Friday, December 28, 2012

Depression Continues to Suck, and Advertising is So Manipulative

Hello Friends:

I can't believe it, I'm posting again.  Wow.  That is about the longest time away from posting since I started this blog.  Depression is a nasty, nasty beast.  I'm still feeling pretty down, but things are improving.  Case in point - here's a post.

Thanks to everybody for sticking with me, here.  I hate it when my crazies make it hard for me to post.  Worse, I hate that first post after a long time away.  This post.  I get this idea that by being away I've somehow 'broken' my blog, or made it messy or less useful or what have you.  I know those thoughts are depression having its way with me.  I have them every single time.  But I really love this blog, and the community of bloggers (you) that I've met through it.  There are so many great blogs out there, and even if I'm not writing, I'll still try to keep up with my reading as I can.

Okay, so here is my topic for today - punchline - why do we let advertisers tell us what is beautiful?

Note the loaded picture on this post.  Someone on facebook posted this comparison image of two different advertising campaigns.  The poster's comment was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, sort of with a "top image bad and lower image good" feeling.  But that's not at all how it strikes me.  Instead, it makes me irked at advertising in general.

It is hard to look at this comparison image and not immediately pass some kind of judgement, good or bad, and usually on ourselves.  The Victoria's Secret campaign is much like all of their other campaigns - their models have a very uniform look.  The Dove campaign is actually also much like other Dove campaigns.  They have a lot of products, and they all try to appeal to a desire to look a certain way.  You would think the "Real Beauty" campaign was different from the VS "Love My Body" campaign - after all, there is more variation in body type in the lower image - but in many critically important ways, it is just the same as any other advertising campaign out there.

They want to sell us stuff, and they will show us whatever they think will get us buying.

Women who look like the VS models, or want to look like that, will respond positively to the VS campaign.  Women who look like the Dove models, or who want to look like that, will respond positively to the Dove campaign.  Yet each of these would suggest that, at the least, beauty requires great skin.  Even the images from the "Real Beauty" campaign have been touched up, which isn't a surprise unless you've forgotten their point is to make us buy their stuff.

So I'll reiterate my punchline which is, why do we let them manipulate us with images like this?  Why do we let them tell us what is beautiful?  Why do we allow comparisons like this to tweak us into deciding what is or isn't how a woman should look?  Why does Dove get to define "real beauty?"  Why does VS get to tell us how to "love our body?"  All these women, both in the upper and lower picture, have their own beauty.  So do we, even if we are not in an advertising campaign.  I'm tired of having them tell me how big/little, old/young, tall/short, or whatever/whatever is the right ratio for beauty.  I'd like to just be healthy.  And I don't want them to tell me what is healthy for me or for someone else, either.  Only that particular woman knows what is healthy for her.

Do pictures like this tweak you as much as they do me?  I know next time I see images like this, or any kind of advertising image, I'm going to think first of how I am reacting, and why.  How do the images make me feel about the women pictured?  About myself?  And then, what is it I now feel like buying?  (Or how does it affect what I then go and eat?)  I know these are questions I'm going to ask myself a lot more often.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: VS and Dove advertising campaigns

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands - The Other Side of OCD by J.J. Keeler

Hello Friends:

Yes, I too am on the book-tour wagon-train for "I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands - The Other Side of OCD" by J.J. Keeler!

This book gets 3.8 out of a possible 5 "wings" from Your Adventure Hostess.  I know, I said I wouldn't split wings on book reviews, but I really had to for this one.  Three was way too low, and four was a touch too high.  So 3.8 it is.

Full disclosure - I was asked to review this book, and then I was sent a copy.  I haven't read any other reviews of this book (yet), either on websites or other blogs.  Everything in this review is only my opinion.  I am not a medical professional (that is actually a fact, not just opinion :)

Some of What's in the Book

"Other Side" (as I shall call this book) is 173 pages long, with 11 interesting chapters having such names as "When AIDS Came Out" and "The Bomb In My Teddy Bear."  It is not an informational book per se, but a memoir of one person's experience with OCD.  As the title suggests, it presents lesser known aspects of the illness.  Hand washing is often connected with OCD, but straight obsessions and intrusive thoughts are just as much a part.  No one has all the possible symptoms and manifestations of OCD - how it can present in any individual can be very surprising, even to another sufferer.
What I Liked

Given my own use of humor as a coping mechanism, it does not surprise me that I enjoyed the humor in this book.  Keeler's humor ranges from silly to ironic to emotional, and it almost always serves to enhance whatever is being discussed.  The humor starts on the first page of the prologue, and had me chuckling right away.  "Why am I telling you all this?  You're not my therapist.  Unless my therapist is reading this.  In that case, hello."   

The tone is friendly and approachable.  Keeler writes sincerely about her experiences, and does not leave out the painful or difficult moments.  She does not pull punches, "Still, no mental illness is a picnic - unless you tend to picnic in the depths of Hell."

There were several sentences and phrases that sounded like the voice in my head - the experiences were so similar to those I have, myself.  "I became obsessed with getting AIDS by merely walking." For me, just hearing the word ... wow, I can hardly write it ... 'rabies' ... makes me catch it (as I've noted in the blog here on more than one occasion).

"Other Side" goes into excruciating, agonizing detail about how an intrusive thought pops up, and then all the machinations a person goes through to try to deal with it.  The fear alone is horrifically disabling, and the behaviors can utterly consume your life.  It is one of the aspects of OCD that is so hard to explain - that it completely overwhelms and completely controls - and that it causes terrible pain in the process.

I give props to the publisher for taking this manuscript.  I think honest, even-handed books about mental illness from a sufferer's perspective remain too few.  It's nice to see one like this.  Also, I simply like this publisher in general because of some of their more unusual, even experimental, titles.
What I Didn't Like

The "Random OCD Facts" that show up needed to highlight more important points about OCD.  I found them superfluous, and even distracting, i.e., "Random OCD Fact Number 4:  OCD can interfere with the ability to sleep."

