Being not suicidal

A few suicides in the news this week. My first thought — “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” ?? … unfathomable hopelessness, intentional self-destruction … really, these talented, fortunate people?

The trouble with living with depression/anxiety is the lens. You see through a lens that is distorted and dim and smudged and cracked.  The images coming through that lens bring only despair, perhaps terror.  You try and keep on trying to see light and beauty and goodness.  The trying is beyond exhausting.  It takes everything you have just to draw the next breath.

In rational moments, you know that you have talents and gifts that give you great pleasure in sharing … you know you have people who truly care for you, maybe admire you .. you know you have people who you love deeply … you know you have passions that give you hope and meaning and joy and wonderful, life-enriching challenges to overcome … but they are all on the other side of that damaged lens.   Even if you’re rational, knowing isn’t seeing, or feeling.  You can’t see or feel the other side clearly, or at all–all you have are cracks and smudges and distortions and darkness and demons. That’s all that can exist in your vision.

I’m an inactive member in this club.  I try to keep my distance, but now and then I wander into the banquet room at Downer Denny’s and attend a meeting.   Because I’m “diagnosed,” I guess I have a lifetime membership so I’m obligated to make an appearance on occasion.  There are those rare times when I’m actually there, present and accounted for, participating, squinting  through the same lens, and unable to focus my truly grace-full reality through the melancholy and fear.

So far, I always come to eventually, and realize that all I really want to do is play hooky from the meeting and scarf down a Grand Slam in the normal seating area.  And Thank God.  I’m rescued by the thought of pancakes and sausage and biscuits and gravy.

Anyway, there is nothing anyone can say or do to fix our lens for us. Some of us can bandaid our lens with therapy and meds and practice and duck tape and prayer and knitting and writing and good food and horses and working and the knowledge/hope/faith that Something Greater than ourselves is still at work and will be faithful to complete that work as Promised. I’m on that subcommittee in the club, and fortunate in the way that the Something continually reminds me that even this, the come-and-go darkness, can be a gift should I choose to accept it as that – “… give thanks in ALL circumstances …”

Others will find nothing that will bring light and clarity and joy, nothing, not even love and family and beauty and freedom and wealth and, really, perhaps exactly because they already have everything this world can offer … they come to the point where they have nothing left.

Nothing left to do except to go to sleep.

I pray their journey is bathed in light and grace.  I pray for their peace.

physiology 101

My dear friend of 40 years and fellow blogger writes  about life-changes she is seeking, and how she is trying to pay more attention to her gut instincts and give the constraints of pure logic a bit of rest as she searches for new directions.

I liked her post and it made me think (as her writing always does, bless her) … I was reminded of something I have done and should do more of … so I post a rephrase of my comment to her here:

My instincts don’t lie in my gut, I don’t think. The things that thrive in my gut are panic, anxiety, dread. Also extra pounds. I would just as soon not know about my gut – where it is, what it’s doing or thinking, what it wants to eat, how it is getting along with the size of my pants, etc.  

My question is to my heart — the soul part, not the bloody pumping part. “Are you there? How do I make you grow? How do I live out your desires? ”

One thing that has helped me in moving along when I have been stuck is visualization. Draw the image of where I want to be, who I want to be, what I want to do. Make the image as real as I can. I write it out in words, draw and diagram pictures of it. Keep looking at it, keep it in my head at all times. It becomes part of me, my conscience, my sub-conscience. I start moving in the direction I visualize as if by magic.

I learned this awhile back from a friend who shares some of my fears around horseback riding … specifically the performance anxiety that comes with competing, and my huge fear of jumping. I started to ride the perfect dressage tests or hunter classes in my head, over and over. I even visualized burps in the rides and how I would ride through them. In my car during my commute, in the shower, during boring meetings at work, whenever I could let my mind safely wander away from reality, I would put in my head the vision of where I wanted to go.

Build the vision and live it in your head. What are you doing? What kind of person are you? How are you dressed? What is your daily routine like?

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It is just like practicing for a speech or a difficult conversation, really.  Write the speech and then present it to an imaginary audience.  Have the audience throw some rotten tomatoes and then visualize how to deal.

