Monday, August 30, 2010

Scientologists and psychic messages: memories of psychosis

Yesterday I stopped by a frozen yogurt shop on my way to the library in downtown Clearwater. Clearwater, Florida is known for two things: its beach that draws in tourists from around the world, and its Scientologists. This city is the worldwide headquarters for Scientology's "FLAG" volunteer organization, and is home to two resort hotels for Scions to come and waste their money being brainwashed about Xenu and how they need to donate more money for more classes to reach a higher level in the Scion hieararchy. I'm not a fan of Scientology. I parked my car outside the Coachman building - home to FLAG's headquarters, I believe- because it's right next to the yogurt shop. Any shops on that street have a hard time staying in business because downtown is a ghost town thanks to the Scientologists. People don't want to be there.

Walking on that street, for a moment, just a moment, I thought they were watching me. I thought maybe the woman in the yogurt shop who offered me her boyfriend's phone number because he's a mechanic and might be able to fix the air conditioning on my car, was actually a Scion trying to get my phone number to pull me back into the organization. Scientology's a cult. I don't care if anyone reading this disagrees; I am quite sure of this statement and its truth. I have read their literature, and also read a lot of detailed reports of their criminal acts and unethical practices in the St. Petersburg Times, plus, for a while I was into reading about the works of Anonymous - the anti-Scientology movement that started up a couple years ago.

But, I digress. The reason I'm mentioning this is that the thought, if only for a moment, that they were after me again, as I used to think they were all the time, was a warning. My brain is on edge. If I have a thought like that now, it indicates I'm on the verge of delusions again, and I have to make note and pay attention to such warnings. I have to keep track to see if I continue to have such thoughts, and if I do, I will need to talk to my ARNP (doctor) about the medication and possibly needing a change. For right now, I'm not having many of these thoughts, so that is a good thing.

Going anywhere in downtown Clearwater brings back awful memories of my past life there, five years ago. I walked the streets, following cues that led me to different places. I tried to join the FLAG organization and got kicked out of their building. I thought I was the reincarnation of L.Ron Hubbard frequently, and I also felt that I was closely connected to Tom Cruise. I read a lot of Scientology literature, and I believed that I was born into this Illuminati/Scientology world, where I was meant to use my psychic powers to fulfill some unknown purpose.

I went to the Publix grocery store on Ft. Harrison in downtown Clearwater recently, just stopping to pick up a few items. I was instantly reminded of the times when I wandered around that parking lot, trying to find someone who would drive me to whatever place I was supposed to go, and not knowing what place that was. I went up to one woman sitting in her car. She said to me, “I know you’re Anderson’s dog, and he’s on vacation. He should be keeping you under control. You should be on a leash.” This statement made perfect sense to me. Obviously, this statement wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, including the woman from whose mouth I heard it, since that was not what she actually said. In retrospect, I imagine she said something to the effect of “get away from me”, to this strange, skinny and confused girl wandering a parking lot, and looking more like a homeless person than one of the Scientologists who lived in the neighborhood.

Anderson, to explain briefly, was my “owner”, as well as my husband. Anderson Cooper, that is. In the Illuminati world, in which I lived, I was ‘married” to him, but I was also his “pet” because there was a hierarchical structure to this world. This marriage and ownership was done on another spiritual plane; it was a psychic relationship. Trying to explain psychotic delusions by using logic is rather futile, but suffice it to say, I was a very confused person.

Walking into the Publix, I recalled the day I reported to work there. I believed in this brave, new world I was in, that people did not actually “work” for money. People showed up to places to work when they were told to do so by psychic messages, and then they won their material goods by performing mental feats. So Publix was one of the places my messages told me to go to and work. While I walked into the backroom of the store, found an apron, put it on, and made my way behind the deli counter, without anyone stopping or questioning me, it did occur to me that I had no idea how to work in a deli, and that the people who were not in tune with the psychic messages might think I was doing something wrong, and perhaps order me to leave. Confused by this small bit of reality that I could still glimpse, I took off the apron and left. I don’t really remember if anyone stopped me before I made my way out the door. It’s quite possible they did.

