06 February 2016 @ 10:34 am
Diary of a Leave, extra  
I got a lot of good advice this week, especially in the form of mantras to use to keep my energies focused in positive ways, and my mind anticipating things in a good way. So I thought I would write them down to both easily find myself, and so that others could take them if they wanted to.

Jan told me yesterday that she wanted me to use mantras differently than I have in meditation in the past. Instead of repeating them in my mind to give myself focus, she wants me to say them out loud, since articulating a thing involves more mental processes than just thinking a thing. She suggested I put little cards around the house with my mantras on them, and every time I saw one I would say it out loud. So a more active mantra-ing than a meditative one.

The mantras I agree upon with Jan:

I am capable
I can handle this

The mantras I got from S's mom:

I am real
I matter
My needs matter
My desires matter

S's mom also gave me what she called "panic mantras," but which are perhaps more accurately called 'reconnecting after dissociating mantras":

I can handle this
It is what it is

And some that were focused on when I'm feeling less than myself:

I will recover
I am recovering
I can recover

S's mom also told me to keep beauty in front of me at every manageable opportunity, and to enjoy lots of "active repose": massage, baths, meditation, sitting under my sun lamp, music, art, writing, and tea. Which is a lot like my self-care list from Jan, which I've pinned to my noticeboard. I am so grateful for these two wonderful women.
04 February 2016 @ 07:55 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Six  
I slept like a champ last night, and slept in a little this morning, and it felt so delightful. And then I went to the 10am yoga class, where there were two seniors, one of whom was injured, and one other person with an injury, too. Ends up that is totally my speed. We moved slowly, we held positions for a long time while the teacher talked us through little adjustments, and I left feeling loose inside and out.

This afternoon I went and had my colors done, and I take back my suspicion of the process and mocking of the idea. All but my face were greyed out - a grey cap on my head so my hair wasn't visibe, a grey smock covered my body - and then my friend S draped me with big swathes of fabric. She'd do two at a time so that we could compare which was the better of the two, and it was absolutely undeniable that some of the colors made me look lively and pretty and some made me look yellow, or green, or ill, (or all three). I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but it was fascinating to watch. It took us about two hours, and it turned out I am a Bright Winter, which means lots of saturated jewel tones - greens, purples, pinks, reds. The only color not on my palette that I like to wear is orange, and I got confirmation of my sense that I can't wear cream or beige, they just wash me out. S did my make up at the end, and put me in bright pink lipstick, which I have never worn in my life. But it looked so good! A very fun and enlightening afternoon.

I met G for coffee after that, and that was low key and fun, but my gosh, I was spent afterwards. So now I'm glad to be flopped on my couch, watching Top Chef, drinking a glass of wine, with a nice little fire going.

Tomorrow, more therapy, and my house will be cleaned while I'm gone! I'm so excited.
03 February 2016 @ 03:33 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Five  
I had therapy this morning, and after telling Jan how I felt yesterday she had two things to say: 1) your friends (i.e. all of you) are very smart, and 2) let's just do talk therapy today, no EMDR. The latter came as a complete surprise to me, because my previous therapist's approach was to Do The Thing no matter what had come up, and no matter how I felt about it. Jan simply said, how about we give you a little time to bounce back? Jan wins.

We spent today talking about self-care and positive anticipation. She gave me a list of over a hundred self-care choices, and had me mark those I'd done in the past, as well as those I was willing to try right now. The first thing that surprised me was how many things on the list are already things I do. The second thing that surprised me was that there were things on the list that I've done in the past - splurge; buy clothes - that I don't want to do anymore. Fascinating peek at growth and change, there.

She observed, from my answers, that creativity is central to my definition of who I am, but I'm not creating at the moment. She suggested I pick one of my creative outlets and try something in that arena, because as well as being good self-care, she thinks it might be a breakthrough for me if I can do that. So I picked knitting, after working out for myself that I don't have to do the project a friend gave me first. (Said friend noticed I was knitting a lot for others, so she gave me yarn and a pattern to knit a cowl for myself. But I don't enjoy knitting for myself as much as I like knitting for others, so it's been a mental obstacle to me knitting at all. But of course there is no reason I must make that cowl first. Brains.)