I have my current passion, the Book, storyboarded on the wall of my home office — Will start posting pieces of it for my Fun with Murder Readers team …Googled images of landscapes and buildings and artifacts that figure into the story — timelines of events — an organization chart of the key characters’ interrelationships  — photos of people who look like my characters.    I am still looking for the character that will fit into Tommy Lee Jones.  Gotta have Tommy Lee Jones in the eventual movie screenplay, dontcha know.

grace in grief

what is happening with me lately is rediscovery of the person i used to be before panic and anxiety took over.  i don’t know exactly when that happened, but i remember the first panic episode that propelled me to the local ER occurred during the same general timeframe as the big Loma Prieta earthquake in ’89.  20-plus years ago.  Really?

not that i am cured — far from it.  i think a new set of meds is managing the symptoms pretty well most of the time … still, there are spikes, sharp intense punches of it that pretty much just flatten me,  maybe once a week.   but most days, when i first wake up,  i am normal.

of course, understand that normal for me is probably not normal for most people.    normal on my planet is simply the absence of panic — the absence of racing heart and heavy pit in stomach  and floating-outside-of-body feeling and weak knees and racing oh-no-something-is-terribly-wrong-or-about-to-be thoughts and absolute certainty that i am going to be forever lost.

i am continually taking my normalcy “pulse”  …  that is, asking my Other Half — are you there?  are you going to bug me today?  or are you far from me and i am free to live my life today?

visualize a deep gorge between two mountains.  my life path follows the edge of the gorge … some days the path winds itself  dangerously close to the edge, other days the path leads away from the edge and i am safe until the path heads back to the edge.  on very bad days i fall over the edge.

no matter where the path is leading, every minute of every day I am aware that the abyss exists and is near.

Dr. C asked me in a recent therapy session how much time I spend not thinking about it — that is, how many minutes of the day do I go about the business of living without being consciously aware of my disorder.

My answer:   None.  I am never not thinking about it.

Therapy with Dr. C is building my toolbox of tools  I can use to manage it.  Now understand  I have no concept of tools — what they are, how to use them — so when I think of the tool I need to redirect my path away from the gorge,  I imagine a hand-held battery charged and Internet-capable combination machete/bulldozer, turbocharged (whatever that means), with a pretty parasol to shade my head, a built in laptop with two very large flat panel screens (so I can watch YouTube on one while on-line shopping for lamps on the other), and a comfy cargo area big enough for two big dogs  and two horses to keep me company while I’m multi-tasking at trailblazing, YouTubing and shopping.   Clearing the path in the direction I want — farther and farther away from the edge of the abyss.

With this tool and others in  steady practice,  I am now being asked by Dr. C to try to see the panic as a gift.  This is very nutty to me.  I tell her so.

“Dr. C, you are as nutty as me if you think that I will ever be able to see this thing as a gift.”

“Carol, I know this sounds nutty.  Think of it like fighting nutty with nutty.”

Hmmm.  Ok, now that makes sense.

So I have been practicing.  When It comes, I invite It to stay for awhile and I just let It be.  I think to myself — “Ok, here we go.  Just be nutty.  Breathe.  It’s ok. “

I let all of the physical symptoms occur and I keep breathing.  I allow all of the swirling oh-no thoughts to bounce off the walls in my head without judging or analyzing them.   I try to just listen to them, and ask “What is this gift you are trying to give me?”

And then sometimes, miraculously, freedom.  Not from the attack itself, but from the  fear of it.   And that … that is the endless loop that has to be broken — the fear of fear.

I’m actually doing it.  Not always, but sometimes.  Sometimes is good enough.

The fallout … now that the fear is taking up less space in my energy field, and being excruciatingly slow about it mind you, other places are opening up.  Places I haven’t visited in a long time.  I am seeing the person I haven’t been in a long time.   The Carol I liked being, what seems now so long ago.

The voice shrieking at me in the midst of the panic is hers.

The gift – she is still there. And making a hell of a lot of noise.

And so I grieve.  For me and for her.  But even though I grieve for spending so many years not her, I am learning how to listen through the panic and recognize her voice.

I can see the possibility of becoming her again.   Indescribable, unspeakable comfort.

Grace.

teaching my bully how to tango

First, do not assume that I know how to tango.  I do not.

