b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

unwelcome passenger

There you are again. The unwelcome, familiar passenger. Sitting on my chest. Heavy. Unshakable. I can’t breath. Gulping air in but cannot fill my lungs. When I carry you around, you get in the way of everything. I no longer directly touch anything I come in contact with. Everything is a few feet away farther. Just out of reach. Distorted by your interference. When I hug my child. When I hug my husband. When I watch tv. When I eat a meal. When I talk to someone. You make it hard to hear. You make it hard to pay attention, to stay focused. I start to talk and you get in the way, what was I saying, what were the words I was looking for. You’re blocking them. A wall in between me and everything else. If I move fast, can I get around – no, you’re already there. And so I’m not quite myself, not quite inside my body. Because my body is such an uncomfortable place to be. When I’m touched, I don’t feel anything. When I’m spoken to, it’s from miles away. I’m in limbo, not quite anywhere. I’m a balloon, floating further and further away.

please

I can’t breathe. There’s a tightness around my throat and a pressure on my chest. The nausea is constant. I keep taking big breaths, forcing the air in and out. I keep clawing at my shirt collar, hoping that will help somehow. This is the first time in years I haven’t been on antidepressants during my cycle. I feel so exposed. Like a deep layer of skin has been removed from my body. Every hard word or sound, every jarring or startling experience, feel like chunks of my flesh are sawed off, leaving me shaking and traumatized. It is so uncomfortable to be. It is so exhausting to be. I am trying to remind myself, this is temporary. But every moment, every second, lasts forever. This isn’t a 5 minute panic attack. This is nonstop, unending, ever present from the moment I hit consciousness in the morning until the moment my sleep meds kick in. Please stop. Please stop. Please stop. Please make it stop.

Writing this helps. Posting this makes me feel less alone.

what is this

My anxiety and depression used to be textbook perfect.

My panic attacks always came on like a tornado. The sucking building pressure and then the mind crushing explosion as the storm hit. Shaking and crying and a surety that the end was upon me. It would blow through me, devastating me, then leave me in a scattered pile of jagged pieces on its way out.

My depression was the bottom of a dark hole, miles away from the light at the top. Feeling completely worthless, a burden, disgusting, a waste of space, deserving of only misery. All willpower crushed out of me. All self-advocacy erased. I had no say, because nothing I could say would ever have any value.

But lately I think I’m dealing with a completely new beast. There are things that scare me, that demand action in my life. I can see them clearly. But it’s like they’re down at the end of a long tunnel. I can’t reach them. They’re so far away. And I’m so very, very tired. I try to push forward. But it’s not so much mud or sludge, as it is hardened concrete around my legs. I know I should be screaming and waving my arms to get attention. But instead I just try to keep the oxygen going in and out of my lungs. And I aim some darts in its general direction. So something kind of gets done. Why can’t I be aggressive? I used to be so good at that. Get in your face and demand. And instead I’m mostly paralyzed. Dragging forward, some.

But I’m not sad. I’m not value-less. I’m not filled with self-loathing. I’m not terrified. I’m not covered in knives of fear and worry. I’m not crying nonstop for no specific reasons. I don’t wish I could just disappear. Every day, for at least one moment, I feel the flame of joy in my heart. (I remember going months without any light or warmth inside me.) I am grateful to be on solid ground, instead of beneath it.

I wonder if it’s the “new” me, or a transitioning “current me.” That’s what we’re told to expect. You won’t ever be the person you were before. So figure out how to appreciate the person you now see in the mirror. I’m trying, I’m really trying.

blessed

This morning was yet another tough to wake up, tear myself out of sleep, drag myself out of bed, push my leaden self forward. But then I get to school and everything difficult about existing falls away, like shedding an outer layer and floating forward with new, fresh, plump skin. The children’s energy renews me, fills me up, fuels me so that I’m pushing forward with energy I didn’t even realize I had. I see their progress, it’s tangible and exciting, and I’m so very proud that I’m filled with buoyancy and delight. This is right. This is where I’m supposed to be.

recovered?

A new mom asked this in a forum:

“Is there really an end to this.. Like 100% healed? I feel like what I have is too disturbing and terrible to ever go away.”

My answer:

I went through an outpatient program at a hospital and they talked about accepting a “new normal”. Now, I refuse to accept that this means my new normal is misery. But I don’t think we can ever go back to the person we were before we had our birth/postpartum experience.

Like any trauma, it has left a mark on our psyche. And so we have a choice about what to do with that. I’ve tried wallowing, and that worked for a while, but it got in the way of joy. I’ve tried hiding from the world, but I missed out on living.

So I’m at a place in the middle between where I used to be and the pit I had dropped into. Sometimes I need to wallow, and I give myself space to do so. But I don’t move back in there. Sometimes I need to hide from the world, and I accept that, that I don’t have the stamina of the extrovert I used to be. But I also challenge myself, just a little, and over time I see progress towards a new me. Wiser, stronger, but also weaker in some ways, and accepting of that part of me too.

