The Real Possibilities – Reaching Beyond a Diagnosis

I’d like to preface this with one thing.  I don’t usually post to Sunny about things in my life that are just developing or things that I would consider to be “in limbo”.  This is me, Lulu, reaching out into the community in search of some informed opinions and suggestions.  I want to hear from you to learn about your personal experiences and gain from the reader’s pool of knowledge.  Not every answer is clear cut, and most of the best answers can’t be found in a book somewhere.

The New Doc on the Block

I went into my psychiatrist’s office for my regular med check last Friday.  Except, there was nothing about this that was regular.  My psychiatrist Dr. K. wasn’t in, and another doctor I was meeting for the first time was filling in.  I figured it would be more of the same, you know, “How’s it going?”  “Fine, except a couple of things.”  “Okay, well go off into the world, be good, and take your medication.”

I was dead wrong.

He asked me a few typical questions, like “What’s your diagnosis?”  and “What medications have you been on?”  and things of that sort.  He asked me how I’ve been feeling recently, and I answered honestly.  Mostly, I’m alright.  My moods are pretty stable, and I’m in a pretty good place most days.  I’m still pretty irritable and the anxiety I’m experiencing is just unmanageable anymore.  But, those are the constants.

I’m not fighting depression or mania at the moment, or living inside the confusing anguishing hell that is a mixed episode.  I’m alright.  Just alright.  Probably the best I could expect to be doing being someone with this condition.

This part shocked the hell out of me.

The doctor goes into a long explanation of why I’m still experiencing symptoms, being that I’m apparently not on medications that actually treat the disorder.  He tells me that Lamictal is not a mood stabilizer. Since I’m not on a mood stabilizer or and an antipsychotic, and since I have a lot of options, I should be on both.  In his medical opinion, I should not be on Wellbutrin or even really any antidepressant at all.  And Xanax and Halcion are not supposed to be for long term use to manage anxiety.

I fought him on the antipsychotic, explaining that those types of medications and I don’t get along well.  He insisted it was because I’ve never been on an actual mood stabilizer.  He kindly smiles and promised that as soon as my meds were fixed, then my bipolar would be fixed, and I’d be right on track.

He advised me to take a look on the internet at my treatment option throughout the next month, and then discuss with Dr. K. when I came back.

It was like getting slapped by someone in a moving vehicle.

As quickly as I went in, I was back out again.  I was disoriented and confused.  For a minute, I actually considered his words might be the truth to the whole thing.  Then I remembered what being on antipsychotics was like.  That created a whole host of problems that were unlike any I had ever experienced before.  And I don’t care to EVER go there again.

So, Xan and I got in the car, and I laid the whole thing out for him.  He was completely on my side.  He said, “I don’t see why they are trying to fix something that isn’t broken?   Why are they trying to dope you up like this?  What did you tell him?”

I replied, “Nothing out of the ordinary!  I told him that I’m having difficulty keeping a job, but I have no idea what that’s all about.  I’m struggling socially and have been, well, pretty much my entire life.  And that irritability, insomnia, and anxiety have been a constant for me.  I mean, for my ENTIRE life, before all the mood stuff started.”

And we both agreed.  Whatever throws down, that cocktail is not happening.

To Be Bipolar, Or Maybe Not Bipolar?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite awhile now.  My moods have been pretty stable for about a year now.  I mean, that is cause for celebration here.  I’ve had some minor snags here and there, but all in all, I’ve been pretty level.  The episodes I do have are not nearly as deep as they once were, even if the duration might be seemingly longer.  So, why am I still seeing significant dysfunction in certain respects?

Is it possible that I might not even have Bipolar Disorder in the first place?  Could it be something else?  Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar share some diagnostic traits.  Could there have been a mixup?

Or, perhaps, the mood episodes were actually solved, as I suspected, and we’re now uncovering something underneath the mood shifts?  I have long suspected that the anxiety that I’m reporting hasn’t had anything to do with my mood shifts, although I did describe them as having the ability to spark depression or mania, depending on the context.

Xan and I sat down later, and I said, “You know, if Dr. K. is going to cause trouble and shift medications around, I’m going to request that we do a complete reevaluation.  I’m talking about starting from scratch, covering it all from A – Z.”