I do not do any sort of dancing.   I am not a dancer by any stretch of any definition of dancer, to which my dear ex-husband, who spent countless Spanish-expletive-filled  hours trying to teach me salsa, cha-cha, merengue,  would enthusiastically attest.  If he could.    He is in Heaven now.  But probably still making fun of my dancing from Way Up There.

Carlos (the dear ex) to me, repeatedly:  “Stop dancing like a white girl.  You look like an f-ing dork.  Dance like a Puerto Rican.”

Me,  repeatedly:  “¡Callate, pendejo!“*

   *”Shut up, asshole!”

Nowadays, if there were a fat chance of dance in my life, my choice would be the Argentine Tango.  Because it  looks graceful, passionate, intense, angry.  And because I like the outfits.

Teaching my bully how to tango is what Dr. C, my psychologist,  told me in last week’s session to do when panic/anxiety strikes.  Well, she didn’t really say that, exactly.  I don’t think.   I’m not quite sure what she said, exactly.  Because I was in the middle of a big fat full-on P/A assault during that session.    Which, it occurs to me now, was weird, since you’d think It would be so scared of Dr. C’s safe, comfy, Pottery Barn-ish office with those big Doctor certificates hanging on the walls.  It also occurs to me that It must have been fun for Dr. C.    You know, sort of like when Sybil turned into Peggy or whoever right in front of Dr. Wilbur.  Or whoever.

In any event,  I was not able to focus well.   I do remember that Dr. C made me stare at her potted fern and describe it in great detail while focusing on where my elbows were.  Or something like that.

My take-away from that session:  When It is Bad, I need to do something random — change it up.  Instead of  parking my butt somewhere overthinking about It, I need to get up and do something I would not normally do.  Like look at a fern.  Or think about my elbows.   Or wash the dishes.

When It strikes hard, it feels sort of like a crazy wild jitterbuggy dance that my mind is doing with my body.   The initial strike is an intense, out-of-the-blue, inexplicable  “Oh, NO!”  to which my stomach responds with a sudden, rapid nose-dive down to China or thereabouts.  My mind follows with, “Uh-oh, there is something terrible …”   My body says, “Ok, here comes some adrenaline so you can fight or run away from the something.”  My mind acknowledges      ”  … but I don’t know what  …”  Body says, “but just in case it is something even more terrible than you are thinking, here’s some more adrenaline.”   Mind:  ” Now I know there is something wrong!  Heart is racing, head feels like it is going to explode, I’m shaky, weak-kneed, maybe I am getting dizzy?  … something is REALLY wrong …”  Body:   “We need more adrenaline then …”   Mind:  “It’s getting worse, heart is pounding, I’m going to pass out or worse,  …  what if I’m having a stroke … or what if I am hallucinating, not where I think I am, what if I am on the freeway right now but I think I am at home (or vice versa)?  … ”   Body:  “Now you’re really scaring me!  We need A LOT MORE adrenaline …”

You see how it fuels itself.  That’s panic, my jitterbug.   But without great swing music.

What my psychologist is teaching me is that my partner in this dance, It  —  a nameless, faceless bully, cornering me, keeping me trapped in my bottom train  —   is born of combination of things … my life history, my overpowered and oversensitive neurological wiring, my brain chemistry, how I see myself in relation to other people.

And just like a bully, It feeds on my fear.  The more I cower in the face of It, the more pleased with Itself it gets, and the more power I give It.   It starts the music, It drags me out to the dance floor, It twirls and whips and be-bops me all over the place.

Dr. C says I can’t avoid It, because It is part of me.  I need to stay out on the dance floor and keep dancing with It.   But I can change it up.  Do something random.    Pick different  music.   Make different moves.    Throw some new steps in … slower ones, more deliberate, more graceful.  Do the tango.

It will surely keep trying to whip me back up into a jitterbug, at least for awhile.  I’m hoping It will eventually get bored and go do something else.   Like the dishes.

what I did on my winter vacation

I survived.

Not without many tears and complaints launched Upward, naturally.  But I get that He gets it.

Soon after my Mo’s passing in late October, something came along to consume 150% of my time and  focus  — my job, and specifically an impossible 12/31/12 deadline for a huge project delivery.  A death march, as we call it in my line of work.