And my story, and yours too, becomes something we can share with others who are somewhere along that tough journey of losing yourself and trying to figure who you are now. We bring each other strength because we have compassion and empathy and help heal each other. Because we understand the pain. And we’re not alone anymore.

Autism

Last Friday I subbed for the first time in a classroom for severely autistic kids. I want to say I was filled with compassion and felt like the work was meaningful, but mostly I just felt traumatized by the experience. These are children that will never be normal, that will always need help from others, that are far far far from anything resembling ‘normal.’ I felt for the parents that are filled with ambivalence for a child they both love and see as a burden. My heart was heavy. The day dragged, every little thing they did is an uphill challenge. Every single thing they did is painfully slow and difficult. It was exhausting to be around. I pitied them, found them to be pathetic, and felt ugly for feeling that way. I felt ashamed that I didn’t find the work meaningful and fun like the other women working in the classroom. I spent the weekend tormented by the experience and my thoughts and feelings.

Then I went back.

In the last 3 days I have spent in there I have been able to see these kids as more than their external behaviors. I have seen humor and subtly, frustration and anger. When they refer to autism as a spectrum, they are literally describing how unique each of the children are. Yes there are similarities, however each of the children presented a unique combination of interests, levels of interaction, intelligence and behaviors. Once I was no longer shocked by the strange sounds and movements they make and do, they became fascinating to me.

I need to understand to connect. And initially it was all so foreign, loud, strange, intrusive, that I just couldn’t process it. But it’s amazing how the strangest things can become normalized just by being exposed to it for a while. And just like that the noises they made, the arm waving and flapping, the rocking and body ticks, all faded into the background scenery, and I was able to really see them, who they are on the inside. The intelligence trapped inside a body that won’t cooperate. I also judged the program that is designed to have them restrict themselves in order to make the socially ‘normal’ feel more comfortable. I don’t have a background in any of this. And my experience amounts to a book I read (partially written by a severely autistic girl), some articles, and exactly 4 days in a classroom. But I have to wonder if all the things we were making them do was really for their benefit, or ours.

I started to really care about them, feel sad when they were sad, and feel joy when they experienced it. I started to bond, and then it ended – such is the experience of a substitute. And next week I go back to a classroom full of ‘normal’ kids. The teacher asked if I wanted to come back next time my school is on break. I’m actually considering it. I prefer to help students academically. I love watching them ‘get it.’ I feel joy when I help them understand. I know that’s my calling, my bliss, what feeds my light. And yet, this hidden world was a fascinating break from the daily grind, the rushing to and from minutia, the annoyances at mundane discomforts we take for granted. It has clarified and strengthened my gratitude for existence. I am taking them back into the rest of my life, carrying them in my heart, incorporating them into the full human experience of the world around me.

I knew that children like this existed, I just didn’t think about it in depth. I didn’t want to imagine the day by day and minute by minute struggles. I didn’t want to care. When I have seen them out in the community, I have felt uncomfortable and pity. But not anymore. I will never reduce them again. My eyes are open.

 

 

sick and tired

Tired. So completely, utterly tired. Limbs heavy. Body sinking. Mind struggling to focus. Heavy like laying at the bottom of the ocean crushed by the weight. Heavy like 100 suffocating blankets. Heavy like pinned down by Sisyphus’ boulder.

The heaviness is centered in my chest. That’s where the virus settled down. 5 days of body wrenching coughs. 5 days of not being able to sleep because I wake up unable to breath. Today is the first day I’m not coughing all the time. But I can still feel the pressure, the obstruction in my lungs. An itch I can’t scratch. An uneven surface, abrasive breathing. This illness has really dragged my mood down. The racing heart, the pressure in my chest and around my throat, mimicked my panic attacks…and so resulted in panic attacks. The weakness in my body, the loss of appetite, the nausea, mimicked my depression. I had no energy to do anything but sit there. And sitting there, alone, in a darkened room with the curtains drawn, is a ticket to the bottom.

I forced myself to sit outside, in the light. Even if I still couldn’t do anything but sit there, at least I have fresh air. I forced myself to focus on specific tasks. Take myself out of the helpless stuckness. One moment at a time, get through this, get through to the other side of this shaky bridge.

I finally got my appetite back yesterday. What a relief. To be able to enjoy the taste of food again. To enjoy the process of eating, what a treat. You don’t realize how miserable eating can be until you’re forcing yourself. This will definitely help with my energy. Now if I could just sleep through the night. Piece by piece. I’m putting myself back together. It’s surprising how much mental pain can be brought on by physical discomfort. But I’ve made it through the worst of it. And though it’s a slow, tedious climb, I will get back to solid ground.