He answered, “I think that’s a good plan.”

My Homework Assignment

So, I’m doing my homework assignment right now.  I’m doing my research on the internet.

BUT!

I’m going beyond all of the articles, medical websites, and online assessments.  Sure, I’ll have those tucked under my belt, but I’m not a person who half-asses anything.

I’m taking it to the people.

Tell me about your experiences.  I’m open to all suggestions, ideas, theories, and everything and anything all open minds would like to add.

Thanks ahead of time readers.  I’m counting on you!

The Blame Game

At certain points, I find that I take a more passive role in developing my pieces by simply taking a step back to practice some observation. It’s true that I can relate to many mental health topics out there. I can also identify with a number of experiences that are disclosed by other writers. I frequently encounter different faces of “the beast” that is mood disorder. My world has been flipped, flopped, and turned on its ear by the ceaseless roller coaster. My closet is also riddled with skeletons, and I dread the mere thought of even approaching that Pandora’s box gathering dust in the corner of my mind. Finally, in all truth, my childhood was quite troubled.

I too have been enticed to play the Blame Game. In fact, there was an enormous chunk of my life where that was all I knew. As a child, it was easy not to feel as if I had any control over my life. That being the case, it was logical to collect my woes and place blame on those who surrounded me. My parents were very distracted by their own issues and those of my brother. I grew accustomed to the role of being “good”, which often led to me sliding off the map entirely. I was a ghost in my own home.

Naturally, this resulted in a particularly turbulent adolescence. I asserted the blame onto my family for my emerging disorder, and the entire traumatic experience that occurred as a result of the way it was handled.

Others are also entangled in the Blame Game even more so that I was, because it can’t be a game without a certain number of players. Being that I was an idyllic child, the seemingly overnight transformation into that perpetual nightmare was determined to be my choice. All of the resulting behaviors were seen as awful deeds I intended to commit. The familial problems brewing in the past became volatile, all at my hand. According to them, I was hell-bent on destroying the entire family for some kind of personal gain.

I could blame my awful choices in my early adulthood on my parents. In the past, I did. I was convinced that I was entirely a product of my upbringing, and that I would always remain a damaged person.

We can choose not to play any mind game out there. Quitting the Blame Game does not mean forfeiture in any way. Actually, it means winning altogether. We win command of ourselves.

Addressing the skeptics, I’ll agree that it’s not as simple as walking away from the table. The table is infinite in its existence. There will always be people who will make the attempt to entice us back into the game. But, that’s all it is. Remember the old saying from childhood? It’s just a game.

Here are some steps to cashing out once and for all:

Grieve:

Mourn all that was and all that could have been. It’s not easy to let go of those painful emotions and memories. It might even be more difficult to release the ideals and expectations. But, we can understand that the past is in the past. We can’t change that. What we truly desire is not always feasible. The people who caused the hurt in the first place might just be incapable of providing the kind of closure and / or emotional nourishment we crave.

I mourned the warm, nurturing childhood that wasn’t mine. I allowed myself to feel the sorrow of a lonely child and a misunderstood teen. I truly suffered the continual disapproval in my young adulthood. And I grieved the absence of the parent / child relationship in my adulthood. I released all that was, all that could have been, and all there never was or will be.

And the emptiness inside of me closed in. The black hole that was seemingly infinite in my heart vanished. It felt like I could fully experience the very moment I existed in, through and through. I finally could just be.

Forgive:

Release the resentment, and the blame will lift with it. Try to see the other side of it, even if it’s speculation. It is not rationalizing their behavior, but granting pardon for their transgressions. It’s not about determining whether they are worthy, but making the conscious decision to permit ourselves the freedom of that burden. We are entitled to the right to live our lives.

I forgave each member of my family individually. Not because I determined that they shared no fault, but because I released myself from it. It was too cumbersome to allow the past to be my present. And it was unrealistic to hold onto the hope that the future would become something any different. I am worthy and my life is too precious to ensnare it in the unending Blame Game.

My shackles released, and I was freed. For the first time, I truly felt like I could do anything.

