Here is what the artist has as text associated with the picture.

"The stained glass ceiling inside the Thanksgiving Chapel spirals upward to 58 feet in a crescendo of color, harmony, and form. It is called the Glory Window and designed by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, one of the greatest stained glass master of the 20th century.  Gabriel Loire describes this progression: ' express all life, with its difficulties, its forces, its joys, its torments, its frightening aspects. And then bit by bit, all that falls away and your arrive finally at a burst, an explosion of gold; you arrive at the summit.'"

The part that resonates with me is the idea of connecting the difficulties with life with the glories of life. I don't happen to buy into the imagery of climbing stairs to reach a summit of perfection - I do not see that as a helpful metaphor. I prefer to imagine our lives and our understanding as a flower blooming or a cocoon opening, each revealing the beauty that was there all the time. Still, this is so gorgeous, and somehow was a perfect expression of gratitude for me this year.

And here is some of what I am thankful for ...

1.  Being alive. This is a stretch for me, since there are still times I wish I hadn't been born so I wouldn't know about pain. But I no longer want to check out now that I am here. I feel more brave. Or maybe just more stubborn, although that's much harder to imagine. In any case, I am glad that I have the options that life brings, the greatest being the chance to know what it is like to deeply love another person.

2.  My spouse. The person who makes my continued healing possible, and gives me great reasons every day to want to keep at it. Constant help, love, and support. And lots of tea.

3.  My family. Especially a sister with whom I am very close. Since I've had to part ways with some members of my immediately family, I cherish even more the connections with those I can maintain, and which are mutually edifying and beneficial.

4.  My projects. I am glad to be well enough to really get involved in several creative endeavors that I have always enjoyed. Writing, making jewelry, doing crafts of all kinds, blogging, and so much more. These are the day-to-day things that give me the chance to be me.

5.  The necessities of life and more. A safe home, plenty of good food, clean water, nice clothes, and fresh air.

6.  My support network, mental and physical. Psychologist, psychiatrist, general doctor, physical therapists, acupuncturist, obgyn, spouse, family, friends, stuffed animals, and everyone who reads my blog, too! And a good network would not be possible without good health insurance - which I wouldn't have if my spouse did not have a good job. Really a blessing in tough economic times.

7.  My friends. From close confidants, to beer buddies, and onto folks I chat with only occasionally, it is great to have all kinds of friends. Every moment they spend on me is a miracle, life is so short. Each of those minutes is a gift.

I could go on and on. Which is very, very nice to consider.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Heaven and Soul Connection by alicia-lee-07 on Flikr via Creative Commons

Monday, November 15, 2010

Public Transportation and What Coping Means

Hello Friends:

I've been thinking about the differences between dysfunctional-enabling behavior and supporting-coping behavior. These thoughts have been coming to me as I've been taking public transportation more than usual this week.  And public transport gives me the willies (in other words it's chock full of OCD fodder.) So there have been plenty of moments where I could consider if what I was doing was helping me in a positive way, or just allowing me to avoid dealing with the tough realities of a gritty world.

Look at that nice piece of art. All the nice people being nice. A nice, uncrowded car. Nice and calm. Yeah, right. I've never seen a metro car like that unless it was the middle of the night. But this is idealized americana folk art, here. Check out how clean that floor is. No one is coughing or spitting.  And I'll bet there aren't any rats in the station, either. Oh, what a fantasy.

Anyway, I can't touch the bars or rails in a subway car unless I am wearing gloves. I wonder, do the gloves allow me to go about my day in relative peace, or do they enable my mental illness by allowing me to avoid the natural exposure of touching things other people touch? Or both? How about people sneezing on a subway car? I stop breathing for as long as possible. I don't look at anything dirty, since when I'm worked up, looking at something dirty can actually make me think that I am dirty. Let's not talk about what is on the floor. I do not look there or I'd have to throw my shoes out when I got home.  (I take them off right at the door as it is.) So forget about setting a heavy bag down on that tacky surface of dread, I'd rather pull my back out.

Then as soon as I get off of the train, I pull out one of those handi-wipes and scrub my hands. Which have been in gloves, remember? I also wipe off the handles of anything I'm carrying. And then I try really hard to say 'enough' and go about my day. But any day I've been on the subway or metro or T or whatever you call it, isn't going to be one of the days I feel at my best.

This all reminds me of my first therapist telling me that I didn't have to do things that gave me panic attacks. I was having severe attacks after eating canned food. He said I should stop eating it. I was appalled, since I thought that was 'giving in'. I was afraid that if I stopped I'd never start again. I was afraid I'd end up cutting out anything that bothered me, and end up stuck in bed all day in fear of leaving.

It took him a long, long time to get it through my head that I was re-traumatizing myself every time I opened a can. I had to stop. I'm sure you know this stuff yourself - but I had to stop doing the thing that was causing me to panic, give it a rest for a while, and then approach it slowly and methodically. That's the idea of increasing exposures that we've all heard about with regards to phobias and such.  And some OCDs.  Of course, if you have some CPTSD issues on top of it all, it isn't quite so straightforward, but you get the idea.

I don't know if he would have given the same advice to everyone, or if it was just me. But I ended up stopping a lot of activities that caused me high anxiety. I stopped eating anything that made me nervous. I stopped touching things that scared me. I stopped going places that triggered panic attacks. At the same time I started doing really intense CBT, added a lot of walking to my day, continued talk therapy, and against my therapist's advice I refused meds. Looking back, that might not have been the best plan, since I am on them now and am very glad about that. Whatever.