I am lucky I did not have the money to actually get involved as a member in the Scientology cult where they love to use the slogan, "Psychiatry Kills", and they forbid members from taking medications. I was not on medication when I was in that psychotic state living in a shack near the Scientology buildings, in order to be close to them, and I was completely delusional and constantly in dangerous situations. I was also frequently suicidal, and my suicide attempts definitely could have killed me. There is great danger in the beliefs of that cult for people who have mental illnesses, and I escaped that world and that psychosis due to proper psychiatric assistance.
I have many stories like this that I can tell, and I sometimes think of writing an article for publication about some of them. I wonder if it would help educate the public about Schizoaffective Disorder and related illnesses like Schizophrenia, and I have always considered myself a writer, although I don't often write for publication. I wonder if I could help someone who is out there, feeling alone, stuck in psychosis, and maybe let her know that she is not alone and that she is suffering from an illness for which there is help.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Advocacy: creating the changes you want to see with NAMI

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

-Margaret Mead

My local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) consumer council used to be a group of four to five people who got together at libraries or Denny's for meetings and sometimes went on outings like trips to museums. Other than that, we didn't accomplish much, under the leader we had at the time, and we didn't have enough goals. I was unhappy with the situation for two years, before others in my NAMI chapter who were past presidents and board members, not consumer council members, got concerned about the way things were being run, and some changes were made. We sort of reconvened the council into a new, organized, and vibrant part of our NAMI chapter this past January or so, with help from the executive director and a past president of our NAMI chapter.

Since we reinvented our council, I have been the acting secretary. We had no elected officers until today, when we finally picked a chairperson, who I am sure will do a great job. Our council does a number of projects.

The favorite one of mine is an idea I came up with months ago. We are creating resource packets, with listings of mental health centers, public health clinics, food pantries, homeless shelters, etc, for people just being discharged from local hospitals.

I've seen people discharged with nowhere to live, and I've been discharged into an assisted living facility that was horrible, before, so this is something I feel is important. Since we started discussing doing this months ago, the idea has become known by the NAMI chapter board of directors who are apparently happy about this plan too. There was, however, some disagreement about how many pages the packets should be. I feel they should be thorough. Someone else thought they should only be two pages long. Finally, today we came up with a compromise, and this list I've worked hard on - which was almost trashed - is going to be used, as well as some additional information I'm going to add to it.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this project. It is a tangible, fulfilling way to make a difference in the lives of people with mental illnesses in our community. People who are in the same hospitals I have been in, and in the same situation of being lost and needing help. We will be helping them, and we will be actively combating the stigma and silence that enshrouds mental illness, by reaching out, and saying, "We have walked in your shoes, and here is where you can go for help."

With the packets, there will be a small brochure, for which I wrote the copy, about our consumer council, and our consumer support groups which are called NAMI Connections, so that these folks coming out of hospitals will be able to join us in our advocacy, our education efforts, and our support groups.

At the meeting today, was the new president of our chapter, and he said to me, "I can see it in your eyes, how fired up you are about helping people." And that made me feel good, because, honestly, I am. I don't have a ton of time and energy, but what I do have, I am trying to put to good use. Another project I came up with was to collect books, puzzles, and magazines for people in local hospitals. That hasn't been so easy to pull off, as most of our small group of council members do not have cars, and I have found I don't have much time during the day to deliver stuff to hospitals. But we'll work this out eventually. In the meantime, we're going to get these packets done, because I'm going to work hard to finish them and then the rest of the council will overview my list and we'll come up with the final version to have printed.

I almost didn't go to this meeting today. I had gotten discouraged when, at our last meeting, people seemed to think my list was too long and should be discarded, but when I got the chance to explain why I felt we needed to include all of the information on the list I had come up with, today, the others agreed with me. So now, I am very happy I went to this meeting. I'm also glad we're getting more organized. We have a chairperson now. We have a person who does a lot of work on small fundraising efforts that have raised money for our work. We have people who teach NAMI's Peer to Peer classes. We have discussed something else I want to do, which is a teach-in, or small, local conference about mental illness, and I hope that we will do that in the future.

When I think back to the days of my isolation in my psychosis, with no real help, and with no real idea of what to do with myself or where to go for assistance, I always think, if there had been someone there who understood...and I want to be that person who is there, and who does understand, for another person with a mental illness who is going through a scary time. We have nothing without each other. Humankind has plenty of evil in its history, but we also have plenty of strength. I do believe that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, and that people are mostly good at heart, and that it is important to take the time to walk in another person's shoes before casting judgement or ignoring their plight.

