x126 (token bipolar chick)

As a gay woman, I’m very used to being the “token” that people ask questions of, rather than going to (the much more polite) Google. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when people find out I have bipolar disorder, I become their token friend with mental health concerns and it’s all of a sudden my job to answer any questions they may have. Questions about medication, therapy, coping skills, you name it – I’ve been asked them. I’ve been asked to diagnose people with bipolar disorder or to give tips for other folks (who are always asking for a friend, not themselves) with this condition.

It can get a little annoying.

It most recently happened when I was in a public setting and took out some lotion to put on my hands. My Ativan prescription was in the bag that my lotion was in, and the questions started. “What’s that? Why are you on it? What does it do?” If someone was neurotypical, these questions would likely be considered rude (just like questions about a gay person’s sex life would be considered rude if asked of a straight person). But because the people who ask these questions know I have bipolar disorder, it’s all of a sudden fair game.

I guess all I can do is answer the questions with a bit of grace. And readers? Please refrain from asking these kinds of questions unless you know the person well enough to know they’re comfortable with it. I’m not your DSM. That’s what Google is for.

x125 (emdr)

I’ve started Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy to help cope with my repressed memories and PTSD. Since I don’t have any clear memories of traditional childhood sexual abuse, we’re focusing on traumatic memories that are clear (including my memories of non-traditional childhood sexual abuse), and we’re also focusing on the cognition that I am not “crazy” or “fucked up”. I carry a lot of baggage with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder – it’s something that’s internal and that isn’t curable, whereas diagnoses such as PTSD or borderline personality disorder come with a trauma history and even the potential to go away. I’ve internalized my diagnosis and tend to feel like it’s my fault, whereas a diagnosis like PTSD or borderline is something I can blame on someone else. Obviously it’s not healthy to assign blame to a diagnosis at all, so this is something else I’ll have to work on.

I’ve had people whom I normally keep in the dark about my mental health ask me lately how I’ve been doing, and I’ve been struggling with whether or not I should disclose the work I’m doing in therapy with them. I tend to get questions along the lines of “So when are you going back to school/work? When will you be off the disability?” (which, by the way, can we not? Those are incredibly personal questions and imply that the work I’m doing to cope with my disability isn’t worthwhile). To be honest, I don’t have the answer to those questions. I know that the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s legal department offers aid in seeking disability, so I know it’s not an unreasonable expectation to want to do some significant work surrounding my past trauma before I go back to holding down a job. I can’t imagine – being triggered as easily as I currently am, and doing this difficult work in therapy – having to balance and separate a work life from my personal life. I have memories of the end of my former position in retail, being in a fog and sneaking off with other coworkers to discuss painful cognitions or realizations as they came up. Even thinking about that time is difficult, because it was when I was beginning to try and process my trauma on my own and it wasn’t long after that I was imploring my former coworkers for a place to stay because I felt constantly triggered in my current residence.

I don’t know how long EMDR sessions will continue, and I don’t know how long it will take for me to find peace with the limited amount of knowledge I have. It’s been three years of this hell and I’m ready to be done. At least now I have a therapist who is willing to work with me, instead of wasting two years bouncing between people who weren’t a good fit for me and not having my concerns as a client respected.

I just want to be done.

x124 (proof)

My therapist tells me that it’s my own personal truth that matters most. However, that is not the response most people who are not sensitive to repressed memories take. When December happened, what I got so often was statements to the effect of “You need solid proof before you go to the police because these kinds of accusations could ruin someone’s life.” Even if I did have solid proof of being molested as a child, I very seriously doubt I would go to the police. My purpose in discovering information is to heal, not to prosecute. But at the same time, “my own personal truth” just isn’t good enough. How will I know if the children I plan on having in the future are safe around the people I suspect of hurting me? How will I reconcile my discomfort around people who supposedly care about me a great deal? My world has been turned upside down and I can’t shake the notion that I need solid proof to continue my healing process. I don’t want to risk cutting important people out of my life on a suspicion of something terrible. I want something concrete, but I may never get that. People who know things aren’t willing to divulge and I may never recover a memory. In the meantime, I’m left torn and confused. I often don’t know which would be worse: being right about my suspicions, or being wrong. Being in this limbo is its own unique hell on top of all of that.

I just want to know.

For my own piece of mind.

Is that too much to ask?

x123 (thanksgiving through the ages)

Today’s post will be a bit of a light one in lieu of the holiday. First, I’m going to link to past Thanksgiving posts, which are mostly recipes but one post about the suckiness of the holiday’s origins:

Thanksgiving Recipes, Part 1 (with pictures!)

Thanksgiving Recipes, Part 2 (with pictures!)

