My Thanks for Wellness : The 12 Days of Thanks

In the past, I have experienced a lot of trauma directly related to holidays.  As a child, my father would throw these epic temper tantrums, because he really wasn’t interested in participating in them.  He didn’t want to go out, and he was hell bent on making everyone pay for forcing him into it.

That, in turn, had some serious effects on the family.  My mother would get into a frenzy and suffer from terrible anxiety prior to each holiday.  On the day of the holiday, she would frantically try to get everything together and do as much damage control as possible.

My brother, who has autism, would pick up on this and throw temper tantrums of his own.  He also has the OCD component involved with some forms of autism, so things would have to be absolutely perfect.  If they weren’t, all hell would break loose.

Then, we would arrive at the homes of our family members.  They were just as stressed out as our own family, and always in plainly terrible moods.

The holidays season was usually a complete disaster for my entire family.  We were pretty poor while I was growing up.  There was the business of buying a complete Thanksgiving dinner, despite the fact that we would dine at my overly crowded aunt’s house anyway.  It was at my brother’s demand.  Then, there was the obvious inconvenience to my mother for cooking a Thanksgiving dinner when she absolutely despises cooking.

Rinse and repeat for Christmas.  However, with Christmas, there was the overwhelming burden of buying Christmas presents on a very limited budget.  As much as I can fault my parents for things, when I was a kid, they really did their best to not disappoint us on Christmas.  However, the stress of it all saturated the air around me.  The mood that hung around me was charged and dark.  And I picked up on all of it.

As I grew into a young adult, Thanksgivings and Christmases became disappointing and tedious.  Presents became fewer, and my parents became almost resentful toward me for having to buy me presents once I was an adult.  I was still obligated to participate with a smile on my face, even though I carried all of the bad memories of fighting in the car and vicious attacks from my brother.

My husband and I married, and just before our first Christmas as a family, he was laid off.  We were scraping by with a newborn son.  It was probably the most disappointing Christmas of all, when we basically had to ask our family for handouts, just so we could get by until the New Year.  It was just more likely that Xan would be able to be hired in a new job in January.

That was the Christmas the broke me entirely when it came to the holiday season.  I had few fond memories of Christmas to draw from.  The ones in the recent past had been so gloomy.  Everything about it was depressing, and there was hardly a reason to look forward to it.

Instead of loathing the holiday season this year, I decided to start a project called The 12 Days of Thanks.  This year, I would like to focus on all of the positives.  And I want to practice expressing gratitude for all of the wonderful things in my life.

Today, for my first installment of my series, The 12 Days of Thanks, I want to give thanks for wellness.  Both in body, mind, and wellness in those in my family.

I have had some serious health problems in my life.  In addition to having a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I suffer from somatic health problems.  They are all relatively minor.  I have been plagued with asthma and allergies my entire life, causing me difficulty with breathing and recurring bronchitis most times I get sick with something minor.  I suffer from “knock-knee”, which caused me to develop tendinitis   Every time the weather changes, my knees ache and swell.  Throughout the years, I have developed prediabetes and developing heart disease, mostly related to a combination of bad genetics and weight.

But, worst of all, I battled cervical cancer for four years of my life.  Thankfully, my case of cervical cancer didn’t require me to undergo the usual methods of treating cancer.  However, it did cause me to go through a number of uncomfortable exams, painful biopsies, and two different surgeries that may have compromised my reproductive ability.

Despite all of these, I am thankful for my wellness.  On November 10th of this year, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my LEEP procedure.  So far, I’ve been free of cervical cancer for over a year now.  And in another six months, as long as my tests come back fine, I will be cleared of it entirely.

I am grateful for the periods of wellness that I experience within Bipolar Disorder.

And I have so much gratitude toward the doctors that helped me get to this point of wellness in my life.

But, most of all, I am grateful for the wellness of my family.  Xan rarely catches any of the illnesses that pass through this house.  And if he does, it’s relatively mild.  Beast is well, with no serious health problems.  Although he does have Autism Spectrum Disorder, I can be thankful that it isn’t worse than it is.  I grew up with my brother, who has ASD much worse than my son.  I realize that it could have been a lot worse.  And, I’m grateful for the Early Intervention he received from the most wonderful professionals I’ve ever met.

I’m grateful that my family is well, and continues to do well.

Advertisements

Abilify, Not I : Adventures in Antipsychotics

Lately, I have written a series of posts over the last two months describing certain troublesome symptoms I associated with the worsening of Bipolar Disorder, or the potential for comorbid disorders.