I want to share hope with people who are homeless, like I was at two different points in my life, or who are without treatment and don't know how to get it, or who are in need of disability benefits or food stamps and don't know where to turn. I want to be that light in the darkness, the hand extended to say, "you're not alone". Many years ago, I had a book called, You Are Not Alone, and I still think that was the best title for a book on depression that there could be. Mental illness can be so isolating, can feel so shameful, can leave one with such low self-esteem she has no idea how to make friends.

It's important for those of us who are coping with mental illnesses to work together to combat that silence, the stigma, and the isolation. We can change the world, and we must, because, nobody else is going to do it for us.

I love NAMI, and I love our consumer council here, and the people who are so dedicated to changing life for those of us with psychiatric disorders, and for educating the ignorant. I am so grateful to have this organization and these people in my life, and to have the opportunity to create change through this group. If you have a mental illness, or a family member has one, I highly suggest you check out the NAMI chapter in your area. NAMI has excellent resources, and they are all free. It can be a very supportive atmosphere, and it's also a way to get into the fight for equality. (Edit to add: NAMI is only available in the U.S., but I knwo there are similar groups throughout other parts of the world, such as Befrienders International).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

unbearable weight

There was a time when I seriously believed that if I ever became overweight, I would commit suicide. That's how anorexia thinks. But now, having been overweight for about 3 1/2 years, I guess I should be used to the situation. I'm not. I have not ever, really, been comfortable in my body in the past four years - not that I was all that comfortable in it when I was skinny to begin with. But really, however shallow this may sound, I challenge anyone who has lived through a decade of anorexia, to go through having to take a life-saving medication in order to get through her days while this same medication makes her clinically obese and not get exasperated by this situation. I'm talking about doubling my body size, in a span of three years. I gained 100 pounds, in two - three years. That is a lot of weight.

I can't take this anymore. I started going to the gym again a couple weeks ago, and lost four pounds. I guess that is a success, but it hardly feels like one since, this year, I gained back the fifty pounds I lost last year. FIFTY pounds. That weight loss was a tremendous accomplishment, and I exercised like hell, through Fibromyalgia, arthritis and all, to get there. I also ate much less than normal, and the reason - the only reason - I was able to do that was a drug called Phentermine.

I have never been stupid enough to think any kind of diet pill was a good solution to obesity, but since my obesity - after a life of being thin all the time - was really caused by antipsychotic medications which make me hungry ALL THE TIME, I thought that an appetite suppressant was in order. The endocrinologist who diagnosed me as pre-diabetic agreed. Sadly, after many months of taking Phentermine, it stopped working, so the dose was doubled. The dose being doubled led to chest pains and scary, weird health issues, that I kept attributing to other causes. I went through a big battery of cardiology tests, only to be told my heart is normal, and I shouldn't be on Phentermine. By that point, I had already figured it was the problem and had stopped taking it. Within months after going off the drug, I gained back almost every pound I'd lost.

And that feels like a total tragedy. I know it's not a real tragedy like losing a loved one or getting cancer, and I am not so vain as to think my weight issues really matter much in the grand scheme of things. But I had anorexia for over a decade. Weight does still matter to me, since, no matter how far away you get from an eating disorder, if it still has a place in your mind, part of you is still held hostage by it. So here I am, tied to this medication which saves me from a life of insanity and utter chaos, not to mention total suicidality. Clinging to this medication, I despise it all the while. I would be loathe to stop taking Seroquel or Risperdal, having already experienced what happens when I try life without these medications. But these medications are making me diabetic, and these medications have put me into a physical situation where it is basically impossible to lose weight and have a healthy body. These medications have made me FAT and being fat makes me despise myself and feel totally disgusting all the time. I hate my body. I hate this situation. I hate these medications, and I need them to live.

So, I started back at the gym, which is something I stopped doing when I started gaining the weight back earlier this year, and realized that I could no longer control my appetite without the pills. I should never have stopped going to the gym, of course, but I was busy, and I didn't feel well, and I didn't go. My mistake, and totally my own fault. But exercise alone isn't going to do the trick when Seroquel and Risperdal are in the game.

So today I went back to the drug pusher, my endocrinologist, who prescribed the third weight loss medication he's put me on to date. This one you have to inject every day, and it's not approved by the FDA. It's not even really meant for people who don't have diabetes, but since I'm close to getting diabetes, he thought it was okay. Someone mentioned to me recently that I should not go back to this doctor after the Phentermine situation, and she was probably right. But I'm desperate here. I'm willing to do something risky if I can lose the weight again. Of course, like all drugs, this one carries side effects, but one of them is not heart problems. Nausea, however, is one of them, and I vomited at the gym, but luckily made it to the restroom in time to avoid a humiliating scene. Not so sure I want to keep injecting this drug on a daily basis now.