Rebuild:

Those persons with troubled youths are likely to have faulty foundations. Maybe there is something that wasn’t there or something that has rotted away. In any case, we are already painfully aware of the malfunctioning portions of our own structures. It’s time to do some inspection into our infrastructures to rebuild and repair from the bottom up.

Important note: It is not wise or even advised to “scrap it” and start new. I’ve watched a few close friends “reinvent” themselves dozens of times to end up in exactly the same condition, and probably worse for all the wear. In my formative years, I’ve even attempted it myself. In reality, all it does is condemn and identity and destabilize a personality. As a result, a whole new set of problems is piled upon the original, grander issues.

I cannot be summed up by my past and present roles, or by the quantity or quality of experience. I am simply me. And I strive to be the best me, each and every day.

Anyway, for me, it was a tangle of perused and outdated materials. My parents didn’t hesitate to impose their own values and beliefs on me, while denying my own perspectives and opinions. It became commonplace for me to assume I was “wrong”. Then, it was habitual to allow others to do the same.

It took a lot of self-examination to determine what was actually mine. And when I say “self-examination”, I don’t mean introspection. There was no judgment involved. Instead, there was a deep and lengthy determination between the parts that resonated with me and those that caused me harm. My goal was to be me, and only me, through and through. That’s not to say I discarded anything that didn’t originate with me. I integrated them as working parts of a fully-functional, but always perfectly imperfect system.

Refuse:

Refuse to return to the Blame Game. Decline any invitation, and be wary of any temptation. It’s easier than anticipated to return to the same habits. No one can use force in mind games, and that’s all the Blame Game is.

I have a temper, and I find it difficult to back down from a fight. I have to be vigilant with each interaction, especially with new people. But, that doesn’t mean I let it slip from my mind when engaging with those close to me. I don’t shut the people out who are prone to it. I simply refuse. If they want to win, then so be it.

What would they really win if there was no one to play with? Nothing. Not even the satisfaction.

Instead, I get to walk away with that satisfaction and everything functional and intact. And that is truly progress in this grandiose game we call “life”. Because in the end of that one, no one wins. We are all the same.

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.

The Friday Confessional : Always a Passenger

The Friday Confessional is probably well known by now as a very soul baring exercise in writing.  Today, I’d like to talk to about something rather embarrassing for me.

A major milestone in most people lives happens at the tender age of sixteen.  There’s the sweet sixteen, usually accompanied by the awesome responsibility that comes with a person’s first driver’s permit.  And the teenager blossoms into an adult as they take on that adult responsibility and freedom of driving.

I am nearly 30, and I never learned how to drive.

Originally, it wasn’t because of my lack of enthusiasm.  The prospect of the freedom that was associated with driving was intoxicating.  It was all I could ever want, being able to drive.  I could take myself places and not have to rely on anyone else.  It would open up new worlds to me, and allow me to do so many things I had always dreamed of.  I could pick my boyfriend up and see him more than twice a week.  We could go park somewhere and maybe make out for awhile.

My mother doesn’t drive, and my father refused to use his precious vehicle to teach me.  I was crushed.  They claimed they didn’t think I was responsible enough to take on driving.  But, as with everything else, it was an excuse not to allow me to have any kind of breathing room.  They could continue to circle me like vultures for my remaining two years in that house, ever judging and scrutinizing me while I remained under their thumb.

I was stuck for any options to circumvent this decision.  There is a law in Pennsylvania that prohibits teens from teaching other teens how to drive.  Most of my friends were under 18, and those who weren’t didn’t have their own cars at their disposal.  It seemed that I would have to wait indefinitely to gain all of that freedom that I craved so deeply.

Time passed, and most of my friends still remained as pedestrians.  It used to be easy in a city like Pittsburgh to get by without a car.  Most of the places anyone would want to go were accessible via bus.  And taking the bus was infinitely cheaper than owning and maintaining a car.  College came and went without a driver’s license.

Once out of college, I had already developed an alcohol problem.  Driving became less important.  My job was within walking distance, and everything else wasn’t quite as important anymore.  Most of my friends had their own license, and the responsibility of driving seemed to great for a person who was perpetually drunk.  It didn’t matter to me anyway.  I was broke, and there was no way I could possibly afford a vehicle of my own to drive.