In my last post, When Medications Go Wrong, I briefly wrote about my recent discontiuation of the pharmocological treatment using Abilify as part of my medication regimen:

Recently, I stopped my Abilify.  Admittedly, it was because I noticed an interaction between the Abilify and my weekend consumption of alcohol.  I started to find that I would fall asleep soon after taking it on Friday’s while we drank.  I decided that I would just stop over the weekend, and continue during the weekdays as normal.  But, eventually, I just forgot to take it at all.  And soon, I started to notice an improvement in my worsening condition.

I went on to describe some of the awful side effects I was experiencing as a result.  However, the list was truncated for the sake of keeping word count down.  The description is rather limited in terms of accurately depicting exactly what I was subject to.

  • Cognition Disturbances and Memory Fragmenting.  Originally, I wrongfully blamed Lamictal in Vitamin L : Medication Adventures for my aphasia-like symptoms.  The disturbances felt like aphasia.  At first, it was almost indescernable.  I started word dropping again, meaning I would be reaching for a word, but was unable to grasp it.  Instead, I would be able to get to every synonym around it, however, those words did not fit the exact context.  Eventually, it became a more severe form of word dropping, and I found myself dropping sentences entirely at the loss of any word or synonyms around it.  It progressed into entirely dropping conversations at the loss of a sentence.  Then, I found myself

    I started forgetting things again.  These were simple things, like losing my purse or shoes in the house.  It seemed like just a simple case of forgetfulness, maybe stress related.

  • Emotional Blunting and Partial Flattening.  I had never had too much trouble with emotional blunting in the past.  While I’ve found myself in times where it was difficult to express my emotions, this didn’t indicate a lack of emotional response.  I describe it as a partial emotional flattening, because it wasn’t an entire lack of reactivity.  It felt like my spectrum of emotions had been significantly reduced, although not completely removed.  There was a certain inaccessibility to certain strong emotions.  Rather than completely removing extreme emotions, it threw a wet blanket on top of them, leaving them to bubble under the surface.  So, the emotions still existed, but were muted and unable to be adequately expressed.

    At it’s worst, I began to lose most feeling entirely, with the exception of irritation and the sensation of boredom and fatigue.  I began to lose love and my attachments to meaningful people and my relationships with them.

  • Dissociation I touched on a summary of the dissociative symptoms that Abilify had brought on.  I have been writing articles on the experience throughout the last few months on the subject, describing the feeling in great detail, but remained unable to exactly identify is appropriately.  The dissociation probably occurred as a response to the prior bullet points.

    The dissociation cited was experienced as a removal of self and removal from my own life.  I had felt as if I had been separated from myself and my world.  It was a feeling of something being stolen from me, or something fundamentally inaccessible.  Like, I was being locked out of my own life, or becoming transparent and just fading away.

  • Worsening of Depressive States.   This is probably a direct result of the first three bullet points.  I started to disengage from my life.  I lost interest in just about everything.  Most things were considered to be either boring or tedious.  Important things started to lose meaning.  This was experienced as a part of the emotional flattening, but it caused a concerning and distressful reaction.
  • Exacerbation of Social Anxiety Since I had lost the ability to carry on a conversation and found myself completely disinterested in socialization, my social anxiety went through the roof.  I simply didn’t care about anything anymore, especially trivial things I used to find interest in.  Therefore, I found it difficult to carry on a conversation.  This caused extreme distress in social situations, and encouraged further isolation.
  • Disturbed Sugar Levels.  While I have no concrete proof in terms of tests, certain symptoms have come to my attention.  They are notated below in the next two bullet points as thirst and weight gain.
  • Loss of Sensation of Bodily Hunger, Thirst, and Fullness.  Within the last few years, I started to become more in tune with my body.  I was able to feel the sensations of hunger through my sugar level, which probably caused the loss of bodily hunger.  The disturbed sugar levels probably also caused an extreme thirst that could not be quenched.  At first, I craved water.  Eventually, I started to put the soda back down, which probably caused part of the weight gain mentioned below.  And I felt an extreme pressure in my stomach, which was also exacerbated by the influx of so much fluid.
  • Extreme Weight GainTruthfully, I don’t dare get on a scale at the moment, so I am unable to notate at this time exactly how much weight I’ve gained.  By the fit of my clothing, I will estimate that I have gained somewhere between ten and fifteen pounds in the last three months.  That is a substantial gain for me, especially since I was losing weight prior to the start of this medication.
  • Exacerbation of Eating Related Problems.  By all definitions, it’s completely possible that I am living with an undiagnosed eating disorder.  However, I am not entirely convinced, since it isn’t an ongoing and prevalent problem.  Therefore, I define it as eating related problems and difficulties.

    The concern for weight gain and the sensation of fullness caused a very terrible reaction of binging and purging.  I was unable to control my eating, as notated above, therefore the sensation of extreme fullness would cause me to perceive the overeating as worse than it actually was.  Unfortunately, this led to a very vicious cycle and encouraged further weight gain.