And the thing is, even if the drug WORKS WONDERS, I'll be at a place a month or two or three from now where I have to go off of it, and then how do I keep the weight off??? I'll have nothing, then, to combat the effects of the antipsychotics, and I'll have nothing to stop the constant hunger that controls my life most of the time and has led me into this incredibly miserable state.

Please don't tell me to eat fruits and vegetables. I do that. I'm not really uneducated about how to lose weight. It's just incredibly hard with these medications in my body. If someone with a history of maintaining a below normal weight for half her life can't control her weight and the only logical reason why is the medication, then I don't think it is entirely her fault if she ends up obese.

I hate being obese, and yet, in recent months, I've eaten to much and my metabolism has been slowed by the medications, and I've gotten right back to where I was before the weight loss of last year. It's like I'm allergic to myself. I can't handle living in this body anymore.

I have no words of wisdom on this issue. I don't think there is much of a solution available. I'd love to have one, but I've tried losing weight without the weight loss drugs, and it doesn't really happen. I can't stand the thought of being a size 18 for the rest of my life - or even larger - when for the huge majority of my life, I was a size 4 or 6. The emotional toll that this has taken on me is something I don't write about much here, but it has had a big effect on my life.

So, what to do? Take a drug that might work in the short-term with no idea what it's long term side effects will be on my body, in addition to the entire pharmacy I already ingest on a daily basis? Not take the drug and remain this huge and this miserable and unable to even think about ever having a romantic relationship of any kind at any time in the future, for the rest of my life, since I hate my body so much and am quite sure other people do too? Snap my fingers, and bring my healthy, "normal" old body back? Anybody have some pixie dust available? Please sprinkle it here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

questioning higher powers and

I went to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love with my friend Kathy the other night. I have to say that, after hearing so much hoopla about that book and about the movie, I wasn't totally sucked into the adoration of it. This is probably because of a couple things the movie didn't mention, such as the fact that Elizabeth Gilbert (author of this book) had a huge book deal with money up front so that she could travel for a year. And also, the guy she ends up with in the end in the romantic closing of the film is not a guy she stayed with in real life (I saw her on Oprah some time ago. Feel free to make fun of me for watching Oprah).

But the main thing that bothered me about the film was the "pray" part. It looks so cleansing and healing and spiritually wonderful, and evidently meditating and making her "liver smile" every day for hours worked wonders on the psyche of Elizabeth Gilbert, but I have never been able to meditate. I don't know if it's my personality or the mental health issues that roll around in my head, but I can't do it. And I admire people who can do that, because it seems to have great results for them. I wasn't bothered by Julia Roberts' meditations (she played Gilbert in the film), but more so the idea that going to India for months and meditating and praying would solve all of one's problems.

There's a young Indian girl in the film who is being forced into marriage to a boy she doesn't like, and the film actually turns that situation into something that is good because watching this young girl being forced into sexual slavery is spiritually fulfilling and culturally educational for Julia Roberts. Yeah, I don't get that.

I've been having a hard time with the whole "higher power" issue lately. I wrote about it here, and after thinking about it more, I keep coming back to my agnostic self. I always think of agnosticism as being an atheist with low self-esteem, and this is what I am. But I've been going to these Alanon meetings where "God as you understand him" is stressed a lot, and the idea that the program is spiritual is stressed a lot too. I'm really not spiritual. I really have no desire to be, either. A few years ago, I tried attending the Unitarian Universalist church in my area, which is the only church I'd willingly step foot into now, but I couldn't get into it. They accept atheists there, but there is still the idea of a higher power. I have a hard time with that.

I do think there is something bigger than me in this great expanse of a universe. I do believe that. I'm not sure what that thing is, really, but I feel that there is a connection between all living beings, through their souls. I guess if I was going to be religious, I'd be a Unitarian or a Buddhist, but I'm not into religion at all. It seems to be helpful for some people, but I had enough bad experiences with it to last me a lifetime, long ago.