We then talked about positive anticipation - the act of writing scripts about things you're going to do where the outcome is warm, positive, functional etc. As Jan put it, if you only anticipate negatively (which is where I'm at with going back to work next week) you help bring that about by your attitude, body language, and selectively latching onto whatever confirms your bias. So my homework is to write some scripts for myself about going back, and we'll affirm those through EMDR on Friday.

Then this afternoon my friend S's mom came over to do reiki and Akashic Records with me. Now, if you google Akashic Records, you'll come across a host of websites that will likely convince you that the whole practice is a bit bonkers. Adherents believe that there are records of all that we do, feel and experience 'out there' (within an energy source) and that it's possible for people with training to access those records (and the guidance of the record keepers). And S's mom definitely believes in all of that, and it's at the core of her practice. I'm not sure I share her beliefs, but my experience of it was not bonkers - it was a lot like a guided meditation, and whether she was getting messages from the record keepers or was merely incredibly intuitive, she was a big help to me.

Of particular note - she asked me to imagine that I had a core of light, and that that light was my strength, and no one could ever touch that, harm that, or take it away from me. She suggested that when I get triggered, I physically and emotionally recoil, and I lose my balance - I'm off kilter from that core of strength, and what I need to do is return to it. She gave me a series of mantras to repeat to help me do that, and they're very similar to what I already do when I'm dissociating. She assured me that I matter and that I am loved, and there was something about her saying that during the meditation that just made me weep. It was very moving. And she cautioned me against too much empathy - that I needed to learn how to empathize without needing to fix everything, or take on the pain of others as my own. She said this was particularly true at work (and she's right). Also fascinating was the fact that I had told her I had PTSD, but had never told her why. Yet she honed right in on abuse as a problem, and told me that I had done nothing to deserve it, and it was not my job to heal the person who had abused me, so no guilt.

The whole thing was very peaceful, very gentle, and very kind. Whether it was just two people coming together in a spirit of possibility and allowing themselves to be open to those things, or whether it really was the record keepers providing insight, it was important.

I ate a bunch of chocolate afterwards. It seemed appropriate.
02 February 2016 @ 07:39 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Four  
Today has been a struggle. There are lots of potential reasons: EMDR hangover, disturbed sleep, a mix up that had me without birth control pills for two days. All I can tell you is that I've felt really low, and I been at my wits' end trying to think of some way to respond to it.

(Perhaps I'm not supposed to respond to it? Maybe I'm supposed to sit with it? But I keep thinking, I have so few days left. I'm supposed to be healing.)

I went to my hair appointment, and it was nice to be pampered. After lunch I roused myself to go to the gym and I walked 1.5 miles, which did raise my spirits some. I texted my friend T and asked her if she'd like to come over for tea, and she did. And yet I still feel low.

I'm hoping a good night's sleep will help, and if it doesn't, there's therapy tomorrow morning where I can share it all with Jan. But I wish, so much, I felt better than this.
01 February 2016 @ 04:22 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Three  
Things I Have Done for My Mental Health Today

1. Managed my money

Traditionally, I tend to manage my money by avoidance, and by keeping a running tally in my head of how much money I have remaining in my checking account. It makes me enormously anxious to look up my balance in my online banking app, and so I don't. None of these things work. So a few days ago I started using You Need a Budget, an app that helps you set up a budget for yourself (with customizable lists of expenses), and then tracks how much you spend. You can link it directly to your checking account if you like, or you can, like me, put in the amount in your checking and saving balances on the day you start using it, and it keeps track from then on by you registering your transactions. There's an app for the phone, so while you're out and about you can add transactions that way, and it's all very nifty. What I like best about it is that I can see, at a glance, how much of my budgeted funds I have left for each line item. So today I went grocery shopping, leaving me with $291 left for the rest of the month in that category. Very helpful!

The budget isn't set in stone - in fact they encourage you to adjust your budget as you spend, so that you can trade off, say, going out one night for dinner with your grocery budget, for example.

This morning I entered all the checks I mailed off today, and all my beginning-of-the-month bill pays, and instead of feeling mildly terrified by watching my balance go down, I felt totally in control, and able to see where I had money left and where I didn't. Major victory.