  • Disturbed REM Sleep.  I was waking up tired, and noticed that it felt like I had stopped dreaming.  This caused my mental state to take a considerable dive.  It caused extreme fatigue and excessive, unproductive sleeping.

While I am cleared of most dissociative symptoms, emotional flattening, and my depressive state is lifting a little, some side effects have remained.

  • Cognitive Disturbances.   The aphasia-like symptoms remain, but to a lesser degree.  I am back to just being a little forgetful, and have some minor word dropping.
  • Memory Fragmenting.   Some of my memories remain dull, but seem to be returning.  However, most of the last three months remains inaccessible.  It may never become accessible, due to the disruption in the formation of short-term memory.
  • Disturbed Sugar Levels.   I am still thirsty, but I am no longer engaging in carbohydrate seeking consumption behavior.  I figure it will take awhile before my sugar is regulated properly again.
  • Weight.   Thankfully, my weight does seem to be coming down.  I have only been completely off of the medication for less than a week, and my clothes are already fitting better.  I’m going to assume that in addition to the weight gain, I was retaining water and constipation.  My regularity has come back, and I don’t feel as puffy as I did

Unfortunately, I am experiencing a return of some of my milder psychotic symptoms.  In Imaginary Enemies, I described a cognitive disturbance I described as “The Voice”“The Voice” can be characterized as a singular persona, as I wrote about in Conscious, Subconscious, and Extraconscious, where I described a theory of a third consciousness that exists between the subconscious and the conscious mind.

The Extraconscious is postulated as where the persona(s) reside, laying in semi-dormant waiting, perfectly aware of the current reality that is being experienced.  “The Voice”, in more severe psychotic states, can be experienced as a separate entity entirely, detached from the consciousness.  That is the defining line between a cognitive distortion and an auditory hallucination, when a persona detaches itself from the extraconscious as an external sensation.

As an extraconscious persona, “The Voice” can best be defined as a quasipersona, lying somewhere between Dissociative Identity Disorder and psychosis.  It is experienced as a semi-active part of the conscious mind, as the dominant persona is well aware of it’s existence and there is a certain interaction that occurs between the dominant persona and “The Voice”.

That is the best theory I can offer as to the existence and function of the quasipersona, known to me as “The Voice”.

The mild auditory hallucinations and visual hallucinations have returned, probably defined better as a sensory disturbance, rather than a symptom of psychosis.  When experiencing a sensory disturbance, it’s not full on hallucinations as described in the definition of psychosis.  There are not entities separate from the body.  They are recognized as a disturbance in the current reality, distorting shapes, colors, and contrast in the vision.  In the hearing, it is experienced as a distortion in sound, causing sounds to be sharper, duller, muffled, or louder than they actually are.  It can only be sensed by a sudden shift in perception.

So, instead of hearing things at a normal sound level, the sound volume may increase to deafening levels or may become muted and difficult to discern from nonexistent static that occurs in the mind.  My visual disturbances may be perceived as viewing the world in high contrast, extremely bright colors, and / or extra high definition resolution.  Or, they may be seen as duller than usual, muting colors, distorting shapes, and / or clouding the vision with that appearance of a veil or foggy goggles.

Intrusive thoughts have returned, but not with the same extreme nature as experienced several months ago.  In truth, they were never completely removed by the Abilify, and at some points were made worse by the drug.  Instead of experiencing them as a truth in reality, I am now able to separate them using logic.  I can talk myself off of the ledge and separate them from the reality of a situation using DBT techniques of mindfulness and distress tolerance.  Prior to the cessation of Abilify, I was unable to utilize those techniques.

I don’t mean to put anybody off of treatment with psychiatric medications, but I felt this was important to document and have as a resource on the internet for anyone who is thinking about taking the drug.  Some of these side effects aren’t listed in the pamphlet, as they are probably isolated to a condition.  But, I feel they are still a distinct possibility for anyone who is being treated for similar conditions.  It is vital that this information be notated and readily available for medication education purposes.  This information probably should not be generalized to all psychiatric medications, especially in the class of antipsychotics.

 

When Medications Go Wrong

For years, I’ve pretty much been medicating myself.  I take my scripts home and medicate how I see fit for my situation.  I realize that makes me medication non-compliant.  The trouble I come to is my trust in doctors.  I have been burned so badly before that I find I have a lack of faith in them to know how they are really treating me.

When I was in my teens, and being treated for Major Depressive Disorder (misdiagnosis – strike one), I was put on high doses over a slew of medications for years with little result (overmedication – strike two).  I suffered extreme side effects, with little done to relieve them.  I took Zoloft in increasing doses over a three year period.  I continued to complain of extreme fatigue, anxiety, motion sickness, and periods of flu-like symptoms.