The short intermission chapter "It's Not Always OCD" seemed out of place, and even misleading.  The chapter provides a list of topics/issues that ostensibly "have nothing to do with mental illness or really anything else."  The first on the list is Keeler's fear of spiders.  Given that I have an acute Specific Phobia of spiders that plays directly into my General Anxiety Disorder, I disagree that it does not relate to mental illness, at least for me personally.  I say this even stronger for number seven on the list where the author states "I am very afraid of getting rabies."  The "R" even comes up again in number nine.  Given my own terror of the big "R" I was unhappy both to see it listed as "having nothing to do with mental illness" as well as the author's apparent denial that this may be another aspect of her own OCD.  The whole list is so tinged with anxiety disorder issues I'm wondering if I missed a key bit of irony about the entire chapter.  Still, I found it alienating and wished the intermission had not been in the book.

The tone of the book is a bit too chatty for me.  I found I had to force myself to read some of the lengthy setups and exposition for certain scenarios, instead of jumping ahead to find out "the point."  Sometimes "the point" was not enough of a payoff to feel as though reading through the background was justified. 

I simply did not find enough scholarly references to back up some of the main points.  I don't mean to imply that a memoir needs to be written by a psychologist.  It is that when statements are made without scientific data or scholarly reference, then they are entirely subjective to the writer.  It was disconcerting for me to read statements directed towards OCD in general that were not grounded in data (remember, I'm a scientist, so my own bias is freely noted.)  I might simply be too jaded after decades of dealing with my OCD's, but I think this book will be of most help to those just beginning to deal with their own OCDs.  Many of us who have been in the trenches of therapy for decades might find less meat (data, new ideas, innovative approaches to coping) here to chew on. 

Overall, the text felt somewhat unpolished, as if it needed one more edit to remove some extra verbiage, smooth the flow from one idea or section to the next, and to ensure a consistent voice.

Summary and Final Comments

There are many people who have OCD symptoms like those discussed in this memoir (me included) and who have not found many sources of validation.  "Other Side" helps those sufferers validate their experience in an accessible, often humorous, and always sincere way.  The book is particularly powerful when discussing harming obsessions.  I personally thought "Other Side" would have been improved by a more scholarly treatment, as well as a more informed tone of voice, but others will prefer it exactly as it is.

Side note - Sometimes I do not understand publishers.  Book covers are really very important.  This cover is not appropriate for the book.  It attempts to make literal the figurative language in the title, but does so by sacrificing readability and any coherent link between the design elements.  I also thought it wasn't a good idea to put hands being washed on the cover, when that is exactly what the book is not about.  So many other designs, symbols, and even fonts would have had greater impact, and helped convey the true themes and emotion of the book.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  Front cover of "I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands" from Paragon House

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Giving Grief Some Space

Hello Friends:

A question came up on a forum - what have you lost or missed out on in life because of your mental illness?  I usually avoid these questions, because I want to be 'positive' all the time.  Yet I know that some of that inclination stems from a dysfunctional need to avoid the past.  I do not like to allow myself to grieve.  I can't stand the sensation of loss, so I repress loss and grief mercilessly.  I know it would be a good idea to put down what I've lost to MI, and honor that grief.

So here are a few things.  Not all of them, but at least some that I can articulate at the moment:

-   I did not get to be a child.  I was scared every moment of my childhood that additional abuse would come my way.

-   I did not have parents.  There were ostensibly two people there, and they did give me a home and enough resources to survive.  But with my parents both having untreated MIs (esp my Mom) and addictions (esp my Dad) they were not really parents.  (And now, having fully estranged them, I certainly don't have parents.  But that's been a necessary part of setting boundaries.)

-   I missed out on having a good sense of self.  Other people don't hate themselves, and I do.

-   I missed out on more social events than I can count.  Weddings, parties, casual gatherings, everything.  So much.

-   I lost about five years of my life.  It wasn't all at once - it was about 3.5 years during one depressive episode and then another 1.5 in another.  During that time I did almost nothing at all.  Completely wasted time.  Five years, poof, gone.  I was so depressed that except for the pain I hardly even remember them at all.

-   I lost the career track I worked so hard to build.  It isn't impossible that I might get it back someday, but the loss stings.

I feel compelled, however, to mention what I didn't miss.  This might be me being dysfunctional again, already turning aside from the hurting place, but I can't help it.  I found a great spouse, and we've been married for almost 14 years.  I got my BS and then my PhD in the subject I really wanted.  I can't work in that field right now because of the MIs, but I do have the formal background to do it.  I've been able to do a lot of writing, and it's been very rewarding and fun.  I've gone on a lot of business trips to amazing places.  I have a small number of very good friends who are supportive when I need it.  I've been able to develop empathy and a deeper understanding for suffering than most of my peers.

Do you have something you feel you need to grieve, but that you haven't really given the space?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Girl Young Woman from

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Feeling Better, Getting my Butt Kicked, Still Going

Hello Friends:

So my anxieties kicked my butt royally this fourth of July.  I'm still upset about it.  I had really been doing pretty well.  Camping, going to the store, travel ... it was all looking pretty good.  I figured attending a fourth of July party wouldn't be too much to ask.


It doesn't seem like it should matter that much, but I was really upset.  I had been planning to go for two weeks.  I sent back a very enthusiastic 'yes' to the invitation.  I was even thinking about what I wanted to chat about with the hostess, what to bring, and that I would certainly have fun.  Their house isn't too far from the DC fireworks, so that was going to be an added bonus.

But it didn't happen.  For three nights leading up to the fourth, I didn't sleep.  I didn't know what was bothering me, which is crazy in retrospect.  I was obviously totally stressed out about this party.  Going into DC on the fourth is a bit nutso, anyway, what with the crowds, the Metro breaking down, no parking, hours in stop and go traffic, etc. etc.  That is on top of the usual party stresses, like not knowing anyone and not being able to eat any of the food because of OCD issues.  Still, I didn't realize I was totally freaking out until that morning.