Yesterday I was browsing through a book called Party of One, which is all about being a loner. It discusses loners in religions, and people who lived as hermits. It discusses loners in all areas of our society, and basically says that being a loner isn't always a bad thing at all. I've always been a loner. I've never really liked groups, I don't make friends easily, and I have no problem doing things like going to the movies by myself. The first psychologist I saw was when I was in third grade, because my mother was afraid there was something wrong with me since I didn't have many friends at school. The psychologist asked me to draw a picture of a house, and I drew one without a roof, on purpose, to see what he would think of that and if he would say I was crazy. He thought I had a high IQ and there was probably something wrong with me.

I guess, in a way, I would like to believe in something greater than myself to which I could plea for help in my darkest moments. It's the logic that tells me no such thing exists that stops me from really believing in that. I guess if I was the kind of person who liked groups or churches or religion, I might have fewer worries. But maybe not. I think I'll keep going to the Alanon program, because, as they say there, you can "take what you like and leave the rest". I'll leave out the spirituality, and take what I have learned about codependency and detachment, and use that in my life to improve myself. I don't have to agree with everything the group stands for in order to get some use out of it.

And, if you're like most people, you would probably love Eat, Pray, Love, so go ahead and see it. Don't let me ruin it for you. I did like many aspects of it: the food in Italy, the sites in Italy, the gorgeous boyfriend in Bali, the Indian attire, the fact that she isn't afraid to leave behind a husband because she didn't have a happy marriage. It was just all the focus on meditation as some magical cure that I didn't get. I wonder sometimes if my mental health would improve if I could make myself meditate. I guess it would. But for whatever reason, my brain never slows down to a pace where I can feel it is empty of processing, and I never really feel comfortable sitting and breathing and trying not to think. Perhaps I should try it more often. It certainly works for other people I know, and I admire their ability to do it. But perhaps it's okay to just be myself and not try to fit into a mold of some kind. I don't know.

Incidentally, I know this post sounds incredibly cynical, and really, I don't mean to insult anyone who is religious or who meditates, or who travels the world to explore her self and write a book.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Goals. And managing life.

People with mental health problems often procrastinate because they get overwhelmed by their issues and can't face everything in daily life that they'd be able to face without those mental illnesses. Procrastination is something I always have to fight, and sometimes I do better than other times. Two days ago, I finally went back to the gym. Having gained back over fifty pounds (probably sixty) that I lost last year when I was on a prescription diet pill, has been extremely demoralizing. I got so depressed about the whole situation, I gave up on exercising. For months, I didn't step foot inside the gym of which I am a paid member. Two days ago, I finally got myself back in motion and working towards a healthier body and better shape.

I think the Alanon meetings I've gone to lately have helped me become more focused on things that I need to do to care of myself. Going to the gym is one of those things. I am prediabetic, and if I don't lose weight, a doctor told me months ago, I'll be diabetic soon. I do not want another major illness to deal with for the rest of my life, so it is vitally important that I lose weight. It's also really, really hard on my self-esteem to be this overweight because I was stick thin most of my life and anorexic for several years. Being "fat" is not something I can deal with very well. It depresses me, makes me want to avoid even the thought of ever dating someone again, and makes me feel like a failure because I let it happen. Of course, Seroquel and Risperdal are the reasons why it happened. They both caused me to gain this weight, and it's really annoying to know that I need those medications even though taking them led me into this entirely new life of being overweight.

People don't treat you the same when you're overweight as they do when you're thin. People look down on you, think you're not attractive, think you're lazy, think you got there just by eating boxes of donuts and gallons of ice cream every day and being a general hog. People assume that if you just decided to lose the weight, it would come off easily like on The Biggest Loser where the people workout till they're near death and the coaches scream and curse at them in such a loving way. In my experience, it is NOT easy to lose weight, and I think that is true for the experiences of most people. Having Fibromyalgia and some arthritis makes it even more difficult, because any kind of exercise causes me pain and exhausts me completely - so exercise feels like something I should naturally avoid.

Anyway, I've stopped procrastinating about the exercise, so that's a plus.

When dealing with mental illness, along with procrastination comes its cause: feeling overwhelmed. Today I had a car accident. Another car stopped very abruptly and, though I slammed on my brakes, I hit the other car. There was nothing but a tiny scratch on his car, and no damage on mine, but the man was nasty about it and yelled at me and cursed, which I told him he did not need to do. Afterwards, I started thinking about the money this was going to cost and crying and crying about that and the fact that I don't have much money and it seems like bad things keep happening. That's really a fallacy. There are no more bad things happening to me than those that happen to everybody else. But when you get overwhelmed by stressors that pile up, sometimes it feels like your whole world is collapsing. Luckily, I nipped that in the bud today, and didn't let myself continue to worry all day about the accident. Talking to the representative from my insurance company was a relief, because I was told I probably won't have to pay anything and my rates most likely won't even go up. Now, I'm finally glad I pay for that insurance every month.