More time passed.  I got married, had a kid, and jobs came and went as I settled into family life.  The need for a license started weighing on me, as I was begging for more favors from people with vehicles.  I lived poorly and saved every last penny to buy my very first car.  And eventually, I got it.  I paid outright to avoid financing.  It was a black 2000 Volkswagen Jetta.  It was beautiful and one of those 0 to 60 in ten second cars.  It would have been perfect for street racing, as it was the sport edition.  Of course, that wasn’t the plan.  The plan was to get my license in the spring.

A whole year passed without any attempt on my part to get my license.  The idea started filling me with dread.  How could I possibly drive while so incredibly medicated?  I had just started treatment that year, and I was foggy most of the time.  I couldn’t focus on a task for more than a few minutes at a time.  Driving seemed to be an impossible task that had become far out of my reach.

Then, it happened.  The car that I had paid in full was totalled in an accident with Xan.  I was devastated.  It was my very first car, and we had hardly seen more than a year with it.  I was supposed to learn how to drive with that car.  It was compact and would have been perfect for my needs as a driver.  But, no more.  The car was completely gone.

For awhile, we borrowed my MIL’s car.  I refused to begin learning on that car.  It didn’t matter, because fall was coming.  I was beyond hesitant to start to learn how to drive in inclimate weather.  The car didn’t feel entirely safe, and I was too nervous about the possibility of getting into an accident with it.  It would have been different if it was the Jetta.

That car died too.  It died up on a rack during an inspection, just a few months after we borrowed it.  It turns out that the undercarriage was completely rusted out.  The car was in such bad shape that we didn’t even get charged for the failed inspection.  Instead, the mechanic told Xan to get the car out of there, and get rid of it as fast as he could.

We were at the lot that day.  The problem with the car was that it wasn’t even ours.  There was no possible way we could trade in the car, even with the express permission of the owner.  Instead, we had to eat the entire cost of a down payment. It seemed that there wouldn’t be yet another Christmas in the Stark household.

We drove off of the lot in another dream car, a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser.  My driver’s education teacher in high school owned a different years when they were brand new.  I had always admired that car.  It cost the same as the other, lesser cars in the lot.  I’m not a fan of Chevy’s and that’s all they wanted to give us.  But, I didn’t really want to buy another car.  I wanted the Jetta back.  But that was impossible.  It was wrecked beyond repair, with a bent frame and the entire driver’s side crushed in.

Almost another year has passed, and I still haven’t learned how to drive.  This time, it wasn’t for lack of a car.  It wasn’t a person standing in my way.  In fact, Xan has been more than supportive in this endeavor.  It is me standing in my own way.

I still don’t have my permit.  And every time I think about the possibility of getting it, I cringe.  I’m on so many medications, and most of the time, I’m falling asleep in the car anymore.  I’m so nervous that I can’t concentrate.  Even just imagining driving fills me with anxiety.

I’m Lulu, I’m in my late 20’s, and I can’t drive.

Just Snap Out of It

Society has developed some seriously bad attitudes toward mental illness.  It’s no surprise.  We see it attached to the stigma of it.  We’re treated like lepers, as if this were a terribly contagious thing.

Depression is no exception.  Today, a lot of people have been discussing the topic of the “Just Snap Out of It” phenomenon that occurs out there.  Honestly, there is a saying out there about how if a person hasn’t experienced it, then they can never truly know.  A person who hasn’t experienced clinical depression, either in the form of MDD or BP depression can never truly know it’s depth and breadth.  It is an all encompassing monster that claims every last bit of life and any possible joy that can come from it.

Having Bipolar Disorder, I am a person who naturally experiences some sometimes pretty obvious mood swings.  And the attitudes toward it are so completely off.  I have never had a person treat me poorly while I was in a manic episode.  Not one.  Not even when the plainly awful behaviors were showing.  Each person seemed to find it charming, amusing, or interesting.  Even when there were moments where I was so out of control that I was scared out of my wits, not a single person around me seemed to notice that there was something absolutely wrong with it.