Thanksgiving Recipes, Part 3 (no pics here, sorry)

The Truth Behind Thanksgiving (the website that was linked in this post is no longer functioning; I’d recommend doing further research)

___

During my last therapy session, we started with EMDR therapy, which I’ll delve further into in a later post. One of my cognitions was the phrase “I am not crazy”, which stems from the idea of my repressed memory being part of a manic delusion being so bothersome to me. But you want to know what is, truly, a delusion?

That bitch Amy from Kitchen Nightmares.

My fiancee and I have become addicted to Kitchen Nightmares, and Season 5 is one of the only seasons not found on Hulu Plus. Hearing that the episode featuring Amy’s Baking Company was one of the most controversial, we knew we had to look it up. And while Amy doesn’t fit the clinical definition of delusional, she sure as hell fits the colloquial one. It’s good to know what “crazy” really looks like when I’m starting to feel down and out about my mental state. It gives me something to laugh at when I’m remembering that my thoughts and feelings are, indeed, valid.

x122 (two steps forward…)

Recently I’ve started food journaling again, and I’ve joined a 21 day clean eating challenge group on Facebook sponsored by a family member. I thought it would be a good way to pay more attention to what I’m eating and make sure I’m consuming a well rounded diet (without too much sugar), which is an important thing to pay attention to when you’re vegan. What I wasn’t anticipating was how triggering this would be. It’s been almost two or three years since the last time my EDNOS really affected me, so I was surprised that every time I reported to the group I had a sugary or salty snack I felt like a failure. Being a perfectionist, I carried a lot of latent guilt every time I admitted that my diet wasn’t 100% perfectly health 24/7. Realistically, I know that it’s ok to treat yourself sometimes, and that treats and unhealthy foods can be part of a balanced diet as long as you’re not overdoing it. I think what really got to me was the fact that I had to admit to other people that I wasn’t perfect. My perfectionist tendencies play a large role in my eating disorder – even now, I get upset and cranky when I don’t eat on schedule. Not because of low blood sugar, but because I spent so long learning how to eat properly again that I feel like a failure when I’m not doing it exactly right. When I was first diagnosed with an EDNOS, it was largely due to restricting and purging food; later on, however, it sort of morphed into something more psychological – I started to equate my body and my self with food. I’ve been through periods where if food tasted bad I felt like it was my fault and it was a direct result of my goodness or badness as a person. So it’s no surprise to me that when I have to admit to less-than-perfect eating habits, it makes me feel as though am less than perfect. And the thing is, this totally blindsided me. That’s the thing about triggers – you can go for years unaffected and then suddenly something puts you right back in the throes of it. Two steps forward and one step back, as they say.

x121 (tmi)

I remember when I was in the throes of it. The physical triggers as it first occurred to me that I had repressed a memory of childhood sexual trauma. One of the most painful and frightening things was being in the bathroom. I couldn’t shower, and I struggled using the toilet, by virtue of not wanting to acknowledge the existence of my genitalia. My vulva had betrayed me; if it wasn’t there, I reasoned, then I wouldn’t have been sexually abused and created a repressed memory. Any kind of contact between my legs made me sick to my stomach, so I avoided it like the plague. I remember putting off going to the bathroom for over twelve hours one day because the thought of wiping myself terrified me.

I also remembered trying to relay this information to a guy I knew. Despite the fact that he had told me things in the past such as “Those are very serious accusations; if you’re not currently in danger, then don’t worry about it; if it happened that long ago, and you can’t clearly remember it, then it doesn’t matter”, I had thought that maybe he would be supportive. He wasn’t. His response was, simply, “TMI, Aurora.”

What kind of fucking adult does that? I thought angrily. I was telling someone I thought I trusted something personal, something that I was really struggling with, something that was very seriously affecting me, and all he could say was, “TMI”? But, really, that’s just a reflection on the whole situation. There are too many people who, when a survivor wants to tell their story, refuse to listen. “TMI, Aurora.” Or, “I don’t believe you, Aurora.” Or, “Those are very serious accusations. You could ruin someone’s life if you talk about it, Aurora.” As though nobody cares that my life was and is being ruined. As though I’m suddenly the bad guy for wanting answers.

I’m at a point in my therapy where we’re peeling back the layers of the onion, as my therapist put it. She has me creating a timeline of before I was born up to now. I have no idea if I’m coming closer to any answers or if it will take more time, if it will waste another three years of my life. I’m continually debating whether or not I should maintain my relationship with my suspected abuser when I know others have cut him off, because I’m not sure if my future children will be safe around him. Because I’m not sure if something happened, but if it did, then why would I want a relationship with him to begin with? But even that decision becomes complicated. Because, what if he didn’t do anything, and I accused him of something that awful? Or, what if he did do something, but everybody takes his side? Then I’m forced to cut others out of my life that I care about because they care more about maintaining a rose colored view of our situation rather than supporting me as I struggle with my trauma. And it isn’t as if my goal is to “ruin someone’s life” or cause a rift – as it stands, I protect the identity of my abuser from most of the people I discuss the issue with, especially those that read this blog. I respect the boundaries of others who may know things about his history of abuse but refuse to tell me, because honestly, as much as I want answers, discussing whatever has happened – and something did, although it may not be sexual abuse – is obviously too painful for them.