My sister / My daughter – Part 1 of a series

Dear Sister,

I am so, so, so, so sorry. There are no words that can possibly ever come close to describe how sorry I am. Our mom says we were monsters. I was a monster. I expertly studied and executed what our father demonstrated. When it came time to engage, the lever that controls all emotion was pulled down to the off position. I was calculating, cruel and efficient. I analyzed your weak spots and sliced with precision. I was good at it. I enjoyed it, the skill and expertise. I did not think about the consequences. I acted, concluded, then went back to whatever I was working on before. I was actually surprised, and somewhat annoyed, by how long it took you to “get back to normal.” I had no idea what I was doing to you. I didn’t actually understand you. I never bothered to try. I only knew my boundaries, and operated with those in every situation. It took years of confusion, of making people uncomfortable, and of offending people, before it suddenly dawned on me that other people have different boundaries.

But that’s not what this writing piece is about. This is about two girls trying to establish order after the tyrant was exiled. Two strong and stubborn leaders fighting for dominance and control. Two rulers angry over the non-compliance of the other. We were children (she 10, me 12) taking on adult roles, using the tools our parents taught us. And those tools were violent and sadistic.

This is about accepting responsibility for my actions. This is about guilt, and figuring out how to release it. I was awful. But I was a child.

This is about reframing. I have happily looked down on my sister as an example of all the things I have overcome and decided not to be – victim, martyr, high on justified anger and anxiety, drama seeking, pathetic. But it’s not that simple. She is a strong, capable human being who is using different tools to survive. And truthfully, at this point, after over 5 years of little to no contact, she’s a stranger. Think about how much I’ve changed in the last 5 years, I am a completely different person. She is too. It has been so easy to make her the bad guy. It’s so easy to make people the bad guys. And so much more complicated to see them as they really are, complex creatures worthy of love and respect.

what pieces, all put together, help keep you up

It takes a crew of about 100 people to help keep my mood up. Just kidding. But I’m lucky enough to have many different people in my life that help support my mental well being.

My husband. Even though he doesn’t fully understand my experience, he hangs around. He takes care of the things in our family that need to be taken care of so that I don’t have to. He’s not big on supportive words (I can’t remember the last time he specifically said something supportive), but instead shows his support by doing. It takes a little bit of effort for me to translate his method of love, but it’s valuable nonetheless. Knowing he’s there taking care of things allows me the space to fall apart if I need to. I don’t have to share how far I’ve fallen, but I can dive, and then I can climb back up, knowing he’ll still be there.

My friends. I have the best friends anyone could have. Not all of them know about my struggles. And only a few know how dark my night can get. But all of them love me no matter what, just as I am. I know that I can call on them (or, rather, text them), and they would do just about anything for me. I don’t reach out that often (rarely, really), but knowing they’re there and available if I wanted to reach out, can be such a lifeline when I’m sinking fast. It means that even though I feel like I’m utterly alone, I know I’m not. I hold onto the tether, the rope, because at the end of it is love, the anchor. I know they love me, no matter what. Even if I feel like I don’t deserve it, I know it’s there anyway.

After-care group. This group has literally been a lifesaver. I have lost count of how many times I have broken down, crumbled, split open. I have “lost it” in a place where so many others know exactly what that feels like. I have come apart at the seams, looked up and seen others holding up their threads too. I have never felt judged here, only complete support. Here is where I am reflected back to myself as someone strong, even when I’m feeling like wet cardboard. Here I’m told how far I’ve come and how much better I’ve become. Here is where I can measure my health, because these people, these walls, have seen my dark, crumbled core. Here is where I’m able to help others. Where I get to be a lifeline. Even when I’m empty for myself, I’m able to find hope for others. And even just offering up a tiny spark to someone else, helps refill my own tank. We’re in this together. We’ve got each others’ backs. We’re an army of strength and hope and love. We will survive, we will thrive.

stuff

I might have nothing to say. I sit here, reviewing old writing prompts, and nothing stands out to me. Perhaps there are large, shadowy issues swimming slowly beneath the heavy ice, but I don’t feel attracted to releasing them for analysis today. Things are good. That in itself is a surprising realization. My destiny is changing, I can feel it, and things are moving forward easily, smoothly. I don’t even feel the gray cloud that usually appears over my left shoulder, the one that says, “beware the darkness is coming!” Yes, I was fearful a few weeks ago – convinced, but trying to ignore the words telling me this wasn’t going to work. Who did I think I was, deciding to change my career, and expecting it to be successful. It was a brief stalling, but my thoughts were sure it was the beginning of the end. I pressed forward anyway. Start where I am, use what I have, do what I can. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I couldn’t ignore the frightened voice, I couldn’t shake it, so I placated it by feeding it a morsel, by allowing for the possibility of “getting a real job” if things didn’t work out by the start of the school year. Then I pushed that to the very back of my mind, stuck it deep inside a drawer, and turned my focus back to steps I could take to go in the direction I really wanted. I threw myself completely into my volunteering, giving every drop of myself. Each day I would leave exhausted, but fulfilled, and filled with a warm, relaxed joy that I have not been familiar with for years. That’s telling, that’s the Universe telling, telling me this is the right path, keep going.