No, my energy and spirits were high.  I would act impulsively, and people would take it as spontaneity.  I’d be overly, annoyingly chatty, and rudely interrupting others, but they took it as being outgoing.  Everyone seemed to think that was a sign that I wasn’t depressed anymore.  They seemed to think that it was some kind of miraculous recovery from “being like that”.

People only seem to take notice when I am depressed or mixed, like it’s some kind of disease that I choose to be afflicted with.  And the comments are absolutely endless, because everyone seems to have their own opinion about it.  It’s as if they consider themselves to be the authority on depression, anxiety and sadness in general. I will constantly hear phrases like, “Get over it” and “Get a grip” as if just snapping out of it were an option for me.

Meanwhile, people without mental health diagnoses start flinging clinical terms around, like they had some true application to their fleeting, shallow emotion.  For instance, “Oh, I’m so *bipolar* today”, instead of just saying that they are moody, or women arbitrarily making a comparison between PMS and Bipolar Disorder.   Or “I’ve just been so depressed lately”, to reference a little bit of discontent or sadness.

It’s not cute. It’s not funny. No one with those diagnoses thinks that it’s witty that someone is taking a serious clinical term with so much guilt and stigma that it could bring down a religion, and applying it to their BS, frivolous emotions!

It does everything it can to minimize those conditions.  It puts it in a light that we have some kind of real control over it.  As if it were something that a person can just “snap out of”.  It implies that a person chooses to be disordered.  It also puts a shameful connotation of attention seeking behavior.

Yeah, it’s the life, let me tell you. If I were doing anything for attention, it wouldn’t be this. It would probably be something more hilarious, like plastering myself with an obscenely worded banner and rollerblading through Downtown. Depression isn’t newsworthy, but that sure is.  Or maybe I’d be doing something a little more productive or noteworthy, like finding a cure for cancer.  But no, my depression is just that interesting that I would choose to gain that much needed attention from people I don’t even know or care about.

I have to wonder if the general public has to be so naive that they would actually be jealous over it.  So much emphasis is put on the “just get over it” ideals, as if that were possible. If I could will myself out of this state, don’t you think I would do it already? It would be more logical to think that I want to reclaim my life and be a productive person.  But no, according to others who are ignorant enough of mental illness, I am perfectly content to have disordered behaviors.   Sure, who doesn’t love ignoring their kid because the voices just got too loud? Personally, I love gripping my ears and screaming, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!!”

And as a result of this blatant ignorance, I am really starting to believe that some are just plain jealous.  Because, they seem to think that those with disorder aren’t being responsible for their emotions and behaviors that result.  I certainly have quarrels with wanting to thrust a sense of selfishness and entitlement out there, because it’s what I have to do to take care of myself and my own in this world.  It’s those same people that shove themselves and their ideals down other people’s throats, only to make them feel bad. Misery loves company, and we’re perfect targets, right?

The point is this.  If a person is out there reading this and getting offended, it’s time to take a step back and think hard.  Is it so fair to be so judgmental?  Isn’t it about time to take a look from another perspective?  Does a person with a congenital disorder choose to be symptomatic?  It would be an entirely different story if I were refusing treatment, but like anyone else, I am keeping my appointments and taking my medication according to doctors orders.  We don’t blame someone for their symptoms when they have a seizure.  Why should this be any different?

Let me assure everyone.  If could have snapped out of this disorder and been a “normal” person, I may have done it, instead of living this ongoing nightmare.

Ethereal Shadows

Anxiety runs rampantly, off of it’s leash, and unchecked.  It envelops me, trapping me in this fully contained, semi-translucent bubble.  The oxygen runs thin and the overabundance of carbon dioxide fogs my mind.  I am suffocating and immobilized, encased in thick, unyielding plastic.  I can see the world through clouded lenses all around me, but I am unable to touch it, to reach it.

The thoughts race faster than the stock cars in my mind, polluting my air within the dome.  “What if…?”  “How can I possibly…?”  “What can’t I…?”  My confidence dissolves in the thick, poisonous soup it creates.  I begin to disappear, becoming thinner within the wash.