I got up on the fourth and was terrified.  I couldn't beat the feeling.  I tried a bunch of my different coping mechanisms, but kept finding myself back up in bed, shivering.  Scared.  Feeling very trapped.  Took me a few hours to admit the situation and leave a message that I wouldn't be coming to the party after all.  It really, really hurt.  I spent the afternoon in tears.  It is so different from that depression thing, where you don't want to go anywhere.  My depression is under control right now.  I wanted to go.  It was all of the anxiety disorders that stopped me this time.  So frustrating.  I don't know how to describe it, but I'll bet you understand.

My spouse was very supportive, as always.  He was disappointed that we didn't go to the party, but he went out and got us some beer, hot dogs, chips, and ice cream so we could have our own little party.  Then we watched the fireworks online.  I love fireworks.  I hope I can see them in person next year.  Seeing them online when you'd rather be out is a little pathetic.

Still, I don't want to end on a downer, because a few days later I had a much more positive experience.  My spouse is a huge baseball fan, and does not get to go to as many games as he'd like because I have anxiety issues with the crowds, the food, the dirt and grime, and all the rest.  But a friend had invited us along with a small group to a box suite.  Wow.  Never been in one of those boxes before.  Wow.  The idea of being able to see a game in a sort of nice, isolated situation had a lot of appeal.

So we went out to the game.  Still had to deal with the crowds getting in, but once we were in the box.  Well.  Wow.  Air conditioning.  Our own area for concessions.  The place is carpeted.  Our own set of seats outside, with a railing to set them off.  Right behind home plate.  Our own bathroom!!  I'll say that again ... our own bathroom!!  It was truly awesome.

I am now spoiled for life.  I'll probably not get the chance again, and any other game I attend will just not compare.  I'd never imagined that going to a baseball game could be so low-anxiety.  It felt so good to be able to get out and see some friends after my disappointment two days earlier.  I wonder if I'll ever be able to make myself deal with being one of the normals again.  Wow.

Anyway, I hope your fourth, and this first part of July have been treating you well!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Fireworks, bayassa, Flikr via Creative Commons CC 2.0

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Normal People Go Camping, Right?

Yeah, looks like a nice horse, doesn't it?  Don't be fooled ...
Hello Friends: 

So this is a sort of rhetorical question, because I've already done a lot of camping, myself.  So I know that there are plenty of people who consider camping to be a normal, wholesome activity.  It was something I really enjoyed as a kid, and I still want to be able to camp as an adult.  I want to do what the normals do.

Of course, when I was a kid, the water didn't have Giardia, the mosquitoes didn't have West Nile, and the ticks didn't have Lyme.  Ah, those heady by-gone days ...

Continuing my overall plan and lifestyle of Doing Things Even If I Think They Are Going To Kill Me, I went camping with a group of friends last week.  Problem number one is the need to protect oneself from the previously mentioned mosquitoes and ticks.  The best way to do this is to spray oneself all over with DEET.  Which is, ahem, poisonous.  This is really part of my problem with a lot of things - I am afraid of condition A, but condition B, required to fix condition A, also scares the crap out of me.

So, I weighed my fear of bug diseases against my fear of spray poison - ended up deciding I'd rather be covered in DEET than in ticks, if only from the aesthetic perspective.  The problem (as if there is just the one) is that there is no guarantee.  Never a guarantee, and as you know, if there is one thing OCD really, really wants it is a guarantee.  If you use the DEET, then you don't get Lyme disease - but it is just not that easy.

Still, I sprayed down my shoes, socks, pants and a bit of other territory, and made sure I was wearing light colored clothing and a white hat.  That's supposed to be so that you can find the ticks easier, but I have to say I was trying really hard at first not to see any bugs at all.  Not productive, I know, but it is what it is.

Things went generally okay, with us doing some nice hikes, lunch, side stop at a brewery, etc.  I was struggling a little, but hanging in there.  And then we made our way to the campsite.

We were camping in a place I'd only heard about, but never seen.  I'd always wanted to go there, ever since I was a little kid and all my friends were reading "Misty of Chincoteague" and "Misty of Assateague."  I was amazed to realize that there were wild horses really living on an island on the East Coast.  At that age I'd hardly even learned about mustangs in the West.

It has always been an evocative image ... wild horses roaming about the beach sands.  We arrived, pitched our tents amidst about a bazillion other campers, and I wondered if we'd be lucky enough to see a horse.  We'd only be there one night.  I imagined these majestic ponies, shy, timid, startling at the least sound, running in small groups in the distance, backlit by the sun as they passed by the sea grasses.

OMG.  Have you been there?  Wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong.

The horses travel in gangs.  They travel in gangs of five to ten, right up the road of the camp, plodding away, $h!ting and pissing as they go.  They have utterly no fear of humans, and waltz right up to tents and cars, looking for goodies.  They have learned how to open coolers, and tear open bags of chips.  I know this because one of our group was forced to fend off an invasion as the rest of us went to see the sun over the ocean.  Fortunately she had actually helped raise horses as a child, and had some idea of how to get them out of the camp.  In the end, she actually had to push one out of the food.

That was the point at which the rest of us came back, and saw horse poop all over the place, torn bags, and the ruins of blue corn chips all over the ground.  And my friend there, telling us the story and PICKING TICKS OFF OF HER SHIRT.  Yes.  She wasn't even surprised.  She said, "Oh, yeah.  The horses are covered with ticks.  I had to put my hand on one and the ticks jumped on me, instead."

I sort of lost it at this point.  I was capable of dealing (marginally) with relatively known risks.  The ground has bugs, so use a tarp under the tent.  Mosquitoes fly, so use some bug spray.  The outside world is gross and dirty, so use lots of handiwipes.  Whatever.  But the horses added a dimension I was not prepared to cope with - a moving, changing dimension.  So, you've checked to make sure there is no horse poop behind you?  Well, that's going to change.  Was that a good place to put the tent?  Not anymore, because there is a horse standing on the tarp.  That kind of thing.