So I wait. Approaching the three year anniversary of “that December”, as I refer to it. No closer to any closure. No closer to any reclaimed memories. No closer to any admittance of guilt, or any filling-in-the-blanks by people who know more about his history than I do. No closer to any fleeting feelings of sanity, or the mending of relationships that were ruined by this potential revelation. No closer to any kind of support from people who don’t want to answer questions, or who think that my goal is to blackmail or hold this over everyone’s head. I feel stupid, I feel wrong, I feel crazy, I feel like a liar. There was a time when I was so sure, so confident, so ready to heal. And that time is gone.

So I wait. Hoping, praying, that someday, instead of “TMI, Aurora,” or “Those are very serious accusations, Aurora,” I might hear, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Because isn’t that what every survivor wants to hear?

x120 (sad)

Winter weather.

It can be a bitch.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about snow and ice. What I’m referring to is closer to seasonal affective disorder. While the change in seasons has always been problematic for me (and my first two psych hospitalizations were in January), lately I’ve been noticing that if it isn’t sunny in the morning, my day is pretty much ruined.

Take today, for instance. Rainy, dark, and cool. I just couldn’t handle it. While I was able to get up to eat, take my meds, and take care of the pets, the rest of the day was spent in bed napping or awake but exhausted. My pricey several years old dawn simulator has been on the fritz (turns on or off on a whim, the time is always wrong no matter how many times I try to set it, the FM radio which only gets static turns on at inconvenient times), so I’ve been at the mercy of nature when it comes to getting up at a decent hour.

For about the past year and a half, I’ve been able to go to bed at ten P.M. and get up at ten A.M. pretty regularly. My new goal is to get up at nine A.M. consistently for a good amount of time and then push it back to eight A.M. Lately I’ve noticed that the fall weather has been seriously messing with this plan. But even when there are days where that extra hour I’m normally losing with my new goal is all I need to function and have a good day, there are other days when the lack of sunlight sends my mood into a pitfall and the depression and exhaustion just get to me. A lot of people who experience depression or the depressive lows of bipolar disorder but who don’t quite fit into the DSM’s definition of actual seasonal affective disorder struggle with this as well. And, honestly, I’m pretty sure a lot of neurotypical people experience seasonal blues also.

This is something I most definitely plan on bringing up to my med provider on our next visit. It’s just not practical to be at the mercy of the fickle New England winter weather and spend one or two days a week depressed and bed ridden. In the meantime, I’m hoping easing into wakefulness with listening to music in the morning and switching the light on right away will help.

How do you deal with the seasonal blues or SAD?

x119 (thankful for…)

Yes, I know it’s been a while, and I also know I’m a little premature for the ” ’tis the season to be thankful” that inundates the blog world come November. But bear with me here.

As I was lying in bed today, exhausted despite having done absolutely nothing, battling suicidal and otherwise negative thoughts, it occurred to me how thankful I am that we have an intersection of two things in place that allow me to sit in bed all day: the modern mental health movement that has battled stigma and promoted awareness of mental health concerns, and the modern feminist and anti-domestic violence movements. Because, friends, about 60 years ago, nobody would have said to me “I”m so sorry you were feeling suicidal and depressed; are you ok? Is there anything I can do?” 60 years ago my husband (because I couldn’t be engaged to a woman, let alone a black woman) would have called me lazy and beat me or at the very least smacked me around a little bit until I got up and did housework.

Those images from vintage magazines that tend to surface around Facebook – the ones with articles containing quips from various men and titles like “Is it appropriate to spank your wife?” absolutely horrify me. Being mildly paranoid, I tend to assume people post these articles on my wall to torment me because that is pretty much my greatest fear. More realistically, however, they’re probably just doing it because “oh gee isn’t it funny that people used to treat women this way?”

It’s actually not that funny. Especially not when I would have been the type of woman who was getting that treatment, because nobody would have understood what I was going through and assumed the worst of me. Especially not when I know of a woman in my family who was treated that way, simply because that was the mindset back then. The guy that was hitting her wasn’t the stereotypical domestic abuse monster that we would paint him as today. He simply said, “She needed to be smacked around a bit to get motivated; all women do.” Kind of like that quote from Sean Connery in Playboy that everyone always references. And the further you go back, the worse it gets. 100 years ago, I would be lucky to get the shit kicked out of me for being “lazy” around the house. The other alternative would have been an asylum or sanitarium, where you were given solitary confinement and beaten by strangers instead of your loved ones.