And eventually, the cars come to a grinding halt, gears moaning and crunching at the sudden termination of everything and anything.  For a moment, the entire world, the whole existence goes blank, as plain as a clean sheet of paper.  Then, suddenly, I am propelled into pitch darkness, fumbling around for the scattered remnants that are not my own cognition.

In this blackness, there is a certain emptiness abound.  A void of mind and feeling transforms me into an ethereal creature containing the absence of any trace of matter.  I drift aimlessly upon streams of thin air, shivering as currents pass clean through me.

My soul liquifies and pours like a thick, black ribbon into a clear mason jar.  Now, it is preserved like blackberry jam, shifting and wiggling with its gelatinous quality.  My hands caress the glass longingly, for it has become as unreal as I have become.  I may look upon it, however, I may not touch.  It is now a forbidden fruit that will spoil long before I am prepared to reclaim it as my own.

Abysmal sheets of icy rain obscure my vision now.  A thick fog rolls in as dense, leaf bare woods encompass me.  Severed from me, my own emotions are carried back in with the fog, high above my head as it rolls on.  I reach, stretching my entire being high in the air above my head, attempting to get just a little bit closer toward them.  But they are not my own.

Are they?

Indistinguishable.  Everything becomes questionable in this parareality.  Wispy words come out in airless breaths within this vacuum of time and space.  Questions come rolling into reality with no discernable answer.  “Where am I?”  “Who am I?”  “What am I?”  All concepts float away, vibrating with each anxious blink.

Each push of the fog shoves me flat on my back against a frozen, unforgiving, unyielding earth.  Each successive tumble knocks even more wind from my lungs.  I squeeze my eyes shut and resign myself to this fate.  Paralyzed, I am defeated against this awesome force.

Anatomy of a Phobia

Lala at Seasons Change, and so have I reminded me this morning of some very sensitive subject matter that I often overlook.  See, I’ve programmed myself over the years to minimize my fears.  Fears are just another expression of weakness.  Or so I’ve been inadvertently taught throughout the course of my life.  Fears are irrational little demons that have no place in reality.  They are something to be ignored.  Fear is an overreaction and another possible way to be overdramatic about events that occur in life.

Fear is just another excuse not to do something.

There are a million reasons those phrases fail to sit well with me.  First, I am a person that has a complicated relationship with authority.  If fear were allowed to conquer my own free will, then it would become an authority figure.  I would become conflicted against my own self, and come to fear and loathe myself.  I can see the fallacy in the contradictory nature of all of those statements.  Because, I experience it regularly.  And the experience of fear complicates itself and entangles itself into my psyche.

I have phobias, whether I want to admit it or not.  At this point, I would rather come clean than try to diminish these symptoms any further.  It seeks to compound the confusing presentation of these intense fears.  Worse, I can’t readily dismiss fears like I used to.  As life progresses and my experience expands, I’ve come to situations that force a confrontation.  And the effects that the denial and repression produces are intense.

I fear planes and cars crashing into my house.
When I was a child, a plane crashed somewhere near my hometown.  The only reason this event was significant hinged on how it affected my area.  I lived near a fire department, a highway, and two interstates.  It seemed like there were people and sirens all night.  It was a hot summer night, and all of the windows and doors were open.  People had their eyes skyward.  And the thought of a plane falling out of the sky had never crossed my mind before.

In case I didn’t mention recently, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  At the time of 9/11, I lived about ten miles from our local international airport.  And we are the closest city to the crash site of Flight 93 that went down in Sommerset County, a few counties over from us.  That day was similar to the night of the crash from my childhood.  Only this time, it wasn’t an accident.  It was a terrorist attack.

I also lived by an Air force and an Army base.  When all of the planes were grounded, the skies were filled with military planes.  It was like living in a military state.  Other than those planes, the sky was empty.  The winds were unusually quiet.  And my best friend and I laid in our adjacent yards, staring skyward for the threat.

Somehow, throughout the years of being a pedestrian, the definition of “crash” came to include cars.  And Xan always joked with me about how silly it was.