So I had the choice of taking some Ativan, drinking a bunch of wine, or leaping into the car and not coming out.  I chose the wine.  I steadied myself with about 2/3 of a bottle while making dinner and also making sure I had someone watching my back.  It was getting dark and the %@*&% horses can actually SNEAK up on you.  I mean it. 

For the rest of the night, gangs of horses would make circuits around the campsites.  Morons (i.e. people who had just shown up, i.e. my group two hours previously) would gush and take pictures until they realized the horses were in their coolers and pulling food right out of their children's hands.  Then they started swearing like us and trying to put up moats and other defensive fortifications.  Eventually, we were in our tent, and yes, every few hours you could hear the gangs go by.  One of them came right up to the tent, farted loudly, and whinnied in what I can only assume was appreciation.  All I could think was, "Please don't piss on the tent."

That morning I couldn't get out of the place fast enough.  I felt badly about it.  After all, these were indeed the 'wild' horses of the islands, and there is something pretty cool about it.  The coast was lovely and sunrise and sunset over the beach was glorious.  But my general appreciation for the place could not stand up to the need to LEAVE.

The trip was capped, in a way, by me really spotting my first tick up close - on the inside of the car, hanging from the ceiling, right over my head.  I fought a brief battle with myself, since normally touching one would be out of the question, but I could hardly just let the sucker roam around.  So I managed to corral it into an extra ziploc bag.  So I got a really good look at it.  Deer tick.  Yep.  No question. 

Needless to say, I am really @#&*% nervous.  Really nervous.  Sometimes this whole "doing what the normals do" is really ... well.  Hard.  Stupid.  Scary.  But, well, makes for a good story, anyway.

Your Hostess With Neuroses
Image credit/info:  From our trip to Assateague State Park.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I Love an Owl and Please Tell Me What to Read

Boggle the Owl gives a hug
to an anonymous icon
Hello Friends:

Just when you think you have a handle on the new platforms, more platforms show up.  I've only just gotten comfortable with Twitter.  (Facebook keeps changing so you can't actually get comfortable with it even if you use it every day.)  Then I get forwarded a link for something on "tumblr."  I do not know what to do with this platform, really, and would ignore it for another couple of years - except that the link I was sent had something in it I really, really liked.  -  A certain owl.

I like it so much I figured I'd share it with you.  The 'blog' or whatever it is is called "Boggle!" and the taglines are "Boggle is worried about you.  Boggle is also an owl."  I do not know who is drawing the illustrations or writing the blog, but they are very informed about mental illness.  The author speaks primarily through the owl, giving out good advice and lots of warm fuzzies to people who really need them.

It is an excellent gimmick, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  By speaking through the owl, the person who is writing the blog comes over as approachable and non-threatening.  The author can say things through the owl that they would not be able to say otherwise, since it might be taken oddly.  (For example, the owl can say, "I wish I could come over to your house and make you dinner and listen to the whole story" and have it be taken perfectly innocently.  Some stranger online says the same thing, and it might feel a bit too ... familiar.)

And this owl is just so freaking cute.  I read through pages of responses that Boggle gave to people who wrote in with problems, and liked the blog more and more as I read.  The owl doles out much more than advice, he offers encouragement and a kind of unconditional love that is amazingly appealing.

Which got me thinking ...

I wonder what other really good blogs are out there that I'm missing?  Generally speaking, I like to read personal blogs from other people who deal with their own mental illnesses.  I like blogs that don't shy from the hard truth, but at the same time are focused on healing.  I like blogs that express the fact that just getting through each day is a triumph, and yet still talk about how life can be so much more than just surviving.  This Boggle blog was a surprise to me, since I generally stay away from blogs written by "authorities" in mental health.  I'm generally more interested in the sufferer's perspective.  Apparently that's not a hard and fast rule since I like this one so much :)

So how about this - give me three mental health blogs you read that really resonate with you in some fashion.  Maybe they make you feel like someone understands, or they feel very truthful and authentic, or they give great advice, or they help you feel positive and uplifted, or whatever.  I know we all have many more than three blogs we'd call favorites, but I'm hoping to give a visit to every blog that is suggested.  A really big list will probably just overwhelm me :)  FYI, I generally avoid blogs with ads.  I know there must be a lot more great blogs by and for people with MI than I've found up to this point.

Looking forward to seeing your suggestions!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Boggle blog on Tumblr - Boggle hugs an icon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Feeling Bummed Out n Ugly

Hello Friends:

It's turning into a tough day.  The major symptom of which was the recent thought "I am really amazingly ugly.  Wow."  I mean, on normal days I hardly think I'm beautiful, but don't generally find myself actually repulsive.  Today - repulsive.  It occurred to me that I could combine features from some animals and come up with a pretty good representation of my face.  Start with over large hawkish nose, frog-ribbiting double chin, and then fill in the rest with pudgy pink pig.  Egads.

So, being mindful of where these sorts of emotions come from, I have looked back to the hour or so before I thought this.  Three things, wedding related, that threw me.  First, I found a wedding invitation from some years back - a wedding we attended of very good friends.  Just now going through their divorce.  Sigh.  Then worse, another invitation from good friends, again a wedding we attended - the bride passed away last year.  So painful. 

So I figured I'd try to focus on the positive, and checked out some pictures posted of a wedding we attended just a few weeks ago.  And OMG, there I am, in profile.  My second chin really is like a frog.  Nose is huge and sort of bent in the middle.

And I've been trying so hard to get in shape.  I've had a lot of success with eating well, getting in my treadmill time, and doing flexibility stretching.  You'd think seeing this would really put a fire under my butt.  Instead it has completely taken the wind out of me.  Like, why bother, too far gone.