As I felt better, I started trying new things or adding them back into my life. He had been right. I didn't take his words as carte blanche to just drop everything and stop fighting. I kept struggling to do things. Kept challenging myself. I just got smarter about what I could handle on a given day and what I couldn't. For many years I could tell how well I was doing if I had the nerve to eat shrimp or any meat that wasn't cooked to the state of a hockey puck. And now I can touch door handles in almost any place but a hospital or doctor's office. I don't like it, but I can do it.

Life is easier, but still, OCD is disabling. I'm not likely to be able to take a job in a city where riding public transportation is required. The idea of doing that twice a day, and being forced to do it on days when my resources are low, is horrifying. I wish it wasn't. I don't like having my options curtailed by OCD, but I've come to more of an understanding of what I can handle and what I can't. So maybe it just isn't in the cards right now. Maybe in the future, as all my mental illnesses get more and more under control, as my meds stabilize, as I do more exercise, eat better, do my meditation and get good sleep, maybe public transportation will become as simple as eating frozen food. Which I had given up for two years, and now can do without a problem.

BTW, you probably know I still don't open cans. I haven't missed that at all.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Subway, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apparently, Fear is Excitement Deprived of Oxygen

Hello Friends:

I'll explain the title of this post in a minute, but I need to wander off (potentially way off) topic and then back again. The subject of this post actually starts much earlier in the month.

I've been feeling better. I've noticed it mostly in my social anxiety. I've been able to go to group functions with less trepidation, have more fun at them, feel less mortified, and ruminate about them much less afterward. Sometime in the first week of October, I seem to have turned a small corner, and this ability to deal with social situations much more easily is the result. And of course, since it is now easier to talk to people, life has improved all around. Stores are not as intimidating. Going places by myself is an actual possibility. My email is getting read and answered in the same week for a change.

The ultimate marker? I joined Facebook. Still not sure that I'll stick with it, but if I don't, it probably won't be out of fear or anxiety. It will be because my excuse was right all along and Facebook is actually kind of useless. And I'll be able to say that from an informed position, rather than irresponsibly making it up because I am too scared to try it out. But I don't actually know yet since it has only been a few days, and I'm still figuring out this 'wall' thingy.

So of course the question buzzing in my head is "Why do I feel better?" And I answered myself pretty fast on that one. I think all the work is paying off a little. A small gain in one area is leveraged, and makes it easier for a small gain in another area, and on and on. It starts so slow you don't see it - gains take a long time in the beginning. Each is painful and hard won, and it takes time to adjust to the change and be ready for the next. But then there are more and more gains, and they start feeding off of each other. Here are a few of these 'gains' in more concrete terms.

I am more med compliant.  I have always known staying on the meds is important for me, but I allowed myself to forget them here and there. My OCDs make it so hard to take any kind of pills, that I cut myself some slack on difficult days. Then for some reason I started to pay attention to 'here and there' and realized I was "forgetting" two or three times a week. So my pdoc thought I was on 40 mg per day, but in essence I was really on about 28 to 30 mg per day, averaged over a week. I cracked down on myself, and am now missing one a week, max.

Messages from my body make more sense. The physical-mental-integrated therapies I've been doing have slowly made it easier to understand what my body is saying. For example, it wasn't that long ago that I first really learned what hunger pains felt like, and what their purpose was. I mean it, I didn't understand hunger pains, and did not perceive them as anything other than generalized discomfort that had no purpose and no solution. Why listen to your body when you were told "You are not in pain, you are just uncomfortable" or "You don't know what it really means to hurt" or "You are just making that up" all the time? Reconnecting with my body has been a painful but interesting and empowering experience. It is easier to be mindful about my eating, and not just eat because I'm having a sugar crash or because I'm feeling down. It is more obvious when I actually need to use my inhaler, instead of just ignoring that "not enough air" sensation that never made any sense. Etc.

More reactions have become choices. My first reaction to anything negative is an over-reaction of some kind. Then it usually becomes something dark and prickly living under my skin, like a thorn, that stabs you anew any time you give it the slightest brush. Yet recently things have felt a little different. After my first day of over-reaction, I can take one more step back than I used to. For some things, it is enough to say, "I don't want to care about this anymore. It is over. It is not important. I'm not going to keep thinking about this all the time. I'm not going to stay bent out of shape."And then, amazingly, I am not bent anymore. Never has it seemed like I could choose not to feel that way. Ironically, I think this came from giving myself permission to feel any way at all, to just say "My feelings are my feelings" and let them be. I still have my normal reaction/over-reaction, of course. It is simply that sometimes I can then say, "Enough of that," stop ruminating, and move on. Wow.

All this even lead me to try a combination physical therapy/acupuncture treatment today. Being OCD scared of contamination means needles are really nasty beasties. But I was feeling tough, and I knew it my gut it would help. I'd had a few, very controlled, exposures to acupuncture before, but never like this, with needles sticking out of me and someone bending my limbs and rotating my joints at the same time. It was weird. Scary. The needle-lady said something like, "Naturally with your background you'd find this scary. But remember that fear can be converted to excitement with proper oxygen. So when you feel fear, breathe, and let it become the fuel to do important things."

I laughed out loud. If if were that easy to convert fear, say by hyperventilating, I'd have figured that out a long, long time ago. But my new mindset means that I don't dismiss anything out of hand. I let it percolate a little, then take what seems useful and dump the rest. Scientifically and blood-chemistry wise, I do not thing fear is excitement deprived of oxygen.

But, the line stuck with me. I thought about how I've been breathing a little new air into my life. How there is less fear, and more excitement for the future. Even hope. So there you have it. I'd be interested to hear what it is that you think are your recent gains, and if they seem to help you make more ground in other areas that seemed, at first, unrelated.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Hot air balloon by ronnie44052 on flickr, via Creative Commons, CC2.0

Popular Posts