In May 2010, a drunk driver crashed his jeep into the front of my house.  It was the day after Mother’s Day and only five minutes after my husband had left to put our one-and-a-half year old son into the car to come get me from work.  Had it been five minutes earlier, my son would be dead.  The impact to the front of the house sent the sofa into the middle of the room.  The impact would have been enough to serious maim Xan and kill, then 27 lb, Beast.

Since then, I would cringe every single time I would hear a car make an awful noise outside my home.  It is among the dozens of reasons I moved from 511 to 106.  Except, 106 is only a couple of miles from the airport now.  Instead, I cringe at low flying planes, and look skyward to their shiny metal bellies.

I fear enclosed spaces and crowds.
This comes to include any area that could become cramped or would be difficult to maneuver out of. I fear being crushed.  I have dreams about it sometimes.  I’ll go in after Beast in one of those kids tubes, and it will start to collapse on me.  Or, I’ll just get stuck.  And there will always be something threatening happening.

This definition expanded after the Columbine School Shooting.  It came to include areas where I would be “trapped”.  That means classrooms, buses, shopping malls, lecture halls, and unfamiliar cars.  Anywhere where I was not openly permitted to leave, or wasn’t easily escapable became suspect.

This was compounded when I was pregnant with my son.  I was afraid that I was going to be accidentally harmed in a public place by someone careless.  And, it was made even worse when Xan was involved in a serious car accident in June 2011.  People get hurt by the negligence of others all of the time.

I fear having an episode in public.
I know Bipolar Disorder isn’t as episodic as an anxiety disorder.  Maybe I have an anxiety disorder.  I just don’t know, and I’m not qualified to make that determination.  I’m afraid of being overtly symptomatic in public.  I just have this severe anxiety that I am going to have an unrelenting panic attack and do something, for lack of a better word, crazy.  Or that I’ll break down in hysterical tears over something practically benign, like losing my scarf or breaking a pencil.  Or worse, I’ll go out and binge eat to suppress some other urge.

I fear elevators.
Combine my fear of catastrophe, a mild fear of heights, and a severe fear of enclosed spaces, and a torrent of anxiety develops.  That’s what an elevator represents to me.

I have always been afraid of elevators, because the motion doesn’t agree with me.  I don’t like that moment of weightlessness when ascending and I don’t enjoy that feeling of plummeting to doom when descending.  I don’t like the jolts and starts.  And I especially don’t like being knocked off balance.

Compound that fear with actually getting stuck in an elevator.  It was my freshman year in high school, and I was assigned a dorm room on the sixth floor at camp.  We were children, and we were stupid.  The elevator clearly stated that the maximum capacity was 14 people.  Instead, we had closer to twenty, all jammed in that elevator.  When it opened, I could clearly see the floor between the fifth and sixth floors.  We were stuck in midair in a rickety old elevator, where no one could immediately get to us.

From then on, I took the stairs.  I dragged my footlocker and luggage up flights and flights of stairs to avoid any similar occurrence.  Of course, it never happened under their watch again.  But the singular experience was enough to have me fit for stairs and hiking stairwells for the rest of my life.

My doctor’s office is on the third floor of an office.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running late, and I arrive at that check in desk breathless and sweaty.

Then, there are the sillier fears.
The aforementioned are just huge fears that have come true for me.  There are fears that have absolutely no grounds in reality.  For instance, I fear toilet snakes.  I know there is no such thing.  I don’t know if there has ever been an incident of someone getting bitten by a poisonous snake while using the bathroom.  And if there has, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.

I fear lightning strikes.

I fear bugs in the bed.  Or just bugs crawling on me in general.

I fear the apocalypse.  Irony of ironies.

I fear being touched by a stranger.  There are a million different reasons why that’s a serious fear that has no grounds.  All my brain knows is that sometimes touch is bad.

Then, there are the more common ones.
I fear judgement.  I fear failure.  I fear unfamiliar social situations.  I fear being alone.  I fear dying alone.  I fear getting hurt and having no one there to help me.  I fear strangers.  I fear germs.

I know that some of these are rational, and these are things that should be reasonably feared.  But most of the time, they strike me, and I’m left with the deer in the headlights feeling.  That is unreasonable.

What are the most common fears out there?  What are the most uncommon?  Which are ones that my mind made up?