I know that part of me isn't really upset about my looks.  I'm focused on that because I had a lot of negative messages about my looks growing up.  That plus my general self-hatred leads to really hating my reflection in the mirror on a regular basis.  So, it's not that as much as being down about my friends, I think.  Hard to draw the line between what starts you feeling bad, and then where it leads.  The workings of depression can be so bizarre.  So often, it isn't what we are thinking now that is the real "problem" but some other trigger, some other incident, that may have gone nearly unnoticed at first.

I'm still avoiding mirrors and pictures for the rest of the day.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Sad Girl by raymaclean on Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trying to Keep the Past in the Past

Hello Friends:

So did you ever experience a time when you did something that should have come back to bite you, but it didn't?  (This really does have to do with the title, honestly.)

The time I'm thinking about is when I was in college.  I'd burn candles in my bedroom now and then.  I'd leave them for a few moments while I was in the kitchen or whatever, and then come back.  My favorite candle holder was a heavy, sturdy, thick glass votive holder that gave me a safe sort of feeling.  My OCDs were much worse back then, and so I was very, very careful about the sort of candle holder I used and where I put it.  It was on my dresser with nothing flammable anywhere near it.

You can see where this is going.  One day I forgot.  I just forgot - an OCD kind of nightmare.  I walked out with the candle burning in my bedroom, and didn't come back all day.  Makes me nauseous just typing those words.

Fortunately I had that nice thick candle holder, right?  Wrong.  While I was out, it apparently got so hot that it shattered.  Exploded, really, given that when my boyfriend and I got back there were pieces all over the dresser, all over the carpet, and splashes of dried wax everywhere.  I had two immediate reactions at the time.  The first was "OMG (except in those days we spelled it out like this - "Oh My God") I can't believe I left that candle burning!  The whole place could have burned down!"

The second reaction was "There is glass everywhere!"  So while boyfriend tried to get me to calm down, he had to clean up all the glass.  (He still has the job of cleaning up all the glass almost twenty years later.)   I sat and thought about how in spite of the fact that my room was now contaminated with bits of glass, I still had a room.  I'd done something dumb and hadn't had to pay for it.

Except ...

Right, first thing is what you'd expect from OCD.  It is a challenge for me to burn candles.  For years I couldn't do it at all.  And you can bet when I do light them, I check them like crazy.  Checking.  Checking.  It isn't worth it sometimes ... but sometimes it is, and I'll light them for dinner, but blow them right out afterwards.  My husband, who does not want to clean up more glass, is happy to help me keep tabs :)

At least with OCD I know how to push my limits - when I have the emotional resources to burn a candle and when I don't - how to insert positive cognitions, you know the drill.  I hate it and it hurts, but I feel like OCD is a beast I am in the process of taming.

The issue is the second thing, I suppose.  A beast I have not tamed - I have flashbacks about this candle thing.  It is so bizarre.  Nothing happened.  I flashback to a sort of mush of images all at once, all on top of each other - lighting the candle, not blowing it out, the candle holder shattering, seeing the pieces all over, and knowing I just dodged a bullet.  I didn't even see the actual moment of shattering, of course, and yet that is still part of the melange of pictures and feelings.  My flashbacks can be intense and instantaneous, one moment I'm making tea, and then next I'm reliving every image I just described, with all the associated feelings, all at once.  It is jarring, painful, and upsetting in a manner totally different from a panic attack, say.  I confused my flashbacks with anxiety and panic attacks for years, but I can often spot the differences, now.  That's assuming I'm not so thrown by having a flashback that I can think rationally at all.

If you don't suffer from CPTSD, it is hard to describe how time can bend.  I don't really experience time in a line, ever.  Time for me is fluid.  It wraps back on itself in a way that allows past events to unfold as if they were happening right now.  Sometimes multiple events start playing all at once, with all the associated sounds, smells, and emotions, but no visual.  That's my usual - and it is really scary.  So you can believe I'm trying hard to make sense of it.  Why is it that the past won't stay there?

I don't mean this strictly biologically.  I understand about the amygdala, how memories and emotions get stored, why trauma seems to be associated with certain memories in some people and not others, blah blah.  I mean this from the position of my daily life.  It is almost a spiritual question - why isn't the past, past?

So I think about this candle incident a lot.  I have plenty of flashbacks to nasty things that really did happen.  Why has this experience, of all things, become one of the experiences I flash back to again and again?  How did this non-trauma become a trauma?  I wonder if figuring this out might help me figure out other bizarre parts of my psychology.

Wait, wait.  I ... just got an idea.  I wonder if it isn't really so different after all, the OCDs and the flashbacks.  I was thinking of OCDs as a problem with "now" and the flashbacks as a problem with "then" but that's not true, is it?  They are both problems with bringing the past into the present.  Not the same way ... but every time I light a candle, it's like I'm lighting that same candle from back then.  The one that exploded.  Hmmm.

This needs more thought.  What are yours?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Candles by Fotodawg on Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Making the Choice to Keep on Going

Hello Friends:

Wow, I am pleased and happy - after four years of blogging I have received my very first blog award for Adventures in Anxiety Land!  The award is the "I Choose to Live" award, given by Jen Daisybee at Suicidal No More.

The text describing the award says "Awards will be given to bloggers who have lived through a period of suicidality, due to a mental illness or an addiction or eating disorder (or combination of the above), or other reason, yet chose to fight to stay alive, and combat their thoughts of suicide. The purpose of this is to spread awareness that there is hope for people living with mental health problems and feeling like they have no reason to go on. There is hope, and it's important to hold onto hope. Things do get better with time, and especially with appropriate treatment. The award recipients listed here have chosen, and continue to choose, to deal with their problems, whatever they may be, without giving up. They are resilient and determined."

Or in my case, just plain stubborn, but that works, too.

There was a time before I made this choice.  A time when there was still a "Plan B" for when things became unbearable.  But I have already borne so much over the years.  I finally came to realize that I could go on bearing it.  It would be hard.  It would suck.  But I could do it.