The doctor’s answer?  More medication.  It came to a head when I found that if I sat still for too long, I would drift off to sleep.  Sitting in school became impossible, and I was sleeping fourteen to sixteen hours a day.  Eventually, I was put on 300 mg of Zoloft with Provigil to combat narcoleptic symptoms.

It was at the doctor’s suggestion that I continue to exceed maximum dose and go to 350 mg that my mother finally put her foot down.  “Put her on something else.  We’ve put three years into this, and it clearly isn’t working.”  And much to my doctor’s chagrin, I was switched to Lexapro.

Wrong answer.

Immediately, I started to have dissociative symptoms.  I recall laying in my room, laying on the floor, and staring at my ceiling in the dark.  My mother stood in my doorway, just observing me.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I answered blankly.

Yes, I was finally awake.  But, every moment was torturous.  I lost my sense of self, and started to drift away.  My memory began to fragment, and I sunk into a deep, desperate depression.  I was frantic and crazed, while feeling numb and blank at the same time.  I became paranoid, and started to assert that everyone was doing things against me.  They were intending to harm me, and I started to give meaning to harmless comments and phrases.

I attempted suicide several times in the first month.  The cutting became so bad that I was doing it in rather public places.  I was caught one time at my boyfriend’s house, and I had a dull exacto set ripped off of me and immediately chucked into the local creek.

We were unaware of all of the side effects at the time, because all of the medications I was placed on were brand new.  When a pharmaceutical representative left her office prior to my visit one day, it became clear that I had become an experiment to brand new medications.  I was taking expensive, largely untested medications for her financial benefit.  Strike three.

I had gained thirty-five pounds over a six month period.  I was 4’11” and 165lbs.  That put me at a BMI of 33.3, and in the obese range.  And despite all of my best, and even worst, and unhealthy efforts, I still couldn’t manage to get my weight below 145lbs.  I was starving myself on 900 calories a day, and I still hovered around obesity.

I couldn’t afford my medication once I was kicked off of my parent’s insurance, and I just decided that since it failed to ease my symptoms, I would stop taking the medication entirely.  They failed to mention that if I attempted to stop the medication cold, then I would be stricken with the worst withdrawal I had ever known.  It was a good thing my parents had been through this before with my father, because they knew how to ween me off.

It took me years to get the rest of that weight off.  But, by then, the medication had already done long lasting damage far worse than just weight.  I had begun to develop a drinking problem.  I had engaged in risky sexual behavior due to hypomania.  And it sent me walking with bad eating habits.

After that, I distrusted doctors and medication entirely.  I had lost faith in mental health treatment.  I was left with a feeling that I didn’t have a disorder at all, and instead, it was just me.  I was convinced that I wasn’t treatable.

It took a lot to make me realize that I was in desperate need of treatment.  I had taken psychology courses and was suggested by several psychologists in my college to have bipolar disorder.  I knew my behavior wasn’t “normal”, just as I had always suspected.  It took the my marriage, my depleting mental health of my husband, and the birth of my son to encourage me to start treatment again.

Three years, four doctors, and a another slew of medications later, and here I am, again the victim of overmedication and bad medication choices.

Recently, I stopped my Abilify.  Admittedly, it was because I noticed an interaction between the Abilify and my weekend consumption of alcohol.  I started to find that I would fall asleep soon after taking it on Friday’s while we drank.  I decided that I would just stop over the weekend, and continue during the weekdays as normal.  But, eventually, I just forgot to take it at all.  And soon, I started to notice an improvement in my worsening condition.

Suddenly, I was able to think again.  I started to feel more like myself.  I became more aware of what I was thinking and feeling, and I finally started actually living in the world around me.  It actually felt like living again.  And that’s when I noticed the weight I had put on.  I had fell victim to Abilify’s weight gain, among other things.

I can blame the dissociative symptoms on Abilify.  It had created an emotional flattening, and I started to dissociate from myself and my world.  It had robbed me of my ability to write and care for my family appropriately.  I wasn’t feeling, so I wasn’t caring.

The anxiety?  Well, I recently started to run out of a supply of Wellbutrin I can’t really afford right now.  I started to cut back to make ends meet, and I discovered that was starting to subside.  Other than rebound depressive symptoms, I was feeling better.  It didn’t matter to me anyway.  I was still going through crying jags, whether I was taking the Wellbutrin or not.  The difference was between whether they were loaded with distressful urgency to cut or not.  I decided that I would prefer to keep my near streak of four months without cutting.

I don’t blame my doctor.  He’s an old school doctor who works off of the biological model and treats symptoms.  I have declined therapy several times, though my requests to be seen since have not been honored.  All of my symptoms point to mild psychosis in general, aggravated by extreme life stressors.