Recently, one thing overwhelming me has been my issues with college, and not knowing which degree to go for, or which school to attend to finish the degree. I've gotten admitted into a Bachelor's of Public Policy Administration program, and I think I'm going to stick with that, for a lot of reasons that mostly relate to me needing to stay living where I live now, since it's affordable and I have doctors nearby who I am connected to. I get an injection of Risperdal every two weeks. You can't get that through most doctors' offices; you have to go to a community mental health center, and I need to stick with that center for stability because that shot keeps me sane.

So, to sum this up, I think it helps to set goals. It helps me to have some goals. It also helps me immensely if I accomplish the goals I set, which relieves me of all the anxiety about not being able to do it, and increases my faith in my own abilities. I think setting goals is useful for people with any psychiatric illness, because it helps keep the overwhelming mass of worries organized into something that one can work with, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Monday, August 09, 2010

In between dreams (on gratitude and hope, when the voices stop)

I feel a smile inside tonight. In the past, when I thought it necessary, I made gratitude lists here. I have been feeling particularly anxious lately, but it's important to state here that something very positive is occurring. For now, and for the past few weeks, I haven't been having auditory hallucinations hardly at all. Perhaps even the past couple months. I usually get the low-grade, maintenance variety auditory hallucination where I hear "double speak" when people are talking, and this usually occurs a few times a week, during good periods (and all the time during bad periods). It's not really happening much at all right now. That is something.

Yesterday I did several loads of laundry and made my bed. It feels nice to have a bed made. I actually never think of making a bed, or cleaning at all, really, as something necessary for my daily survival. In fact, I think it's a waste of time. Normally, I don't even sleep on sheets, just this down fluffy thing. Of course you should use sheets and of course you should wash them. Personally, I don't have the energy to do all the things you "should" do in life, so I have to cut corners in many areas. But yesterday I made my bed. And tonight it's nice to lie on smooth, clean sheets.

Let's see, what else am I grateful for? In an Alanon meeting the other night a woman sitting next to me said, "If you can't be grateful for what you have, be grateful for what you don't have." This was a statement that was important for me to hear. As many mental health issues and physical health issues that I've had in my life, I've never had an addiction to drugs or alcohol, and for that I am very lucky. Alcoholism, when it runs in your family, can be hard to avoid. I am grateful I don't face that demon that others face, as I know the far-reaching effects it has, not only on the person with the problem, but on everyone around him/her. I know that it must be as hard to beat as anorexia was for me, and in that sense I do understand the supremely difficult challenge that recovery is.

Speaking of anorexia, yes, I'm very grateful that ed is not part of my life anymore. I have been reading bits and pieces of a book called Gaining, which is about "life after eating disorders", and it contains some interesting ideas on how people who get eating disorders share obsessive personality traits. Since I definitely have obsessive compulsive issues to some degree, that connection has always made sense to me. The book sort of claims that the tendency to develop an eating disorder is more genetic than culturally influenced. I disagree there. I think the tendency to develop a problem of some sort is genetic. I think the fact that it becomes self-starvation is totally cultural, because women are only valued for how thin they are in our society, it seems, and the onslaught of media images of women who are bony and sickly, well that is cultural, and not genetic. But, I digress. I am grateful, right now, that anorexia is no longer a part of my life. And, I'm grateful that I don't think I need to look like Kate Moss, nor do I want to look like her, and rather than emulate society's ridiculous standards of beauty, I am a feminist who uses the knowledge of oppression of women to combat such societal ills. Therefore, I have power, whereas, I used to think I had no power over the eating disorder or the cause of it.

One more thing: my cat Ribbit has been sick lately. Today I found out what is wrong, and it's nothing too serious. He will need medication, but he should be fine. And I'm grateful for that because I adore my cats; they're like my children, and Ribbit never leaves my side when I'm home.
Today I received in the mail a photo I ordered from a professional photographer friend of mine who does excellent work. It's a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, and I got it to give to my case manager who collects pictures of that bridge and has them all over her office. Soon, because I do not qualify as a person who needs case management anymore, I will not have the relationship with her that I have had for the past five years. So I wanted to give her something to remember me by, as I will always think fondly of her and am sad that I won't be seeing her much longer. So I'm grateful for Lauren for that photograph. I'm also grateful that Lauren has been my online friend since 1997, and though we've never been in the same state, we've had a close bond that I really value.