It feels strange to have given up on "Plan B."  I remember when having a "Plan B" gave me some relief, knowing I could just check out if things became ... well ... unbearable.  But now being determined and committed to living is a new, and better kind of relief.  This is a promise, a great vow you make with yourself, that you will not give up on yourself.  As I am fond of saying, as we live, options remain.  It hurts to live, much worse than those who do not suffer from MI will ever understand.  But I've made my promise to myself.  My sacred vow.  It makes me feel empowered.

And if you don't follow Suicidal No More, give it a look see.  Jen Daisybee is the kind of person who offers real, concrete hope for people with MI.  Here are some lines she wrote about herself, taken from a recent post.  (Go read the full thing, it's amazing.)

I was the young woman who drove her mother's car to the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at top speed and rammed into a guardrail, trying to drive over the edge to die because the voices told her to do so. 
I was the young woman who thought she was a Manchurian Candidate with a microchip inside her body that the CIA was using to monitor her whereabouts and control her thoughts. I was the young woman who tried to cut the microchip out of her leg with a broken glass.


I was the young woman who lived in three different homeless shelters at three different times in three different years. 

I was the young woman who was hospitalized in psychiatric units more than 25 times in her life.

I was the young woman who thought she had no talents or anything to give to the world, who believed she was worthless, who cut her flesh out of the anger she had at herself.

And now........................

I am the woman who knows what reality is, who doesn't have delusional thoughts about being people she isn't, who knows who she is, and who remembers what it was like when life was not this good.

I am the woman who graduated with her A.A. degree with honors in 2010 from a college she first attended in 1993.

I am the woman who visits her psychiatrist each month, gets an injection of medication every two weeks, and goes to therapy regularly because she wants to be well and live.

I am the woman who speaks to the police every year during their Crisis Intervention Team trainings and tells them what it's like when the police come to take you away in handcuffs, so they can understand how to approach people in crises.

I am the woman who did an internship last year at the same crisis center where she was a patient seven years ago for months.

I am the woman who spoke at the Southeast Conference on Homelessness and Supportive Housing in 2010, the Directions for Mental Health training conference of 2010, Bayside High School during The Great American Teach-Ins of 2010 and 2011, and other community groups to open up a dialogue about mental illness, in the hopes that she could have a positive impact on at least one person's life.

I am the woman who loves to laugh.

I am the daisy that blossomed in spite of the cement that encased her.

How can these words not inspire us to keep on living!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Traveling when the Props and Flexibility Theory Don't Work

Headphones - Not A Perfect Solution
Hello Friends:

Gearing up for more travel, I found some writing I had intended to post a few months ago.  I had cruised through two flights using my Fun, Flexibility, and Props.  And in one moment, panic.  Oh yeah.


I think this is sort of the sink or swim aspect of travel.  Sometimes you can't make a situation feel better.  Sometimes you can't adapt, adjust, block it with headphones, or wipe it with a handiwipe.  Sometimes it just sucks.

I got my first real "hit" for the trip.  It's amazing it took that long, and I ought to be patting myself on the back.  Third flight of the day.  Third.  Airplane is filling up, and we are getting ready to go.

And the person behind me coughs.  Very loudly.

Before I can "insert a contrary and positive cognition" I am seized with a jolt of fear.  I am contaminated, and will spend a five hour flight sitting three feet away from this person.  I am doomed.

That all goes through my head in a flash.  I can feel the heat in my skin like a burn, and my hands are clammy.  I try not to show my reaction on my face, but by the time I realize what I'm doing, I have my head bowed and am rocking in my seat.  Spouse notices, of course.  And since he knows me, he also knows exactly why his 'normal' wife has just gone semi-catatonic.  Terror is a good one word answer.

He leans in and says, "There are lots of reasons for someone to have a cough and not have something communicable."

I almost smile, as I see him trying to put in the positive cognitions that I am failing to generate.  Instead I think - pandemic.  Here I am right at the start.  I should be honored.  There are a ton of international people on this flight, and it's going start right here.  Some SARS spread kinda thing.  I am f#ck*d.

I have the presence of mind to realize as I think this just how incredibly self-centered fear can be.  How cold it can make you.  A cough does not bring up feelings of compassion, it brings up a desire to get away from the person as fast as possible.  A strange war of nonsense and actual good reason.  Cognitive dissonance, my good friend, nice to see you again.

As it turns out, the plane is not full.  The entire row across from us is empty.  My husband points, "We can move over."

I think hard, then look at him, "If you say it is rational to remain here, if you say that it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, then let's stay.  There are too many times when you can't get away.  And if this isn't actually something you are worried about, let's stay."

And we did.  Are.  I'm typing this still sitting in the row in front of coughing lady.  I've been working on lots of cognitions that say she has some kind of chronic cough or allergy, and isn't sick at all.  And then I turned to the travel props.  Bose headphones, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cranked up.  Can't hear a d@mn thing, now. 


Well, nothing like a dose of real life.  Prepare and then just deal.  Guess you can't do any better than that when traveling.  I'll note that I did not get sick on that trip.  Not that I expect logic to work on me next time ...

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Kevin Lawver, My Headphones, on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Taking on Travel Anxiety With Some Props

Let's see, got the toiletries, pants, shirts, trashy novel, the cat ... um, wait a minute.
Hello Friends:

I've just come out of a long spate of travel, and soon will be headed into another one.  Now, that's good.  I love being in new places, but I'm not terribly keen on getting to those places.  Back in September I blogged about using both Fun and Flexibility to ease travel anxiety, this time it's about props.

Props for me are any physical items one uses on a trip to make the experience less freaky.  I have a few key props that I never travel without.  Well, I *almost* never travel without.  I am absent minded by nature, and often suffer Celexa-head on top of that, so one never knows (note previous post on flexibility).