I blame myself for not listening to myself and taking action sooner.  Treatment happens on both ends, and I have not been holding up my end of the bargain.  I have not been mood charting, and I have not been notating subtle symptoms.  It has become abundantly clear to me since my extreme meltdown and psychotic break during the summer that I had been probably Bipolar 1.5 all along.

Though I don’t experience full on mania, I do experience mild psychosis, practically all of the time.  I have not been pressing the issue about invasive thoughts, paranoia, “The Voice”, or any of the mild hallucinations that I experience.  Only when I had my break did I bring it to my doctor’s full attention.  And I was met with extreme medication.

Personally, I’m at a loss as to what to do.  I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.  I noticed last night that “The Voice” has returned, even if it’s benign (right now).  I don’t want to be overmedicated, and I can’t risk gaining anymore weight.  The weight is worse for my mental health than anything else.

And it completely screws up my bodily function.  Now, I’m experiencing weight related problems again.  My knees and back hurt.  I have acid reflux near to the point of anorexia again.  Sexual dysfunction is destroying my sex life, my self-esteem, and hurting my marriage.  And I’m back to full on social anxiety, because I’m too self-conscious to function.

But, at the same time, I’m aware that I need some kind of medication.  While, for now, I’m better off without it, the day will come where I am asked to step up, and perform at a higher function.  My family, including Finn, has been very great about my general lower function and picking up a lot of the slack for me.  However, this won’t last forever.

Homesickness at 106

I’ve been so homesick lately.  It’s been almost four months since I moved into this new home, and I’m finally getting homesick.

Over the last few days, I’ve been looking around this home, and I realized that nothing about it feels like mine.  Nothing about it feels like the comfort of home.  I don’t see any of the useless trinkets that adorned my last home.  Instead, I see items that belonged to another person in another time.  The sugar bowls above my cabinets.  The ceramic that clutters my counter by the stove.  Inherited, ugly dishwear that we eat off of.  Foreign pots and pans that I prepare food on.

At first, it was like an exciting vacation home.  It was an escape from my ramshackle house that had strings like Pinocchio.  I was a puppet in my own home, and eventually, I was forcibly removed from that home with the final passive-aggressive jabs in a long, relentless series of them.  I had broken free of my failure to launch syndrome and was on the road to becoming a self-sufficient adult.

Now, I feel more helpless than ever before.  In my hometown, I could free myself of the bondage of my house whenever I felt like it.  There was a wealth of places I could go and see.  Here, I am trapped at the end of a beautiful, scenic private driveway in an idyllic little town.  To get off of this mountainous terrain, it’s a mile’s walk straight down a series of steep hills.  And even if I were to make it into town, there is nothing to do and nowhere to go.

I don’t miss the cramped nature of 511, with junk brimming from every tiny storage area there was.  But, now, I feel that there is no place of solace for me.  My bedroom was my bedroom.  All of my stuff was comforting, and my space was adorned with knicknacks of years past.  It was a representation of me.  I feel like this place is completely devoid of that.  This place feels devoid of me, and I’m beginning to feel lost.  I’m beginning to feel like I’m losing myself, instead of finding a place where I could discover myself once again.

There’s too many negative memories attached to that house.  So many, that they actually outweigh the positive ones.  In that house, I lived with Avi, without heat, in the most brutal winter I can recall.  I lived out of boxes, surrounded by piles of garbage and junk.  I was estranged from that house in warmer months as a means of escape.  I hit the bottom of the barrel with a miserable labor job, a serious drinking problem, and a completely hopeless future.

It was in that house that I was coerced into having immoral sex with Simon in a sick, twisted threesome.  I hardly remember it.  Most of what I can recall from the situation has a haze over it.

There were good things.  It was the place where Xan was partially unconscious in my lap on New Years’ Eve, and I fed him a special New Years’ Eve pretzel I made in the bakery at work.  It was the place where I first realized that I loved him.  That was the house where Xan and I first lived together as a couple.  It was the first place we made love.

That was the place where we started our life together.  It was the place we went back to after our wedding.  It was the house that our child was conceived in.  We brought our little bundle of joy home there, and slept on the living room floor next to his bassinet for the first month.  There, our son took his first steps, said his first words, and grew from a baby to a child.

Again, there was the bad and even the ugly.  Too much violence happened there, both physical, verbal, and self-inflicted.  It was a breeding ground for negativity.  Xan and I used to have these knock-down, no-hold-barred fights there.  I recall too many moments where I stormed up the stairs to escape him.  The whole last four months of our residence in that home was a complete disaster in our marriage.

In essence, I escaped that place.  But, is the devil you don’t know worse than the devil you do?