I'm also grateful to possess hope. I would not be alive without hope. Throughout all difficulties, I cling to hope. I know that things will improve. I know that I will make it through the decisions that need to be made and the scary things in the future. I have hope. That doesn't mean I'm not anxious or depressed. It just means I'm coping.

So, I just wanted to share these positive things with you. I've written many posts here full of descriptions of my problems and issues that plague me, but those issues and problems do not define me. I am, like everyone, a complex person, and sometimes I get through the muck with my soul intact and I feel content.

The title of this post comes from the album by Jack Johnson with that title.
Note: if you've stopped by and are not sure whether to leave a comment, please see the funny video linked on the left with a parody about that. Who doesn't love comments (HINT)??!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

It's Not Happening

The past few months have been rough. It's dawned on me that part of the reason for that is losing my therapist. I think I am still in a grief process over that, because she was such a big part of my life, every week, for three years. She was someone I trusted as much as I can trust a person, someone whose advice I valued, someone who I could talk to about most of the things I needed to talk about, and someone who invested time in a therapeutic relationship with me. My therapist continued to see me for about a year after Medicare stopped paying for my therapy. I have no idea how she managed to get by with that, but she did. And it was only when the mental health center hired new therapists that Medicare would actually pay for me to see that I had to stop therapy with my therapist.

Nobody else can measure up to my former therapist. Nobody is going to replace a three year history or be able to get to know me as well as she did. I don't really want to bother trying to develop a relationship with a new therapist, because I doubt it will help much, but I have gone to see the new one several times. It's hard to get appointments with him. His schedule is not as flexible as my former therapist's, and so I have only seen him once every couple weeks. He seems genuinely friendly and has a sense of humor, so I like him, but he doesn't know me. And it would take a really long time for him to get to know me. In the meanwhile, I'm floundering here by myself, and things are not working out too well.

I've been trying to make up for my lack of therapy with Alanon meetings lately, especially since a particular family member has had issues that made me want to seek such meetings. I have a long history of alcoholism in my family, just like many other families, and it has had effects. Those effects are by no means my major issues defining my life, but they cause me to behave and react and think in ways that are not necessarily healthy or worthwhile. Or so says Alanon. I have never been a big fan of twelve step groups, because I'm not much of a conformist or group person, but I have met some kind people, and listened to some insightful words in these meetings, and they have been worthwhile.

In the meantime, my apartment is a disaster again. I've been in a mode of not being able to deal with it for a few weeks, and it's starting to get pretty bad. I've also been in a mode of not knowing what to do about my future, so that's pretty bad too. I've decided I don't think that I can do the social work program I wanted to get into. So I have to do something else to get some kind of bachelor's degree. I also don't want to move to Tampa, and so I'm wanting to stay with the little community college I've gone to forever. But I'm lost. There are only two bachelor's degrees offered there that I'm remotely interested in, and it's not guaranteed that I'll be accepted into either one. And, beneath all this lies the fact that I really do not know what I "want" to do with my life (read: what I am actually capable of doing with my life).

I've been sick to my stomach every day for three weeks. I am full of anxiety. I can't relax. I don't know what to do. I know that if I still had my old therapist, I'd sit down and talk to her and we'd figure out something for me to do. But on my own, I feel like nothing is the right choice. I feel like I am getting depressed to the point that I can't make a choice, because I have no desire to do any of these degrees nor do I believe I can do them. I am scared about the future all the time.