#1 Ativan.  Holy, holy cow.  This stuff has changed my life.  I am terrified to fly.  I used to drink alcohol to deal, which does not work well as a fear-remover, and then leaves you feeling absolutely wretched the day after.  Since I'm often traveling for work, the option of being hung over the day after a flight is not a good one.  Enter Ativan (Lorezepam).  I am very sensitive to the stuff, and so have some side effects where I get groggy and cranky the next day.  But that's usually how I am in the morning, anyway.  During the flights, if I get the dose right, I actually can SLEEP.  Sleep on a plane.  Wow.  Wow.   The best is when I am not so drowsy that I have to sleep, but instead can actually do some work or have some fun.  Fun.  On an airplane.  Mind blowing.

#2 Bose Noise Canceling Head Phones.  Absolutely critical.  If you are sensitive to noise, crowds, or just want to create some personal space in the middle of the airport terminal, these headphones are a must.

#3 Earplugs.  When head phones are too bulky or obvious, earplugs can be such a blessing.  I carry them now mostly so that I can still go into bars.  I enjoy getting a drink now and then and listening to whatever live music is going.  But the crowds and the chaos are hard for me to deal with.  Add the noise on top, and I can't do it.  With good earplugs, I can often handle the bar and not leave feeling like I've been beaten about the head and neck with a sack of limes.  I'll admit, sometimes when I'm really freaked out, like in a mobbed train station, I'll use both the earplugs and the headphones.  Yep.

#4 Eye Mask.  See a theme, here?  Yes, sensory overload is something I try to avoid when traveling.  I have enough to think about without worrying over each and every piece of sense data, and wondering if it carries some threat.  I find it a lot easier to fall asleep on planes with one, and even just to relax sitting on a bench in some terminal.  When life is just too much, cutting off half the sense information makes processing the rest a lot easier.

#5 Ichiro.  No, not the baseball player.  This is a small stuffed armadillo.  You may recall that I use a stuffed animal as a source of comfort when visiting the doctor.  Well now my spouse and I travel with an armadillo I found several years ago in the Dallas airport.  Ichiro is a travel freak.  He's already been to Italy, Spain, Japan, multiple cruises and a plethora of US states.

#6 Sun Props.  I am very fair and have had several suspicious moles removed.  I lived in the desert southwest for 14 years.  So I have some reasons to be concerned about sun exposure.  Well, my OCD's have made it more than a 'concern.'  So to feel comfortable, I have to be sun protected.  My favorite prop is a "Sunbrella" that is basically a high-tech parasol.  Then there is my one and only sunscreen that I can stand the feel of and does not make my eyes sting.  Throw in a hat, and I'm feeling a lot better about things.

#6 Gloves.  Even if it isn't cold, I usually have a pair of tight cotton stretchy gloves with me.  When the OCD's get tough, and that's often on public transportation, I have my gloves so I don't have to touch the papers left behind, the chrome bars, or ubiquitous elevator buttons.  I see this as a concession, since I'm trying to live life without needing gloves, but I keep them along since sometimes it makes the difference between being able to participate, or not.

#7 Handiwipes.  Gobs and gobs of handiwipes in single packages.  I have them everywhere.  This is definitely an OCD concession but I have never gotten a strange comment from someone when they watch me wipe down the armrests on the train, or the tray tables on an airplane.  If anyone says anything, they usually ask for one so they can do the same.  I try to use them sparingly, but again, when travel gets tough, these can really help me feel more secure.

So what are your favorite travel-happy props?  What gets you through the tough spots and on to the fun stuff?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Neta in suitcase by Shockingly Tasty, on Flikr, via Creative Commons CC 2.0

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Beauty Right Out The Front Door

Flowers growing in my own
postage-stamp of a front lawn.
Not sure how they got there.
Hello Friends:

I want to say "thank you" again to everyone who read and especially those who commented on my last blog post. It is amazing to get that kind of support, and I appreciate it more than I can say. First of all I just feel better for myself, feeling more understood, and secondly I feel a little better for those people who were directly affected by that tragedy, since there are now more people who are aware of it and can hope/pray for them (or whatever it is you do).

I am finally getting out of the darkness of this winter - and it is such a wonderful thing. I'm feeling better emotionally, I'm over my nasty ear infection, I've had some processing time on those other tough issues I've mentioned, and I have some plans for travel coming up that really are exciting.

Of course, to travel, one needs to be able to leave the house.  These days, just leaving the front door is a real coup. But I am working hard to focus on the positive.  The air was so perfect today that even I felt compelled to take a tiny walk around the complex, braving all the things I dislike about the outdoors.  (Like, why do there have to be dirt, insects, and rodents out there?)  In light of that, and in light of the arrival of spring, and in light of the literal increase in the amount of light at my latitude, I offer some pictures of flowers from my modest jaunt.

It amazes me sometimes how much beauty can be so very close. I took all of these pictures myself, and each subject is not more than a thirty second walk from my front steps. I live in a simple, very cookie-cutter townhouse complex in typical suburbia. You'd think there would be nothing so special to look at here, but I was wrong about that.  It is a good lesson for me, to focus in closer and see what is right under my nose. It's so easy to think you need to go someplace else to find what you need.

If you know more about these flowers than I do (which isn't hard) do please enlighten me!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: All mine! Wanna use? Link to this blog and credit Blue Morpho.

Um, some pink stuff.  Sort of like Mountain Laurel,
but I think this is something else.
Daffodils!  These are some of my very favorite flowers.
I don't know much about the kinds of
flowers that grow on trees. Is this a
kind of faux cherry?

More flowers on trees.  Dogwood, maybe?  Nice and fluffy.

This purple stuff is literally thick on the ground out here.
Not bluebells, so I'm out of ideas.
Someone has some great tulips out here, mixed in with
some red spiky flowers that I have no clue about.
Okay, this is that ground cover stuff that is all over, but I
really think it is pretty.
So this is what I think of when I think of blue bells, but I
know that's not quite right.  Still pretty.