Maybe it’s a bit of a morbid mindset to automatically go to something so dark, but there it is. I’m lucky and blessed to live in a society and with a woman who permits self-care instead of encourages domestic violence and promotes the understanding of mental health. I dodged a bullet there.

x118 (stigma)

Last night at the church’s choir rehearsal (I’m back to church; I’ll discuss that in a later blog post) we discussed what would be appropriate to present to folks who are interested in joining the choir at our open house. It occurred to me momentarily to suggest a brief on how the choir is disability friendly for people who might feel they would be held back by being differently-abled. Certainly the choir isn’t friendly to all disabilities – in fact, at a first glance, it might appear that with the steps leading up to where the choir sings or the fact that we rely so much on auditory clues might mean that we’re not disability friendly at all. And while I have struggled a lot with my choir attendance, due in part to spiritual conflicts but also because of my social anxiety, I feel that it’s overall a good place for people who struggle with mental health conditions. As embarrassed as I am to be attached to the hip with my phone, I’ve never been reprimanded for sending a text when I was in crisis. No one has asked questions as I surreptitiously pop an anti-anxiety medication. Certainly it was awkward when it was discovered that I was holed up in the bathroom having a panic attack that reduced me to tears, but I was able to have the space to cope with what was going on. As I said, my attendance has been shoddy, but I’ve been allowed to come and go depending on how I’m able to cope with my social anxiety at the time. There’s never been any pressure to 100% commit or otherwise don’t come at all. 

But of course, I never suggested anything of the sort. Even as I’m working on this blog post now, I’m close to tears. If we were discussing a physical or visible disability, of course this sort of discussion would be welcome. But because of the stigma attached to mental health concerns, nobody wants to hear about how a small church choir can be a good social outlet for someone who can’t work and who gets nervous around large groups of people. I know that by not speaking up, I’m perpetuating that stigma and I’m not making it any easier for someone who’s in a similar position. It’s similar to the way I felt after Robin Williams committed suicide. I had an acquaintance post on Facebook that she had bipolar disorder and was on medication to help cope with the symptoms, and that it was important to be open about this sort of thing to reduce stigma and have less cases similar to that of Robin’s. And while I would feel comfortable posting something like that on my (relatively) anonymous blog or my even more obscure Tumblr, I didn’t have the heart to take that step on Facebook. I have friends who are able to post about personal things, and maybe because of the online community they have cultivated, they are supported by their friends and family. Posting a link to my own blog posts or something written by someone else carries the bonus of being one step removed from the information. But too frequently discussing my mental health struggles on a platform like Facebook? I just don’t think anyone wants to hear about it. It’s one thing to post an image saying “Keep this on your wall for one hour if you support those who struggle with depression or anxiety”. It’s quite another to open up about your own personal struggles with these things. 

Certainly if someone were to ask, or mention that they weren’t sure they could handle the pressure of joining the choir, I would be open. But I’m not yet brave enough to take the first step myself. Perhaps someday. 

x117 (questions)

When I was first struggling with my repressed memory, someone I trusted told me, “Maybe there is no appropriate way to ask about something inappropriate that happened.” Someone I didn’t quite trust told me to “be selfish, ask questions, and not be afraid of people’s responses.” The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center supported my struggle to question. My therapists at the time did not. I was told that there was no point in asking because an offender was likely to lie. I was told that making accusations was inappropriate if it turned out I was wrong. All I know is that, should someone ever approach me and ask if I ever sexually abused them when I did not, I would never be mad. Never. They, in my mind, would have every right to question and I would offer them whatever help I was able. I would treat them with kindness and compassion. I would never accuse them of trying to ruin my life. I would be kind.

Last week I received a phone call from someone who may know something, if not about my history of abuse, about the history of the abuser I suspect. I was so tempted to ask them questions. Tell them that I was diagnosed with PTSD. Ask them what he meant when he said, “Something happened. The other two people involved were able to forgive him; I was not.” Ask them what they knew about December and ask them if they had any information that could help me figure out what was going on.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t have the courage.

I suppose I could ask my new therapist if it’s worth it to reach out. If it’s worth it to contact people who may know something about the history of the abuser. If it’s worth it to ask questions at all. I’m just afraid of being told “no”. Maybe it’s not even that – I’m just afraid that I’ll never have any answers at all. I don’t want to be accused of trying to ruin someone’s life or blackmail someone.

I just want to know.