This afternoon I also took my tax documents to my accountant. He's a lovely man, but his office is up four very long flights of stairs, and then at the end of a long, long corridor, and some days it's like climbing Everest to go there. But I girded my loins, gathered up what I needed to give him, and dropped it all of. This is the earliest I have ever done that.

2. I went to therapy

I went to therapy with two things to talk about - the fact that I felt sort of jumpy around two of my friends last week, and the fact that I've realized I'm terrified of all men in England. All of them. To my surprise, Jan decided we'd process the first one first, but she explained that since those were core relationships to me, we needed to get that sorted out before we did anything else. Smart lady.

Last week while out (separately) with G and then M, I felt as if I was in a bubble, unable to really connect or empathize with what they were saying, feeling like I had something I needed to say to them but couldn't remember what. Jan immediately said, do you think that's dissociation? Which, duh, yes it is, but I hadn't realized that before she said it. Amazing how the most obvious things just fly by us.

So we EMDR'd one of the conversations I'd had with M, and I let every dang thing in my mind come up in my consciousness, and mentally followed all the leads. It ended up that yes, I'd been dissociating because I'd been triggered, and being so badly triggered that I needed a week off work has scared the pants off me, leaving me feeling things are badly out of my control. This manifested in me feeling like I would always feel 'in the bubble' - that I wouldn't be able to connect, and maybe I shouldn't expect to connect, because my friends were so much better than I was, and so on and so on. Jan said, nope, that's a cognitive distortion. Have you ever felt 'in the bubble' before? Yes. Has it persisted since that time, or did it come to an end at some point? It came to an end. Did you survive the bubble? Yes. So you see, you have evidence of what's going on and what the outcome will be, but you're feeling so anxious you're taking your panicked feelings of 'this will never get better' as if they're truth.

Wow. It's strangely empowering to consider that I know what I'm doing when I dissociate, that my mind and body know how to handle it because they've done it before. I love that positive twist on things, because so often feeling like this makes me feel weak and powerless, and instead of me looking at the last few years as a recurring set of examples of me being triggered, I can look at it as a recurring set of examples of me triumphing over that.

So in the last round of EMDR I thought to myself, like a mantra, you are strong and you are mighty. And that's opened up some mental space for myself. I still feel anxious, but at least I feel like that anxiety is not agency destroying anymore.

We talked about miscellaneous other things, including my daytime lack of appetite. Body talk )

3. I hired a house cleaner

My friend's cleaning lady, Veronica, came over today and looked over my house, checked where all the cleaning supplies were, and gave me a time and cost estimate. It was all in my budget, so she's coming on Friday to clean everything thoroughly. I am so grateful that this is not my responsibility anymore, I cannot even.

4. I am sitting in my big chair right now, drinking tea

I could be doing a hundred things but I am purposefully not doing any of them. Jan said today that nature hates a vacuum, and things will pour into empty spaces if we don't put something there ourselves. So I'm looking at this week that way. I am empty of resources, and I need to put good things back in that space.
23 July 2015 @ 10:33 am
My therapist and I had a long conversation about sadness yesterday. Sadness, she said, is how we know we value things - it gives us a fresh perspective. Even the anticipation of sadness can function in that way, although too much of that can be crippling. Sadness is also a cue to make some changes, she said, to consider what would constitute comfort. So, in the case of my missing my brother terribly, my sadness is a prompt to consider how I might have more contact with him despite him being someplace else - facetime, skype, phone calls, whatever I want.

I love thinking about this, and considering that sadness is a thing that can prompt us to seek out meaningful comfort. I'm so used to depression, which is different, where there is no immediate remedy, no single decision you can make that will help ameliorate the situation, that I'm grateful to be feeling plain sadness, I think. It's freeing to realize sadness isn't an end, but a beginning. Depression doesn't feel like that at all.

So I'm still sad that my brother is gone. We had a wonderful time last weekend. He helped me get ready for my housewarming party, and had a great time meeting all my friends. He helped me clean up afterwards, and did a stellar job of cramming all the leftover drinks into my fridge. We drove around the backroads near where I live looking for cool barns for him to photograph. We went shopping - I introduced him to the Banana Republic Factory Outlet - and he gave me a Sonos as a housewarming gift (which I had no idea was a thing and now love). I took him out to dinner at the local brewpub and we had an awesome time. We hung out and chatted and traded youtube clips of our favorite comedians, and played many a game of 'is this the same in England or different?' It freaked him out that I love somewhere safe enough to leave the back door unlocked (he lives in central London), and he couldn't get over the fact that we can turn right on a red light.