Positives.  Think of the positives.

This house has the potential to become my lifetime home.  Maybe I am just homesick because I spent six years in the last house, and only four months here.

This house is located in a safe area for my son, and provides a calm, free environment for him.  In addition, it has a better school district and provides better learning opportunities and support for him.

This house has additional space.  I don’t feel as cramped and caged, even if I do feel lonely and secluded.

Even though this house contains a lot of foreign items, it won’t forever.  I will acquire more items to replace the old ones that feel more like me.  It will become more familiar as time passes.

This house is not a money pit.  It is in good condition and was well built.  I do not spend a large amount of money on utilities, and there is hardly a threat that I will ever be without.

I will never be threatened to be evicted from this home.  There are no strings attached and the owner is very hands-off.  I will never find myself threatened or harassed over this house.

Xan and Beast are happy here.

It is easy to clean and requires little maintenance.  It might be a little more overwhelming, since it’s a bit bigger than the other house.  But, I don’t have to look at torn out walls and feel a sense of hopelessness and fear toward the condition.

I can be happy here.  I have been happy here.  Summers are far more temperate and beautiful here.  Autumn is gorgeous with all of the foliage.  Winter might even be nice with fresh white snow covering the yard and the woods.

It’s quiet.  I can think.

And one day, I’ll be able to get around on my own.  Even if there is really nowhere to go.  I’ll be less lost and I’ll understand the area a little better.

I’ll find my place here.  I know I will.  It’s just going to take some time.

Autumnal Affects

Plunged back into the frigid clutches of winter.

I’ve written something like this before called “The Grey Season” back on “As the Pendulum Swings”.  It was a post describing my current view of an abysmal autumn in Pittsburgh and the terrible affects it has on the mood.

In years past, I have always been partial to the autumn season.  The air becomes cooler, and I find that I begin to breathe without a struggle or medical interventions.  It was quite liberating.  The sun eases, emitting softer rays on my delicate pink skin.  And there is a certain crisp freshness of the air with gorgeous foliage in various shades of reds, oranges, and yellows to behold.

The beauty and majesty of autumn.

Everything about autumn is enticing.  There was a return to school and the return of direction in my life.  New challenges awaited me with a wealth of new opportunity.  Cozy blankets in all colors existed to wrap around me in a warm, snug embrace.  I could bundle up in flattering autumn attire, covering all of the bulges and rolls that were uncomfortably exposed in the summer months.  A cool refreshing breeze picked up, and whistled in my ears, taking away all of the static polluting my mind.

It was always a beautiful time in my life.  But, somewhere along the way, the season was morphed into something sinister and foreboding.

The Grey Season

November rains were something I used to look forward to.  I would lay in bed in a room cast in shadows, just listening to the soothing sound of rain on my tin rooftop.  But, at one point, I described them as:

I have felt grey over the past few days.  I can’t feel for a better word.  Something like, my flame isn’t burning as brightly. It’s a dampening effect, casting a shadow over me everywhere I go.  The vibrant colors of the world filter and leave only the grey inside of me.

Some would consider a Seasonal Affect.  But, that could not be father from the actual truth.  I have been symptomatic since my early teens, when I would enjoy this season better than all of joys of the other seasons combined.  Winter was the season that meant imprisonment and cumbersome living.  Not autumn in the slightest.

The mysterious loss of adoration for this season plagued me.  I obsessively mulled over it for quite awhile, trying to find the exact point in time where my affections changed into something loathsome.  Sure, these November rains are the precursor to the awful, miserable blankets of snow.  The shifting winds bring the lake effect chill from Lake Erie in the north.  The whole world is changing around me, threatening to bring some kind of desperate gloominess.  But, why?

Suddenly, it occurred to me.  In my time with Avi, I spent a great deal of time escaping him on my own balcony.  Summer meant liberation from the imprisonment in our singular room where we were imprisoned in an icy hell together.  Autumn was the time when the chill rolled in.  It wasn’t enough to warrant the use of our kerosine heater, our only source of warmth.  However, the days and nights were cool enough to make life absolutely miserable, together, alone in our cage.

The shiver rattles my bones when I recall the whole wretched situation.  Our shack of a home trapped us together.  I remember how my hands would freeze up so badly that I could hardly type any longer.  I remember the intense loneliness, because I didn’t dare invite guests into such a disgusting situation.  The trash would pile up, because Avi was an absolute pig.  The walls closed in, and the stiff, threatening air was suffocating.  Bottles of liquor, my only escape from such an awful life, littered the floor as a testament to my misery.  And all I could do was put on another layer of heavy, useless clothing and pray for an early spring.