One perfect dandelion.  I love dandelions.  People who care
about their lawns think of these as weeds. Given that I don't
really have the mindset to deal with my lawn, I think of
these as free yard ornaments.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dealing with Dark Waters

Hello Friends:

I mentioned in my last post that I had a whole dang list of things to write about and what with one thing and another, I hadn't manged to get my act together.  Far be it from me to suggest my act is actually coalescing, yet here is a post.

One of the reasons this winter has been so tough is something that happened early on, in December.  I'm feeling a little better about it, now, having had some time and some tdoc sessions to deal with it.  But I still feel a touch haunted, literally and figuratively.

We went on a cruise for the holidays, and overall it was a great experience.  We left on Christmas Eve, had dinner, did some partying, then went to bed.  We were not asleep.  I remember the moment when I felt something shift in the movement of the ship.  It was just after midnight, Christmas Day.  Then we heard an announcement in the hall using some kind of code.  The feeling was like a tingle of static energy, subtle, but my hands felt cold.  My feet numb.  Part of my mind recognized it immediately as a shock or panic reaction.  The other part said, clearly, to the rest of my mind, "Someone is overboard."

About ten minutes later, there was another announcement in the hall.  I know now that people who were asleep at the time didn't hear it at all.  But we were awake.  I was wide awake, in fact.  This announcement said clearly that there was a "man overboard situation" and the ship had moved into a search pattern.

We got up.  I went out onto the balcony, not because I thought I could see anything from ten stories up in a massive cruise ship at night.  I went out because I felt compelled.  The sea wasn't high, but neither was it calm.  We could see the lights of the coast maybe fifteen miles off, and another cruise ship searching in a wide circle, as we were.  It was hard to get your mind around.  Inside my head it said, "Someone is in that water."  I felt in my heart that the person had jumped intentionally.  It would have happened just at midnight.  The ship was not lurching.  I didn't think they had fallen by accident, although I had no proof or evidence either way.

I was so, so sad.  Am sad.  No matter how suicidal I have ever been, jumping into the sea has never been one of my options for offing myself.  Incredibly despairing and sad, to see a dark, yawning ocean and wonder at the mind of someone who leaped right into it.  I was in pain for that person, and for myself, knowing that feeling of empty grief.  All night long, the ship moved in a large circle.  It made the boat sway in a fashion I had not yet felt on a ship.  For the rest of the cruise, whenever the boat turned, it brought the feelings back up in an instant.

Nine hours later, there was another announcement.  It was at breakfast, and this was how most people learned that someone had gone over.  The Captain claimed that a staff member jumped overboard, and after nine hours, the Coast Guard had released the cruise ships from the search.  You could see helicopters still circling, but the ships were now moving away.  The Captain said that three orange life rings had been thrown over, and all three had been recovered.  But not the person in question.  And that was about it.

The way the incident was ignored on board for the rest of the trip was disturbing.  I was more disturbed by how hard it was to learn anything about it at all, even after we got back.  I ended up on some cruise watchdog sites before I even found the press releases about the incident.  I also found posts from family members of the woman who was lost.  Her family was absolutely certain she would not have jumped - she had a one year old child, was married, her husband was also a staff member on the same ship, they had just been shopping for presents, etc.  Her family was outraged at the 'accusation' that the woman had jumped.  The company was saying they had an 'eye witness.'  But no witness had come forth, and the company was apparently not releasing the tapes they have of everything that goes on everywhere on a ship.  I'm pretty convinced they must have caught it on tape.  The company would want it to be a suicide, since that would absolve them of any responsibility.  The family would want it to be an accident, for a million reasons, of course.

This was the point at which I was finally able to get together with my tdoc (recall I was really sick with a combined ear/sinus infection for weeks).  I still do not know what has come of this situation.  My tdoc helped me to see that obsessing over it, when it was unlikely to ever come to a resolution, was not a really good use of my time, or of my sanity.  But I remain distressed.  First, by the idea that a person drowned on Christmas Day.  Second, and more tangled, is this idea that justice has not been done.  Or found.  Or achieved.  Or something.  Why can't the family get some kind of closure from the cruise company, one way or another?  Why can't I?  How frustrating.

Frustrating that the chance we will ever know what happened is about zero.  And still haunting, that sight of an ocean - dark, abyssal, open caverns of arching waves.  It's another in so many kinds of incidents that ask me to accept and move on.  No answers.  No formula.  No meaning or reason. 

I am really tired of these sorts of lessons.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Waves by Mados on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Derailed by the Rains of Winter

Hello Friends: 

I had all sorts of nifty ideas for this post.  I've been out of circulation, first for holiday vacation, and then for a month dealing with a combined ear and sinus infection.  Yee haw.  That and some 'fun' times at the pdoc and tdoc have given me plenty to write about.

But I've been derailed.

I've lost another friend to cancer.  Another colleague.  I'm just too sad and angry to write about anything else.  I want to throw up my hands at the universe and say "Enough!"  I know the reality.  I'm not a kid anymore, far from it.  So my contemporaries aren't kids, either.  Statistically speaking, every year that goes by means ... well ... it's obvious what it means.  I just don't want to deal with this fact, that each year more and more people will leave.  I have enough abandonment fears already, okay?

I don't want to rant or harp on this too much.  No point, really.  It just hurts.

Instead I'll say something about how she approached her cancer, and how it gave me some help dealing with my own chronic illnesses, of the mental kind.  She felt that pressure a lot of us feel, that same pressure to put a good face on, to smile, even through terrible pain.  I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  She made a point of saying that facing an illness with courage did not mean never being sad, angry, or irritable.  It helped me feel more at peace with the idea that it is okay to show the pain and confusion of illness, healing, and recovery.  The process of living with illness is messy, and hiding that fact is a disservice.  Sometimes you smile, sometimes you frown.  That's okay.  That's life.

So I'll say I am not feeling very okay right now.   

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Rain on Window, teresaphillips1965 on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

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