I like him, plain and simple. He's funny, generous, kind, thoughtful, smart. We came out of the same house with vastly different experiences, and yet we've both been on our own emotional journeys that have brought us to similar places. And we are similar - we both like clean, neat homes; we both dislike big cars; we both love superheroes; we both find the same things funny. Being with him was like rediscovering my own face.

I haven't shut down my sadness, which is big progress for me. My usual M.O. is to dissociate from big emotions, be they positive or negative, and live my life as if those feelings don't touch me. But this felt important, felt like something I could and should handle, and so much as I don't enjoy the feeling, I know that feeling it is good. We talked about that at therapy yesterday - that my feelings in general are offline, and they'll come online when it's safe to do so. I blurted out at one point that being distanced from good emotions made me feel like something was wrong, and my therapist said, something IS wrong. You were abused. That's wrong. It was such a simple statement but so kind and so supportive that it took my breath away.

I slept in this morning. I've distracted myself over the last couple of days with lots of work, but today I'm easing into the things I have to do. Today I'm going to be sad, but not depressed, and I'm a rookie at it all, but I think I can do this.
18 August 2014 @ 06:37 pm
the work  
I went to see my therapist today. Many things had me make the appointment – increased lethargy, lack of motivation, the fall out from Robin Williams' death – but the primary thing I wanted to talk about was something that occurred during VVC.

Cut for discussion of miscarriage and sexual abuse.

Read more... )
10 August 2013 @ 03:00 pm
I just got back from a two-week business trip, and it was an excellent couple of weeks away. I got an enormous amount of work done, which had me reflecting on other trips I've been on that weren't nearly so successful. And the difference between then and now is medication. Also therapy.

On a basic chemical level I'm in a place, for however long it lasts, where everything is balanced and I can be myself. There's a poem about depression somewhere, in which the poet talks about taking medication and falling back into her life again (eta: Jane Kenyon's [Back] - thank you to [ profile] kassrachel for remembering it!) That's exactly how it feels – that I've fallen into the life I was meant to have; that the medication is making up for my chemical shortfall and I have, for the first time in a long time, (perhaps ever), a full range of options before me from which I can pick and choose without worrying about whether I have the spoons.

Therapy's also part of it, because without the therapy I'd still be plagued by the very worst parts of PTSD. I still have flashbacks – they're the most persistent symptom that will not budge – but I no longer freak out about them; I just recognize them for what they are and keep going. That's all down to therapy, too – to be able to separate what's happening from fear of what's happening. It feels nothing short of miraculous.

All of this has me doing even more reflection on this past ten years and what it's been like to struggle with MDD and PTSD for so long. I can see, with an awful lot of empathy for my younger self, all the coping strategies I employed to try and get through, from eating Ben and Jerry's to cutting myself off from social contact; from sleeping for hours to taking all the alcohol in my house over to a friend's place so that I couldn't self-medicate through drink anymore. I can name all the moments where someone with greater mental stability would have reacted to a given situation very differently to the way I did – itemize the moments that I reacted with deep anger and confusion, the times I lashed out, the conclusions I drew that weren't smart or fair.

And I've been reflecting on the people who surrounded me, the people who supported me and the people who didn't. And what surprises me – and perhaps it shouldn't – is how many people never took the time to understand. It seems an obvious thing, that if someone I know tells me they have X illness, my next step is to learn about that – to learn what means, and to learn what will and will not help. But most people don't take that step; most people still expect that you'll perform and act and react like a neurotypical person, even when they have information that says no, there are specific challenges here. And there lies the split between the people who are my friends and my respected co-workers and the people I've cut off or have as little to do with as possible. There lies the gap between those I trust and those I do not.

I'm so grateful to be feeling so much better. And I guess I'm also grateful to have learned who in my life has empathy and who doesn't; who has compassion and who doesn't; who can think expansively and who can't.