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.

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