I recall that detestable house.  Even after Xan had managed to save me from another burden of winter, the drafts were enough to render the electric heat useless on days that went below freezing.  There were times where we had to abandon the house when temperatures dropped to subfreezing.  The furnace ran incessantly, driving us into abject poverty while we doled our precious funds out to the electricity company.  I fought shut off notice after shut off notice in constant anxiety.

Autumn began to translate into fear.  Fear of isolation.  Fear of exposure.  Fear for myself and my family.  And the worst of all, the fear of losing my sanity entirely.

The dim rays of cloud covered skies filter into my windows, casting dismal shadows in every corner of the every room.  The grey bleeds in and threatens my very being.  I look into the now barren woods with dread.  Apprehension wells up inside of me each time I approach the thermostat.  Everything becomes filled with trepidation, each movement, each decision.  And the chill, the unforgiving, merciless chill invades my very soul.

I spent one last day yesterday on the patio.  I didn’t long for the crazy summer with people hanging from the rafters, and my brain short circuiting.  I breathed deeply, taking in the essence of autumns long forgotten.  I let the beautiful autumnal winds blow against my bare skin.  I recalled fond moments from years past.  The birth of my son happened in an October rain, right on the first fall rain.  Xan and I were eagerly planning our marriage during this time, five years ago. We both took our first steps into our careers during the days of November rains.  We laid together in empty rooms of a house we were fixing, the house where we first lived together as a couple, just listening to the rain on the wooden roof.

The sound of the remaining leaves filled my mind, and the sparrows chirped to one another.  And for a moment, just one moment in time, I was at peace with this season.

Treasure

Today, my son taught me an important lesson on value and how we place it.

My son is a really special little guy. He has Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified on the Autism Spectrum.  So, a lot of little things that would be be considered typical in other children are really significant for him.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a parent tell their four year old to shut up because the chatter became overbearingly annoying.  I always feel that twinge of sadness, fearing that my son may never speak enough for me to become aggravated at all.  Those moments are significant for me, too.

But, then there are those moments that are significant in an enlightening way.

I was sitting at the dining room table this morning with my wallet and what we call “The petty cash box”.  I was mindlessly dumping change into it when my son approached me.  When he speaks, I listen with all of my might to make out what he is saying.  It might be the only thing I ever put my full attention into.  He said, “Mommy, money!”  I was thrilled that he took an interest in what I was doing, and I allowed him to put the money in the box while supervised.

He happily put the money in, and presented me with a quarter saying, “Mommy, want quarter?”  I was delighted that he could identify it.  Suddenly, he grabbed the box and started to walk away.  I was about to chase him down just when he put it on the end table. He turned to me excitedly and shouted, “Look, Mommy! Treasure!”

He started to prattle on about being a pirate when my heart just melted. It was a brilliant observation. The little box kind of resembled a treasure chest, brimming with different colored coins. And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t just about the likeness. It was about the whole interaction. And the whole thing had taken on an entirely different value.

I started to think about the things that I value. What do I cherish?

The realization hit me. Lately, I’ve been dwelling on the things that I want, but don’t have. My focus had been shifted onto the seemingly hopeless pursuit of these things. And I realized that those things are intangible idealizations that may never even have the possibility of becoming a reality. Those things had gained all of the value over the things I truly cherished and clouded my mind.

What do I value then?

Little, daily victories for my son. A few engaged words here and snippets of hopeful conversation there. His new discoveries and interests. And each beautiful little smile and giggle. All of those shining moments that give me hope for his development through Autism Spectrum Disorder.

But even more for him, I value him. Him, as he is. My 4 foot tall, 55lb, brown haired, green eyed little Beast.

I value my husband’s caresses. This morning, he unexpectedly turned over and actually spooned me. It was more than welcome. It was soothing, comforting, and all spontaneous. It was one of those rare, intuitive moments he had. I cherish those.

But, I value even more than those fleeting moments. It is bigger than that. I see what I have missed all along. Every action is an intuitive, invested action. Whether I know it or not, he’s taking care of my needs that I don’t even think about anymore. I was overlooking what was right there in front of me because I was too involved with what I considered to be neglected needs.

Finally, my eyes started to open up.

When I really thought about it, I found value in myself today. I have been so fixated on what I am not, and the things I thought I had lost, I lost sight of who I am and all of the things I have gained. I am a mother. I am a wife. I have been those things for longer than I have been anything else. I am those things above all else. And I don’t know how I came to value anything else.

I lack certain qualities, but that does not make me devoid of myself. There is plenty of me. I am not stable, but I am spirited. I am not entirely well right now, but I cannot expect to be well all of the time. I have Bipolar Disorder. I am not Bipolar. I am more than my illness and more than my symptoms.

