Of my beautiful scars and the ashes from which they rose

Captain’s Log: Day 13 (Guess who can’t count. Surprise!)

I’m still feeling good. My moods are relatively even. I haven’t had any wild reactions, positive or negative, to anything. I’ve been sticking with my to do’s and reporting regularly. To all of my stable ponies, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re sick of my texts. Thank you all, nonetheless. I’ve gotten a bunch of silly little things done that I’d been putting off. I see my neurologist on Tuesday. I’m still planning on discussing what happened, if nothing else to make sure she’s aware of it. The possibility of needed medication won’t be a complete surprise if it does turn out that I need it.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, things are starting to warm up. Instead of posting my annual “dos and don’ts” for tattoos, I wanted to share a story. When I got out of the shower last night, I took the time to study all of my tattoos. I paid special attention to the ones I don’t see every day, one on the back of my left arm right above my elbow [a stylized rose], the little one on my back [it reads “danse avec la vie” which roughly translates to “dance with life” in English], the one on the top of my left thigh [a cardinal sitting on cherry blossoms, a homage to my childhood state of Virginia], and the bottom part of my phoenix which wraps around my right elbow.

There’s also a quill and dagger in black and red on the bottom of my left bicep. I can only see it when I raise my arm over my head while looking in a mirror. I got that tattoo the day I met Boy. The tattoo shop I frequented had an event called “Man Day”. They would do discounted tattoos, then have a party at one of the local bars in the afternoon and evening. The picture of me attached to this profile was taken that day as well. August 14, 2010.

As I was taking the time to examine them all, outwardly, they’re a random collection of artwork. Inwardly, it’s a record of the toughest 4 years of my life. Just like someone who cuts, the more confident (for lack of a better term) I got, the bigger and more visible they became. My retirement piece, which I know I’ve mentioned, is my phoenix. At the time, I hadn’t anticipated that would be my grand finale. Part of me figured I’d just keep going until I ran out of skin. I had plans for the back of my left calf and more work on my actual back. Then as I started to get my shit together, it ended. I finished the phoenix in on my 26th birthday. I had my successes and my failures over the next 3 years, but I never went back under the needle.

For a long time I believed, and was told, that I was damaged. I’d ruined my body because of them. I would always be looked at and judged as a freak. Even the people who cared about me the most silently judged me. That didn’t even hold a candle to my damaged heart. I’m not damaged. I’m not broken. I can allow others to judge me and not feel obligated to defend myself. While the truth would definitely silence even the harshest of critic, I would be telling them out of sheer spite rather than because I genuinely wanted them to know the story behind them. I could get them removed, but the scars it would leave behind would be even more obvious. At this point, most of them are just part of the landscape. I’ll forget about them until someone points them out. I can’t forget the story behind them, but I don’t have to let it keep writing more chapters in my life. That chapter is over. Time to get on with the rest of the book.

Also, happy (early) Friday the 13th. I’ll have plenty of black cats crossing my path, but that happens every other day of the year. Here kitty, kitty.

XOXO!

Of mood swings and keeping your hands to yourself

There was an incident at work last week which could have resulted in disciplinary action against myself and one of my employees. It was a completely bullshit issue and didn’t result in anything other than getting us both pissed. When I was letting her vent, I had an epiphany. She said something about people in other areas violating the dress code & not getting written up. This had no relation to the issue we were supposedly getting written up for. It hit me.

Defend yourself, but don’t change the subject.

I’m very guilty of this. I’ll get in trouble for something & immediately try to find something worse that someone else is guilty of, then point to them. “Well, I did this, but she came in with her boobs hanging out and nothing happened to her!”. What did that accomplish? Nothing. If you didn’t fuck up, defend yourself, but don’t make an example of someone else. The same applies for when you do fuck up. Dragging someone else into it, especially someone who is completely irrelevant to the situation at hand, doesn’t help your case.

Last fall, I was dealing with a royal fuck up. I was prepared to stand in front of the board of directors and explain what happened. It didn’t end up coming to that, but I was willing to explain myself without pointing fingers. It wasn’t entirely my fault, but I had a heavy hand in it. As much as it sucks being a grown up and admitting our mistakes, it looks worse to try and shift the blame. In this case, the accusation was unfounded and flat out unfair. I was given the chance to defend us and simply stated the facts. I didn’t blame anyone else. I didn’t drag other areas into it. The facts of the matter outweighed the small error that turned into the threat of something that would be in our HR files for all eternity. I also had a little help from my friends. đŸ˜€

On my mental health front, it comes and goes. I’ve been largely keeping up with my “to do” list. My knee has started acting up, so exercise has been difficult. I have been showering or taking a bath daily, brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, and keeping myself groomed. I’m either writing or blogging every day. If I’m watching TV, I’ll have my knitting with me. Still keeping plans with friends on a somewhat regular basis.My sleeping is hit or miss. I try to listen to my body as best I can. I was asleep at 945 on Thursday night. The night before, I kept having nightmares and waking up every few hours. When I would start to move, that would wake up the kitten & she would keep me awake until she settled down again. I’m still having mood swings, but my therapist said that was normal. I tracked my moods just in the course of one day and I hit 5 or 6 different emotions. I do the best I can with what I have. I’ve found that going to work has helped. If I just sit around or lie in bed all day, I stew. Stewing is only beneficial for tough meat. I would like to remain tough, thank you.

I have my people I check in with daily. I have a very good friend keeping an eye on me at work. I really can’t express how grateful I am for all the people who love me, put up with me, or just can’t figure out how to get rid of me yet. When I’m angry or upset, I remind myself of where I was 5 years ago. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t even cry. I was constantly having seizures (though I didn’t know they were seizures at the time). I was doing dangerous things because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. When I’m sobbing over a broken nail or spilling my coffee, it’s hard to remember that. Then I can look down at my arms and remember how far I’ve come. At least I can cry over a broken nail or spilled coffee. I’m not staring at a bloody stump and thinking “Hrm, maybe I should do something about that bleeding.”. Sometimes it’s not about what you can do, but what you can’t do.

XOXO!

Of taking inventories and cats sitting on your face

May I open this entry with: When the fuck did it get to be March?!

Done.

BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THIS ENTRY. IT WILL BE HEAVY.

In the interest of full disclosure – I was diagnosed with severe depression yesterday.I took the Beck Depression Inventory courtesy of my therapist. I scored a 34 which is in the severe depression range. It’s the low end, but in the range nonetheless. I’ve suspected it for a while. When I first started seeing her almost 5 years, it was part of the basic assessment. One of the things she said was a HUGE red flag was you stop bathing or showering. I went a week without a shower, justifying that baby wipes and dry shampoo were sufficient since I was working out in the morning & didn’t really have time to shower. Even so, I should have taken a shower when I got home. Really Emily? The Bullshit meter was going off the charts. I refused to admit it. I bought myself some fancy Lush bath bombs & bubble bars to make myself take a bath. That was Thursday night.

Part of the exam also assessed suicidal intent. At least twice during my commute my last week, I thought “You know, I can just crash my car into that barrier and it would be over. No big,”. I wouldn’t do it because I care too much about the people who love me. I don’t want to leave them behind wondering if they said or did something to make me do it. Regardless, the thought was wandering around in there. My justification was I’m broken. I’m so broken that no one can put me back together. It’s not fair to everyone around me to deal with that. Plus, it would shut my brain up. You can’t think if you’re dead.

Another clue was I didn’t want to be touched. By anyone. At all. Ever. Highly unusual for me. I’ll bounce over and give or take a hug any time. Any member of my “freebie” list could show up at the door and I’d be like “Put it away, zip your pants, and I’ll take a rain check.” I didn’t even want a hug from my own parents. Hands where I can see them, please and thank you.

Before we immediately jump to medication (especially given the epilepsy meds), I was given a daily “to do” list for the next 2 weeks:

  1. Bathe or shower every day: Checked this one off for today. I showered, brushed & flossed my teeth, & put good skin products on my face. I didn’t wash my hair, but I’m getting my hair blown out later today. I can outsource that one. My therapist also said don’t go cheap on products for the rest of my body. I need the good stuff. If you can buy it at Target, that’s a no.
  2. Get more exercise: Granted, the wacky weather this week didn’t help this one. That said, it would have been no problem getting to a 6a class on Friday. My alarm went off and I was like “Fuck it” and went back to sleep. That’s a no go. I don’t have to burn 500 calories in an hour, but at least get out and take a walk. There’s a walking trail around my office. It wouldn’t kill me to get out during lunch and walk around for half an hour or so. The place where I’m getting my hair blown out is an outdoor shopping center. I think I’ll go up there before my appointment and just walk around for a bit.
  3. Be creative: This could be anything from a pottery class to organizing a closet. I shit you not about the latter. I suppose figuring out where to put what can be creative. I’ve been on a writing kick the past few weeks. I wrote about a paragraph last night before I went to sleep. I have a ton of knitting and crocheting stuff around here. Even just knitting or crocheting a few rows while I’m idly watching TV counts. Not only does it use a different part of your brain, it leads to a sense of accomplishment. When you’re super depressed, finding a sense of accomplishment is like finding a tap dancing unicorn.
  4. Reconnect with friends: This one isn’t a daily task. She said try to spend time with friends at least every other week. I have plans to see one of my friends this afternoon so I can give her the Valentine’s present that’s been hanging around since the date. I have tentative plans with a very old friend in two weeks so he can give me some CDs that he burned for me forever and a day ago. The originals got lost somewhere in the shuffle and I think my music collection needs a little bit of a BSB detox (She says as she hits ‘repeat’ on their 2009 album [This is Us]).

There were some other circumstances that led to living with my parents for a few weeks. It worked out as a perfect “rehab” time. They might object to being called rehab. Whatevs. Point being, I’m in an entirely different location for several weeks. My therapist said a change of scenery does a lot up front. I can’t argue that point. My dad and I went to see Kingsman last night and that shook me out of it a bit. I also took the opportunity to tell him what’s going on. My mother doesn’t believe in depression like it’s Santa or something. He was supportive and told me to do what I need to do to get better. I’m very lucky that have a huge support network literally all over the country. I have plenty of people willing to encourage me, kick me in the ass, and help me up when I faceplant.

One funny story before I close out this one. Lily (my kitten) has turned into my little furry alarm clock. At 7 this morning, she was bouncing on the bed, planting on herself on my face so I would get up and feed her. Cat ass is exactly what I need to get the day going. Bad kitty. She made up for it later. I was sleeping on my stomach, she cuddled up next to my shoulder, and put her paw on my back like she was hugging me. I guess she knew I needed a little love. Then she went back to sitting on my face. A brief, shining moment indeed.

Take care of yourselves, fair readers. I’ll do my best to stay accountable in here.

XOXO!

Of internal monologues & the stories you don’t want to hear

Y’all, I’d be lying if I said things haven’t been really dark lately.

It’s not so much the “I can’t make myself get out of bed” kind of dark. It’s more the “Well, well, well, look who’s failing again” version.

You’re flaky. You’re unprofessional. You can’t be trusted to make the right choices. You’re not worthy. You can’t be trusted to make any choices, actually. Look at you, why aren’t you trying harder to lose those love handles? You spent money on what? Seriously? You want new, nice underwear because yours is falling apart? You know anything nice is just asking for it. No, really, you have *got* to do something about those hips. He’s just waiting until someone else better comes along. You’re disposable.

That’s been my internal monologue for the past week or so. I’m still perfectly capable of getting out of bed, putting on pants, and physically showing up. Mentally? I’m about a million miles away. Fortunately, my medication has kept stress related auras at bay. Hailey manifests herself in the form of being more defensive. Yesterday, my boss pointed out two specific instances where I’d been unusually defensive. I blamed it on the fact that one of my employees was out on medical leave this past week. It wasn’t entirely a lie. My other employee works far too slowly to be of much help. I was a one woman show doing the work of 4 people. I stayed late at work three of the four days I worked this week. I signed up for a class geared toward new(ish) managers. If nothing else, I can’t say I’m not making the effort.

I look in the mirror and I see her. I have to push to actually see myself. I’ve had confirmation that when your brain is struggling, so does your body. In my dance classes, I couldn’t perform basic moves that I know I can do. I felt like a giraffe on roller skates. I was in a class of three people one night, so I couldn’t just fade into the crowd. Not that I ever really fade into a crowd, but that’s not the point. Under normal circumstances, getting a correction is a good thing. It means the teacher is paying enough attention to stop and help with your technique. Instead of taking the correction as it was intended, I just withdrew into myself. The teacher is really nice & wants to make everyone a better dancer. Hailey didn’t see it that way. She put it as another tick mark on the running negative tally. It’s exhausting.

All that said, I am seeing my therapist this afternoon. I’m not going to do anything rash or hurt myself. I just wanted to put all of that out into the world. As hard as it is, yanking back the covers & letting in the light is the best thing to do. She could use some Vitamin D anyway.

XOXO!

Motivational Monday: Depression

My depression existed long before my abuse.

When I was 12, we moved from a (relatively) small town in Virginia to Atlanta. The Internet was still a novelty in those days (“Get off the phone! I need to use the Internet!”). My main method of communication with my friends were letters and phone calls. These were also the days of land lines where calling outside your area code came with a higher charge. Thus, my phone calls were limited to 30 minutes or less. I had a hard time making friends in my new school because almost all of the other kids had been classmates since kindergarten or first grade. The only people I really made friends with were the other 2 new girls. To say I had a hard time adjusting would be an understatement. I got better when the Internet & instant messaging became a thing. I had an unrestricted way to communicate.

I wrote a lot of poetry during those 2 years. I know most people make fun of poetry, but to my 7th grade self, it made the most sense. It was a way to get all my feelings out in a form I could relate to. I kept the book & reread it after I graduated high school. I wrote some very dark things. There was no danger of me killing myself, but my heart broke for that girl who had no idea what to do. She did the best she could with a lot of feelings that she didn’t fully understand. Then came the abuse & depression reared its scraggly blonde head once again. I told you that story to tell you this one…

I wanted to share a tool my therapist gave me to keep depression at bay. It’s not a solution by any means. Always, always listen to your health care provider (mental and / or physical) first. It’s just a trick that can help when you’re feeling particularly challenged. It’s called CESS. It stands for Creative, Exercise, Self Care, & Spiritual. Ideally, you hit all 4 on any given day. Realistically, it’s 3. I recently reimplemented this in my life & I noticed a shift. I keep a journal & at the end of the day, I write down each point. Some things even overlap. If I go to dance, that covers both Exercise & Creative. Depending on the style or the tone of the class, it can even cover Spiritual. Reading a book covers Creative because your brain has something else to chew on. You may choose to practice an instrument, paint, or write.

Self care & Spirituality are easily the most personal & sometimes the hardest to incorporate. Personally, I take self care very literally. Taking a shower, brushing my teeth, putting on make up, or using nice smelling lotion all cover that point for me. Self care for you could be taking a night off, watching TV, & focusing on yourself rather than someone else. It could overlap with exercise by taking a yoga class, for example. Spirituality is where I tread very lightly. For me, meditation right before I go to bed satisfies my spirituality. I was raised Catholic, but I don’t relate to it at all any more. I spent the weekend with my dad’s family who take their faith very seriously. My dad himself takes his faith very seriously, especially given how hard this year has been for him. Whatever allows you to feel a connection with the greater world, universe, or what have you, is exactly what you need to do.

CESS is the root of “cease” or “cessation” which means “to end” or “to stop”. It won’t stop depression in its tracks, but it can slow it down long enough to allow you to get back on your feet.

Motivational Tidbit Takeaway: Cease & desist

XOXO!

Of black dogs and dirty blondes

No matter how much therapy you’ve had or healing you’ve experienced, there’s a little piece of darkness always lurking around in your head. I happen to call mine Hailey. I haven’t heard from her in a while. Recently, she decided to pop in again. Sometimes it’s due to an actual stress and sometimes it’s just because it’s a day ending in “y”.

It started with the nightmares. Two full days of every time I closed my eyes, I had a nightmare. They ranged from mildly disturbing to waking up sweating making sure that I still had all my teeth and / or limbs. Then I started craving a margarita. Even in my previous life, margaritas weren’t my thing. If I happened to be at a Mexican restaurant or it was a Cinco de Mayo party, then sure. Left to my own devices, it was vodka or wine without a second thought. I could brush both of those off fairly easily. Then came the real kicker.

I wanted another tattoo.

I’ve been retired, as it were, for almost exactly 4 years. I started my final tattoo on September 11, 2010. That was my phoenix, a fitting end to that particular part of my life. I could picture the hypothetical new one in great and gory detail. It was a black and white line work tattoo of the famous Alice in Wonderland illustration with the Cheshire Cat. Mind you, I was never an Alice in Wonderland fan. It was on the back of my left calf, taking up almost the entire space. I saw it exactly how it would look completely finished and fully healed. That’s what jarred me back into reality. I wanted to hurt myself again. She was there, waiting patiently for me to see her.

Fighting her is like fighting a Chinese finger trap. The more I struggle to get loose, the tighter her grip becomes. Instead of pitching a fit and trying to beat her back into the dark recesses of my head, I talked to her. She presents herself very simply. She offers things that seem like simple choices, but are deeply destructive. It’s under the guise of helping me get through whatever it is that’s troubling me. She promises the darkness is a good place. After all, don’t gems grow in caves? It’s easier to blend in the dark. In the light, every harsh detail is visible.  Isolating myself from things and people I truly love is for the best. They can’t hurt me if they can’t see me. I listened to all she had to say before offering my response. She presents herself as a false goddess, offering the impossibility of a quick fix.

There is no such thing as a quick fix. She’s eloquent, to be sure. The darkness has done its part to shape me like a gem. I respect those solid crystals for what they are. It’s easy to hide in caves. It’s easy to shut down again. I won’t argue that point at all. I refuse to give up the light I’ve worked so hard to see. It’s not hers to take. It’s easy to take something from someone who doesn’t care. After all, they won’t fight you for something that doesn’t matter. It’s harder to take away something that matters. Of course, if that something is left outside after the walls have gone back up, she can take it and wander off without me being any the wiser. I don’t like that game. I’ve never liked to share my toys. Just read my kindergarten report card. I refuse to let her take away my light along with the people and things that I love. The wall has to stay down so I can protect what’s rightfully mine. It took a strong shake to see what she had already taken. In pieces, I can begin to take those things back. She and I will always coexist, for better or worse, ’til death do us part. All it takes is one little hole, one little rip, for me to walk away.

And then I cried.

I may have set myself up to be hauled off to the looney bin by giving my depression a corporeal form. At least I would be in good company. JK Rowling created the Dementors. Winston Churchill had his black dog. I have a green tinged, gaunt, greasy haired blonde named Hailey. For us, at least, it’s easier to discuss depression as a physical being. It’s also easier to communicate it to others who don’t suffer depression. Show, don’t tell. Perhaps the beasts of depression should have their own twisted support group as well.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I have spoken to my therapist and I will be seeing her next week. No need to fear that your faithful author will do something rash.  As always , this is a solely anecdotal story. I am not a mental health professional qualified to give advice regarding depression. I’m just here to offer the little bit I’ve learned.]

XOXO!

Of the lies we tell ourselves and not losing your way

Firstly, I know everyone realized Twilight Thursday didn’t appear this week. Life happens. It will resume next week. As I said, they can be very time consuming to write. It can take me up to a week to get the notes and quotes I want to include. I promise I haven’t abandoned it, but patience is a virtue. đŸ˜‰

It would be disingenuous for me to avoid the topic of Robin Williams’ suicide. I’ve been there. I’ve been standing with a knife in my hand thinking how quickly it would all be over. There wouldn’t be a big show. I could die quietly in my apartment with no one the wiser. People I love very much have been there. I have lost one friend to suicide. While I could never prove it, I know that’s what happened. One of the last things she said to me was “the next time I use, I’ll die”. About a week later, I got the call. She was a heroin addict who had been self medicating her depression and bipolar disorder for a decade. While she was in jail, a friend of hers died from an overdose. When she found out, it wasn’t long after that she was gone. With him gone, in her mind, she had nothing else to live for. Robin Williams admittedly suffered in the same way, self medicating with cocaine. He got the hang of not using, but that clearly didn’t stop the depression.

The irony is once a person is on medication and starts to feel better, the more likely they are to kill themselves. They’ve actually worked up enough energy to follow through, but their brain hasn’t balanced out enough to know it’s still a very bad idea. Unlike most warning labels which go through a litany of petty side effects like dry mouth, it *is* important to watch someone more closely who has just started anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds. This is doubly so in teenagers because their brains haven’t finished developing (does anyone’s?). When I was at my lowest, I didn’t have the energy to cry. I wanted to cry. I wanted to release everything stewing in my head. I couldn’t. Instead I would lie there accepting the numbness. There was a time I scoffed at the idea that feeling pain is better than feeling numb. Having been there, I now know better. Pain is a reminder that you’re still alive. I had someone watching me who was willing to help at a moment’s notice.

I am not a medical professional. I’m simply offering my thoughts and experiences. If you are suicidal, contact someone trained to help. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is the quickest and easiest way to get help. Most major areas will have a free or low cost clinic with medical services aimed at people with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Call a friend or a family member to sit with you, come get you, and / or drive you to a hospital or clinic. There ARE people who care. There ARE people who love you. Don’t listen to the lies your brain is telling you. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth it. Even if your accomplishment for the day is getting up, going to the bathroom, and getting back in bed, that’s something. You’re still here.

My thoughts and condolences are with the Willams family. There aren’t words to make it better. No amount of cards or flowers will ease the pain. Time will take the edge off, but it will be something they’ll carry with them forever.

XOXO!