I survived that too … met the deadline, passed the subsequent audit, tossed it all into the company Bonus pool, and even had a few Bonus drops splash back on me …

… but not without developing extreme crankiness about all things Work and even more extreme disdain for my management.  A few weeks after the beginning of the year, at peak of crank, having worked eight days in row, 12-14 hours days, on the stupidest shit my “Can we chat?”-at-any-late-hour-they-felt-like-it-management could dream up,  my phone rang at a late-hour, flashing Caller ID Guess Who.  Ignoring the air raid siren screaming in my head, I answered.  The bomb exploded a short fuse later.   I hung up on Guess Who and fired off my  resignation.  Oops.  Maybe I should have lined up another job first.

Utter peace and contentment and the joy of having something real to worry about (money) reigned on my planet for a few unemployed weeks, then another organization in the same company hired me back.  The Grace of finding a job quickly came along with a decent sign-on bonus, no loss of tenure, a line of work I love, much less management ineptitude, much less actual work, a bit less salary, and a solid and pleasantly nutty team to play at work with.

The bad news is that anxiety and panic are still my near-constant companions.  Worse since I lost Mo, yes, but I understand why.  The toolbox gets a lot of examination, restocking, reorganizing.  Drugs are necessary.  The good news about this bad news is that I am now in therapy with a psychologist and some of her insight I find completely fascinating.  I am not buying all of it quite yet, but some of our talks are very enlightening.  She is part Native American and she brings some of her understanding of spirituality into her therapy, and my spirit connects with that.  My spirit also connects with her taste in jewelry — turquoise and silver.  There will be many posts about what I am learning from her.

To conclude this catching up episode, there is a new horse.  Actually he is an old horse, borrowed from a local trainer who loves him to pieces but doesn’t have time for him.  His name is Legend and he is sweet, sound, unflappable, work-loving, people-loving.   Hanoverian, 17-2 hands (extra-large),  patient, quiet, affectionate and willing to partner with me to work on low level dressage while I wait for my next jumping horse and the $ to pay for him/her to fall from the sky.  In the meantime, I am enjoying building a partnership with the Big Boy and learning new stuff about horses.  Legend is a completely different being than Mo, but he is turning out to be a patient and agreeable teacher like Mo was.

the Big Boy ... upp three steps, then tippy toe, then jump into the stirrup.

the Big Boy … up three steps, then tippy toe, then jump into the stirrup.

Legend's first dressage show.  He was a good boy.  I was a sucky rider.

Legend’s first dressage show. He was a good boy. The rider (me) sucked. But we made it through our test without any unscheduled dismounts.

Life has been much worse.

The Upside-downside to being Nutty(er than usual), or More Fun (Way!) with Math

I don’t know about you but I’m getting a bit bored with the whole anxiety/panic disorder topic.  Not to mention the whole anxiety/panic disorder thing (IT) itself.   Honestly, writing about IT has helped some.   Up until now, when IT has started to Thoroughly.  Piss. Me. Off.

Today’s status:  Still here, still have some of IT symptoms, dealing.  But I have a buttload of work to do before my vacation next week.  So the increase in my usually barely tolerable work stress is making life a bit more enjoyable.

Now, on to the Upside.  Which is a Downside.  But a good one, especially given the whole freaking point of this freaking year and this freaking blog.

Since August 1, I have lost

♦     18 pounds     ♦

(204 to 186 today).  My last published weight log showed my high point at 202 in March. That was not the eventual high point.

All of my not-so-hard work was paying off in the reverse.   Which was not the trend I wanted to publish, which is why I took down the weight log,  although I did continue doing and woe-is-me-ing weigh-ins March through July.

(Aside:  Rather than Outright Lie, I prefer to Withhold Comment.  Sort of like when a  friend asks me if they look (good or bad or smart or stupid) (doing or wearing or dating) (something or somebody).   I do not want to Lie but I do not want to tell the Truth, either.  So I WC, which is similar in concept to being PC,  but of course without the P.    Since I try not to do or say anything whatsoever that has the remotest chance of having the label P(olitical) attached to it)).  (I love parenthetical comments, as you know.  I think this wins the Most Parentheses Ever In One Paragraph In My Blog award.)  (But I am more in love with run-on sentences than anything, as you also know.)

And no, I do not think achieving the reverse of desired results had anything at all to do with  IT, the Thing I Am Tired Of  Writing About.  Being overweight does not cause me IT.   Being overweight  just Pisses. Me. Off.