A former professor I've kept in touch with for the last 15 years has told me many times that I do a lot for someone who has the illnesses I have and that I shouldn't compare myself to other people who have done more with their educations or careers. But I always compare myself to relatives, or just people in general who have bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, great careers, husbands/boyfriends/whatever, houses, cars with air conditioning, something they can say they "do" for a living. And I don't measure up to those people at all. I come up short and I hate myself for it. It's stupid to hate yourself. It's not productive. Nothing good comes from thinking like this. But I'm being honest here. That is how I feel. Like I haven't accomplished anything worthwhile.
I don't know what is wrong with me that, even when I do accomplish things, I still think that I have done nothing that matters. I don't know why I can't just be satisfied with my life as it is. I just always want to be more, do more, live more, know more. I am not satisfied with stasis. I am not satisfied with me. I don't trust myself to make it, to become who I want to be, to do what would be worthwhile to do. I have this foreboding sense of imminent failure and it makes me freeze in place, paralyzed by insecurity and fear. I don't know how to get past this.
To try to clear my thoughts:
What is Unknown:
  • whether I will ever by mentally (and physically) capable of working full-time
  • what kind of job/career I would be successful at
  • what I would be happy doing
  • when I'm going to take the time out to write a book and how I'm going to finance that (if ever possible)
  • whether my medication will stop working, and there won't be another one that I can use without horrible side effects
  • whether I'll always be obese thanks to the meds and end up with diabetes and other health problems that will be limitations, since I am already pre-diabetic
  • whether I'll end up getting worse and be hospitalized and not able to function
  • whether or not there will be a cure
  • where I should live
  • how I'd afford to live if I did move to Tampa to attend a university there, or somewhere else where there's another university
  • how I'm ever going to pay back all my student loans, considering I may never be able to work full time for years
  • how I'm going to survive when I "retire"
  • how I would possibly manage to go to school full time as is required in such programs as the social work program I wanted to enter, which would not be possible for me to do and work at the same time
  • how I am ever going to get out of poverty
  • which degree would land me a job that would get me out of poverty and allow me to do some of the things I'd like to do before I die, like travel
  • how to figure all this out

What is Known:

  • Right now I cannot work full time and manage my illnesses
  • Right now I have the psychosis under control but this might not last long, unless I'm lucky
  • I'm smart enough to get a Bachelor's degree in something
  • I've got enough credits for an A.A. degree, and will apply to graduate with that in the fall
  • I have some "work" experience doing advocacy work with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and activist work with the National Organization for Women
  • I can type (note: sarcasm)
  • I've come a long way since five years ago when I was homeless and psychotic and had no idea what was real but had to focus each day on basic survival

*The title for this post comes from a song by The Be Good Tanyas

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

God (or the lack thereof)

Tonight at an Alanon meeting the topic of discussion was what our experiences with spirituality were like when we were children. A whole can of worms opened inside me and I feel the need to spill some of them here. Church when I was growing up was mandatory. So was Christian school for eight years. But this was not just any kind of church. It was a very Pentecostal and rather fanatical church.

The deal with church was that my mom went, and my dad did not. Mom was "saved". My dad maintained that he was Catholic, but he never stepped foot in a church for most of my life. From age five, I was taken to the churches my mom picked, and I was taught that my dad, who wasn't "saved", as well as all of my extended family members who were Catholic, were going to burn in hell for all of eternity.

That's a heavy load to put on a five-year-old. And so began my indoctrination. So began my guilt. I was a sinner, and was reminded of this all the time in the church and school. So I begged God for forgiveness every night for my sins. I begged God to stop some volatile things occurring in my home too. And, most importantly, I begged God to make my father get saved (and all my extended family too).

God never pulled this off for me. So I got a little resentful. I got a little sick and tired of the huge guilt trips this religion put on me as well. I got a little ticked off when terrible things happened in my life, and God, who I spoke to all the time, never did a thing to help. I stopped believing in God.

Today, I can say that there is something I like (and have liked for twenty years since my first exposure to it) about twelve step groups, and that is the concept that one can have a higher power of her choosing. The higher power does not have to be called God. The higher power can be a tree, humanity, a flower, the universe, an internal presence. On the rare occasions when I talk of having a higher power at all, I generally call it the universe. I don't ask the universe for a lot of things, but sometimes I do. Sometimes I say a quiet prayer to whatever is out there, whatever life might hear me, and ask for some peace, some solace, even something like healing. Sometimes, I am a tad bit spiritual and not terrified of that entire concept as I usually am

The youth pastor of the church I grew up in was sent to prison for molesting kids at the church. I was not molested, but I knew people who were. And today, I have no respect for hypocrites. Most of the deeply religious people I've come across seem to be hypocrites. I have no desire to ever be involved with any religion, though I have gone to services at the Unitarian Universalist church a few times over the past few years. Religion is just not for me. God is not for me. The universe, and faith in it, and hope for progress, those are for me.

Universe, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change

the courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference.