Answers From the Universe

When I’m feeling frustrated or small or insignificant, I often find myself reaching out into universe for the answers to life’s biggest questions.  I set my sights skyward and almost put a message in a bottle to float amongst the cosmos.  I eagerly await a sign, even something as seemingly insignificant as a shifting of winds, to guide me to where I’m supposed to be.

In my more cynical moments, I’ve referred to this overwhelming dissatisfaction as being a “Cold War Kid”.  The Cold War mentality was only partially inherited in my generation in only the vague sense that we could be something greater and do something greater with our lives.  As bright eyed children, we were all encouraged to “shoot for the moon” with the promise that “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.  And with the broken promise, we disinherited greatness.

I’ve had a lot of false starts in my life.  In darker moments, I’ve often regarded this to be attributed to the pop-culture psych phenomenon “Failure to Launch Syndrome”.  My inquisitive mind is always searching for answers, flipping a problem over and about to inspect it from every angle.  It’s too dissatisfying to pawn it off on a generational glitch, especially when I feel as if my personal situation doesn’t quite fit the bill.

I don’t do anything half-assed, in fact quite the opposite.  I’m a classical overachiever, only to encounter the complications of mental health conditions that stymie my own endeavors.

“Why is it not enough to live a good life?  Why must I live a ‘great’ life?”

In the same fashion, I don’t believe in coincidences or luck.  Coincidences and luck are concepts embraced by those who lack the sight when they step out for a moment to take in the grandeur of the rich tapestry of cosmic design.  Common sense and logic are only scientific rules that generate likely predictions, but not necessarily the most accurate outcomes.  We are only human, and therefore we can only rely on our hindsight and foresight to be accurate on only the smallest scale.

At about the same time that Xan and I were completing our initial application for foster parent certification, I completed an application for CNA training with the Generation Pittsburgh program.  The program is designed to offer vocational training opportunities to the youths of Pittsburgh aged 18 – 29.  At the time of my application, I was staring down 30 within 3 months.  Though technically still within the specified age group, I knew there was a good chance that I’d “age out” before I even had a chance.

This past Friday, Xan and I confirmed with our contact at the adoption agency that we were scheduled in for four trainings during the month of December.  I believe that makes us nearly complete, and we can expect to have our homestudy expedited pending our clearances.  I was thrilled by this news!  It was almost as amazing when I first saw our son on a sonogram!

But, the CNA possibility still lingered.  I mentioned to Xan, “The applications close today.  I suppose I’ll find out next week whether I move to the next round.”

I did.  The email arrived this morning.  “Dear Mrs. M., Thank you for your interest, however our program is only offered to the 18 – 29 age group.  Unfortunately, you will soon not meet these qualifications.  Good luck in the future.”  I got my answer.

Rejection, in whatever form, is never well received.  Throughout my entire life, all I wanted to be was “older”.  I just wanted to somehow “grow into myself”, as a tiny puppy grows into her awkwardly large head and paws to be the grand dog she was meant to be.  This analogy doesn’t apply in the physical sense, seeing as how I gained my remaining two inches of my petite height somewhere between the ages of 18 and 21.  My late Pappap used to joke with everyone about his only granddaughter as being, “Five going on thirty-five.”  And I always felt a sense of urgency to somehow get there.

Now I’m here, and I’ve actually aged out of a program.  This is the first time I’ve experienced a discrimination of age because I was actually chronologically too old!  I was a young wife.  I was such a young mother than I often faced a public scorn of being an unwed teenage mother, when that was absolutely false!  Though I often get gasps when people inspect my ID, I realize that I am no longer a young woman.

In that very same breath, I exhaled soothingly.  This is my answer.  What is the grander purpose of my life?  For some people, it’s pretty clear cut.  For me, I’ve had to do over a decade worth of searching before I realized it.  My longest job held was teaching and caring for underprivileged children in a program where their working parents would often drop them off at 6AM and not return again until 6PM.  I dedicated my time to improving the lives of children that no one else had the time or energy to invest in.

Why not be a mother to children who need one?

Of everything I’ve ever wanted in my life, it’s always been clear to me that I wanted to get married and have kids.  I went through so many phases of “what do I want to be when I grow up?”, even as an adult.  Not a doctor, a lawyer, president, or anything of the like.  I wanted to be a wife and a mother, and everything else just came and went.

And with more than a blessing that I received on my pregnancy with my biological son, our family’s intentions to adopt have been extremely well received by both friends and family alike.

So, I leave this with a quote from Silver Linings Playbook:

When life reaches out at a moment like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back, I’m telling you its a sin if you don’t reach back! It’ll haunt you the rest of your days like a curse. You’re facing a big challenge in your life right now at this very moment, right here.

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Psych Lingo

Well, a month has passed since my last med check where I was ambushed by a filler doctor.  He had me taken aback with his recommendations for heavier medications, such as “real mood stabilizers” and replacing all my benzos with antipsychotics.  Apparently, in his professional opinion, my bipolar disorder was not well managed.

I’ll be honest with you.  Not only did his recommendations scare the bejesus out of me, they insulted me.  Typically, I would really refrain from faulting myself from being a particularly proud person.  With all of the knocks I’ve taken in my life, I can ill afford pride and arrogance.  But, in a way, it felt like he dismissed a year’s worth of legitimate complaints with the flick of a wrist.  It was almost as if he were nullifying all of the effort I’ve put into managing my mental health.

His suggestion?  A condescending tutorial on how to use Google to research my disorder and make informed medication decisions.

Ugh.  *Eye Roll*

That didn’t stop me from obsessively combing the internet, haunting message boards, putting messages in a bottle, and taking a battery of online assessments.  My assessment?  Don’t self-diagnose from the internet.

Ironically, there I was on Friday morning watching Silver Linings Playbook.  It was neither the first nor the tenth showing of that movie on that screen.  I had always admired the screen portrayal of Pat, and felt that it did justice to the disorder.  There was always something that I identified with, but not entirely.

I hopped in the shower, almost hysterical.  Before I’m about to meet with someone, I usually have a script ready in my head.  It’s just a set of questions I’ve already prepped myself to answer and topics that are safe and well researched.  This is especially the case when I’m preparing to meet a professional.  It’s easier than getting bullied into treatments that I’m not entirely familiar with.  At least I have some ammo when I go in.

But, I had no answers this time.  I’ve been to enough med checks in my life to know what to say and what not to say.  It’s a matter of knowing what’s going to get me in hot water and take me down a road I’m not willing to go.  Call that non-compliant, but let’s be real.  How many people are completely 100% treatment compliant?

I was ready to lay all of my cards down on the table.  Xan cautioned, “Don’t go in there guns ablazing.”  Again, eye roll.  I was panicked to the point of wanting to cancel.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that with a doctor.  But, Dr. K has this soft cleverness about him.  He’s far more observant than any other psychiatrist I’ve ever had.  And at the same time, he’s far less talkative, so he’s entirely less likely to show his hand.  Most doctors will give a tell as to their personal opinion, rather than a professional opinion if I engage them in a little extra conversation.  Dr. K just doesn’t bite.

Which brings me to what happened.

He was running almost an hour behind, which rankled me far more than I care to admit.  It’s amazing how cozy folks in a psychiatrists office can get when they’ve been in close quarters for more than a few minutes.  It was actually the first time anyone had the guts to politely ask why I was seeing Dr. K.  I always thought that there was some kind of unspoken code that it was almost forbidden to “fraternize” with one another.  I assured her the question was fine, and that I had been seeing him for bipolar disorder.  “Two,” I added, seeing a mildly startled look on her face, “Kind of the ‘lesser of’.  ‘Diet’ bipolar.”

An imaginary tumbleweed blew through the office accompanied by the soundtrack of a multitude of crickets.  A man’s voice sounded a boisterous, “BOO!”

Boo yourself!

I quickly and gently asked about her condition.  If I was taking home anything that day, it was the knowledge that folks in a psychiatrists office are a lot more eager to talk about their own conditions than I imagined.

Dr. K called me in, and I wished her well.

I guess all of the psych talk in the waiting room primed me.  I sat down in one of his plain black leather armchairs that did the rest of his ornate office no justice.  Naturally, he asked me how I was.  I admitted that I was well enough.  Then, somehow, I trickled into it.  I told him that I’m able to manage.  But the “insanity of it all” was just overwhelming.  The burning need to perform certain tasks in a particular way was killing me and causing conflict in my family.

He asked me to elaborate.  And did I!  I told him about the cumbersome nature of housework.  I like everyone to be out of the house, because I can do it the way I need to, without any interference.  And Xan, he tries to help when I’m getting more and more stressed and less and less gets done.

I told him about an incident where Xan did the dishes.  I don’t like when people do my dishes.  They can’t work within my system.  It’s infuriating, because the system is so easy, but I don’t expect anyone to know how, because it’s my system.  They have to be done in a certain order so they can be stacked in a certain order.  If they’re not, then something is going to break.  I described the awful Jenga game and how all of my favorite glasses and mugs have been broken by such carelessness.

Then, they have to be air dried to avoid any contamination.  The last thing I want is to accidentally give my family and friend food poisoning because I was being careless.  If there are multiple loads, then it slows the entire thing down.  But, then they have to be put away in a particular way, because that’s how they fit in the cupboards.  I try not to swear and complain when I go into the cupboards for something later, but it’s hard.  If they aren’t put away correctly, then they don’t fit, then things get lost, and then that delays all other kitchen activity.

I told him that I felt like I knew that the level of obsession with such detail was unhealthy, but there wasn’t any way to fix that.  I’ve always been like that.  He asked if there was anything else like that, and I exclaimed excitedly, “Oh the closet!”  And I went on to talk about how the closet is arranged and how the clothes have to be folded exactly so they fit in the drawers without incident.  And again, I went into how I know it could be done differently, but it’s not right and it doesn’t work.  I’ve spent years developing these systems.  It is supposed to make everything easier, but it actually kind of makes everything more difficult when I don’t have the time or energy to devote to it.

I actually went into more length than I wanted to there.  But, I felt like I had to illustrate the entire madness.  To leave anything out wouldn’t do it justice.  I expressed to him that I didn’t understand why I had to do this.  But, in truth, the act of organizing and sorting usually gives me some peace.  Well, when everything goes as it should.

Apparently, I used the right key words.  He answered my questions about the “level of obsessiveness” with a sentence that contained the keyword: compulsions.

Note:  I usually refrain from using psych lingo or any clinical terminology.  Most doctors aren’t very receptive.

Dr. K explained something that I never really got until then.  Anxiety manifests itself in many different ways, sometimes all at the same time.  And there are many different coping mechanisms that a person develops over a lifetime.  Anxiety can manifest in obsessions, which often lead to compulsions to alleviate that stress.  His response was to treat it with Prozac.  I’m pretty hopeful.

He added that it’s characteristic of obsessive compulsive disorder.  In all of my education and research, I am still a little unclear on it.  This is going to be a new journey for me.

In a way, I feel a little vindicated.  I was right to trust my gut sense that bipolar disorder wasn’t the entire picture.  And I was right in believing that there was more to it, as if we fixed something, but uncovered something else.

Most of all, I’m glad it’s all resolved, and I’m on an appropriate treatment for it.

So I guess all it takes is a little bit of clinical reference to speak the language of a Pdoc.  I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

Theories on the Development of Disorder

When something, an emotion, an urge, an impulse, is so severely suppressed that a person becomes oppressed, we can often observe extreme opposite reactions. This is consistent with the laws of physics and the universe, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Except, one thing. I believe when it comes to emotions and behaviors, the opposing reaction is more like equal plus. The plus being an x-value holding place for a value with the meaning “a little more.” Determining that exact value in numerical terms may be difficult, since there is no numerical value for emotions.

It basically conveys the message that the situation perpetuates itself. Any potential absence of behavior or action can still be perceived as a positive value. Inaction can still be considered an action in this case, because there isn’t really such a thing as a complete absence of behavior.

This is potentially a huge factor in mental illness. Obviously, we are aware of the psychological damage abuse and neglect in childhood can cause, even throughout adulthood. It is thought to manifest in anxiety disorders, particularly Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. However, that does not account for people who did not experience what is typically considered childhood trauma.

Even as adults, we are susceptible to psychological damage. This is a fact that is well established through research involving war veteran and victims of sexual assault. However, we only consider extreme forms of trauma as something qualifies as such. Such is also true of childhood trauma.

Other qualifying trauma often happens over a period of time, and goes consciously unrecognized. This does not mean that it is also subconsciously unrecognized as well. In fact, the subconscious is likely keenly aware, but unable to translate to the conscious mind.

Once the conscious mind becomes aware that there is something amiss, the traumatizing behavior seems commonplace. The person has likely become desensitized to what was once a subtle, but generally constant external stressor. By then, it becomes internalized and often mistaken as an internal stressor.

Those are the seeds for maladaptive behaviors in both children and adults. At this point, unhealthy coping mechanisms have already been adopted as part of a person’s behavioral repertoire. This is directly the result of an extreme reaction to the accumulation of what may be considered subtle long term stressor(s).