Anyway, I told you I was feeling different and bits and pieces were rearranging and my underwear was getting large enough to hold both the Boob Section and the Other End.

I think that I get the biggest kick out of the fact that I have lost a good bit of weight while I am still on Paxil (holding at 10 mg, terrified to step down again until I get a better handle on things).

My formula appears to be:

<20 gr carbs (very little sugar/starch) +

>50 oz liquid +

(30 mins cardio 5-6 days/wk)

= – 18 (in 2 months).

Smug.  

Hell Hath Another No Fury* …

… like a claustro-socio-group hug-execuspeak-“now pick a person seated at your table as your partner for the next activity”-phobe trapped in a gigantic Hyatt Regency ballroom with no windows, seated smack dab in the middle of 600 other Company Conference lemmings all shouting at the same time at the tops of their lungs because they can’t be heard over recorded Adele belting out “Rolling in the Deep”  at concert-mega-decibel-belt, this choice of music I have no doubt chosen to elevate the Hip factor of the event, the chooser oblivious to the fact that Hip Company Conference has been, by the laws of physics or something, long ago rendered inexorably an Oxymoron of the Highest Order.

there are no words

Don’t get me wrong.  Adele is one of very few contemporary artists that I enjoy listening to. In fact, next to Bonnie Raitt she is my favorite female singer.  Not just because she can sing.  But also because she pulls off gorgeous-with-pudge so very beautifully.

TURN IT UP.

awesome performance.

How.  Ever. I know what you are up to, Company.   Don’t treat me like a moron and try to snake-charm me with Adele.   The message of this two day Leadership Conference is what the message always is:   Do More With Less.  You can call it New Company Culture, Agile and Nimble, Trusted and Trusting, WTFed and WTFing, whatever the F  you want to call it.  You didn’t need two days of me held captive in a hotel next to a freeway with sirens and too many people and too much noise and too much talking and not enough air and not getting my real work done and counting and recounting and splitting and resplitting my few remaining Xanax doses¹, that Safeway won’t auto-refill, because my nurse practitioner, who put zero refills on the Rx even though she wrote the Rx as “1/2 to 1 pill twice daily as needed”  and who “wants to see me” before she oks what she already f-ing prescribed, and who is getting fired btw, for that.

All you need to do, Company,  is say “Carol, Do More With Less.”   And I will try, since you are the Company and you hired me to work for you.

But working for you does not include attending conferences at which I cannot actually do my real work.  Particularly since I stepped down to 10 mg Paxil, where the roller tends to be on the downhill side of the coaster when I am not getting the peace and comfort I get from being stressed out by my real work.

The nutshell, which I know normal people usually do first:  I rendered myself inexorably AWOL for all but 90-stuck-in-ballroom-basket-case-minutes of the two-day conference.  I worked in my hotel room.  Or parked myself and my laptop inconspicuously in an out of the way sports bar with windows one floor above the gigantic ballroom and therefore out of clear view of the Conference Attendees Police, and worked there.  Also successfully AWOLed myself from the Dinner and Party-to-Follow segments of the Agenda, via Room Service.   Which was pretty good.

I thought I had Gotten Away With It too.  Until they unloaded us from the Company-provided bus after the ride home.  My luggage was not on the bus.  Because I didn’t put it on the bus.  I assumed that since there were courteous and friendly Luggage Dudes who took my luggage from me, carefully tagged it and carefully stored it in the Awaiting Bus Departure luggage area, there was an implied commitment on the part of the Luggage Dudes  that they would also carefully stow it on the bus for the trip home.  But, because I was AWOL, I missed an announcement during the Closing Ceremonies or whatever that had something to do with attendees putting their own luggage on the bus.

Thankfully, the bell captain found my forlorn forgotten bag in the Awaiting Bus Departure area and the concierge is shipping it to me.  At my expense.

The moral of this story:  If you go AWOL, you will have to do without your favorite moisturizer for a few days.

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* previous Fury

¹  ala  Raiders of the Lost Ark, Marian Ravenwood (trapped with Indiana Jones in the Well of Souls, surrounded by thousands of poisonous snakes kept at bay only by a single torch on its last remaining sputters):  “Indy …  the fire is going …. OUT …”