Today, I connected with my husband without trying or wanting. I connected with a son I thought I was losing to Autism Spectrum Disorder. But more so, he connected with me. He reached out and connected me with the world again. And that was what made all of the difference.

A new dawn, a new day.

The Friday Confessional : Romancing Suicide

 

 

Though I confess the things that are most intimate to me, I don’t know if I am accurately painting the picture of the real me.  To everyone here, I am Lulu Stark, the writer, the mother, the wife, and most importantly, the woman who bares herself in the name of mental health and disorder awareness and advocacy.  But, I wanted to put some truths out there.  The uglier side.  The real side.

I only Lulu Stark in the persona.  The one that you read about.  The antihero, the antagonist, protagonist, the victim, the perpetrator, the survivor and occasionally, the hero.

What I don’t talk typically talk about is one of my darkest, sickest secrets of all.

 

Suicide.  I regularly have suicidal thoughts and occasionally ideation.  The little voice goes through the back of my mind, sometimes as an unintelligible whisper and other times as clear as a bell, I want to die.  I want to kill myself.  It would be so easy.  No one would miss me.

I imagine ways it would play out.  I idealize all of the scenarios of suicide.  In a way, it seems I’m under it’s spell.  It seems like the only way out of this torturous world of disorder and dysfunction.  I am more crippled by my illness than I let on.  I feel pathetic in my bones, and I desperately search for my solace in this place of distress and despair.  An endless string of hopeless days and bottomless pits.

I fall deeper, clinging to my last shreds of hope.  I am flirting with suicide, with his silver tongue, soft, familiar caresses, and honey sweet kisses on my neck.

I see a sturdy rope swung around a rafter in my basement, tied with a tidy slipknot instead of an impossible noose.  I stand on a rickety chair, dressed in my Sunday best, leaving a pretty, cold, lifeless corpse behind.  The shell of a woman who never really existed.

I stand with a glass of juice and a bottle’s worth of blue pills in my hand.  I am ready, stripped to nothing but a bathrobe.  Down the hatch, the medication leaves a bitter aftertaste.  I draw myself a hot bath and arm myself with a razor.  And then, I wait.  I wait until I am almost seeing double, and world starts to blue around the edges.  I dig the razor into my wrist and drag it with all of the force I can up to my the bend of my elbow.

Or, I just await death.  I lie in the tub, feeling myself slip away under the surface of the water.  In my mind, I imagine all of the people that would be thankful that I am finally gone.  How in a year or two, I will become a distant memory that only leaves the tiniest pang.  How my sullen face starts to fade from everyone’s mind and any trace of me begins to disappear.  I think of how easy the clean up would be.

Or maybe, I would clean myself up to begin with.  I would be powder fresh in a pretty pastel little girl dress I bought for the occasion.  I would empty all of the contents of my medicine into my stomach, washed down with an entire bottle of vodka.  I would tuck myself into a warm bed, and swaddle myself in blankets.  It would look like sleep at first.  My final sleep.  My resting place.  The only place in my life where I ever felt warm and safe.

 

For the record, I’d never do it.  There is an uglier side to suicide that I’m painfully aware of.  It could possibly be the most selfish act I could ever commit.  The finality of it all is too much for me to even wrap my head around.

My son asks where I went when I am gone for an hour for class.  I imagine his confusion and sadness when he comes to see that his mother will never return. I imagine the possibilities of who would raise him if I were to be gone for good.  He would likely fall into the hands of my own parents, and I would be sentencing him to a similar fate that I experienced.

There would never be enough of an apology for my Xan.  A piece of him would die inside, and he might go mad himself.  There wouldn’t be another out there for him.  He couldn’t possibly recover.  Leaving him to his own devices at work, cutting off communication, it’s too much for him to bear for a few hours.  What if I were to be gone for the rest of his lifetime?

And then there’s the matter of the afterlife.  What comes after death?  Through my Christian upbringing, I fear the day of judgement and the sentencing to an eternity of hell, separated from my friends and family, endlessly tortured in unimaginable ways.  Ways that are beyond my comprehension.

But, what if there is nothing?  What if I sacrificed my life for a world of nothingness?  What if a person just dies and there is nothing behind?  What if I am condemned to walk this Earth as a true ethereal being, and not just the kind I feel as a flesh and blood person?  I stand there and watch as people file in for my funeral.  I see my family overlooking my lifeless body, consumed with grief.  Then, I get to watch my family and friends mourn the loss, as someone irreplaceable that met a tragic and unfair end at my own hand.

Sometimes, I feel as if I am condemned to life.  Sometimes, I feel like I’ve chosen life over the alternatives.  Sometimes, it’s for the sake of my family and friends.  And there are those brief shining moments where I live life as the gift it was meant to be with the promise of tomorrow.