The maladaptive behaviors are recognized as such, and perpetuate trauma through mistreatment of oneself. It can be behaviorally observed by an unusual response to certain unpleasant stimuli. Unfortunately, the subject is often unaware that their responses are abnormal. By the time it is either pointed out or realized by oneself, the original cause is well buried under layers of self-abuse / neglect.

The result of this is much larger than anxiety disorders. It reaches out to grab behaviors typical of a variety of psychological disorders. Behavior repertoires are often observed in personality disorders and mood disorders. it would stand to reason this is true, due to the nature of long-term external stressors, particularly subtle abuse and neglect.

Perfectionists Anonymous

We’re all guilty of this at one point or another.

Hello, my name is Lulu. And I am a perfectionist.

I have at least six half-written posts ready to roll out. Each contains explanations of what has been going on in my life lately. Yes, I’m aware that nearly a week has elapsed since I posted anything.

Why don’t I release any of them? Because, they aren’t quite right. None of them are actually completed. And every time I read them, I deem that there are entirely too many non sequitur tangents, and start editing. Before you know it, I pulled the wrong thread and the whole thing unraveled! Well, sh*t!

At least I know that I’m getting closer to returning to my original condition. You see, I was born into this world as a perfectionist. It is one of those . . . (dropped the word. Thanks Lamictal!), neurotic tics in my very DNA, bred into one generation after another since the beginning of time.

During the big bang, a collection of cosmic dust got together and became determined on being perfect. In evolution, this was found as a specific enzyme that became a tiny molecule in long DNA sequences. From an amoeba, all the way through vertebrates, into the homo genus, it settled into my first line of ape ancestors 9 million years ago. This was the same ape you saw engaging in curious behavior of sorting leaves for no specific reason. Later, it was the caveman who etched, and then went back to attempt to re-etch cave drawings. Today, it’s a genetic line, mostly comprised of dark blonde Scottish women, that are consumed with the urge to perfect everything.

I hope you could find that as amusing as I did. That was exactly one of those sidebars I was describing. But, since I have deemed this a stream of consciousness post, I can write whatever pops out. Now, I want you to do something for me. Locate the little red X at the top right of your screen. If this gets to be a little too Woody Allen-esque or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you have your option. Otherwise, note the comment section below.

Back on track, or thereabouts. This started earlier than I have memory. When I was four, I recall the need to conquer everything I hadn’t yet mastered, but I was aware of. My handwriting was always meticulous. That was until I learned that handwriting is not meant to be uniform and is unique to each person. Of course, this happened during the “I am Unique, Hear Me Roar!” phase all teenagers eventually go through. For me, it was more like the discovery of self-loathing in depression that causes complete defeat and perpetuates the cycle of self-loathing.

Here’s where I’m going.

I do not have OCD. Okay, maybe I have some tendencies, but it doesn’t cause me significant dysfunction. I do have a threshold for this. Eventually, I’ll get too frustrated, throw my hands up in the air, and scream, “F**k it!”, as I’m seen setting the proverbial (or actual) fire to the whole thing. (Note: I am not an arsonist. I think. Define arsonist.)

Joking!

That’s pretty much what happened to me. Bipolar disorder probably put the stop to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Before, I was obsessed with perfecting skills and creations. I actually remember my life before Bipolar Disorder! Granted, I was only eleven and younger, but it did exist!

Then, I became distracted with myself. My feelings, my consciousness, my cognition, and my world. It was all about me. I went around with the blow torch and sledgehammer and demolished everything. Because, if it came from me, then it was flawed in design from its origins. It was as flawed as I was.

And for a very long time, I went through a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies through self-sabotage. I carry an inherent flaw. Time to get to the incinerator!

But, as years of treatment have ticked by and the medicine has coursed through my veins, I began a process of ecdysis (look it up, I’m not linking it, I’m busy). I don’t consider this a process of reversion. But, it is not synonymous with metamorphosis, because I am not coming out of the cocoon as a different being. It is something different entirely.

I am moving in a corkscrew fashion down a time line that is supposed to be linear. It is only linear in the sense that one can draw lines down the outside of the corkscrew to find a correlation between that snap shot and the next at the point of intersection in the corkscrew.

So, here I am. A whole month of bipolar of stability. The longest point in my treatment that I have experienced this. And if I were idly questioned, I’d remark that I hardly feel stable. My life is a hectic mess right now. But hey, when is anything hectic organized? Pristine chaos – HA! But, my emotions are solid, though they rattle. Is this what non-Dx people feel like?

Now, I’m busy, so I’m going to stop writing now. Have a lovely day.