Ch…ch…ch…changes

My apologies for my lengthy absence/silence. The last year has been a time of deep work and profound changes. I find it hard to write—words just don’t seem adequate somehow. Yet, here I am.

The work that was started on the cushion and continued in DBT continues to deepen. Each morning, I sit outside and rediscover myself in the nesting robins feeding their young or the fantastically loud “blatt” of the trumpeter swans. I watch the working of my mind and am usually aware when my emotions spin out of control. Funny thing, that awareness. First, it acts like a clutch, enabling me to disengage when my emotional engine goes nuts. This is a good thing. The engine may be racing, but I’m not laying down rubber, yay! But it doesn’t slow the emotions down. It does help me to keep from piling on *old* emotions.

What do I mean by that? This is new for me too, so please bear with. Previously, for example, Bri would say or do something that would trigger me. Suddenly, I would be flooded with emotions:

  • reactionary anger: a learned emotion. This is how my mother reacted when I did the same thing, so it’s my hard-wired reaction. My most embarrassing anger, cuz it just tends to come out and it tends to be very harsh and unflexible.
  • remembered anger & pain. This is how I felt as a child being abused at my mother’s hands.
  • shame and frustration. See the first bullet. Unfortunately, shame tends to generate more anger to cover it up and make it go away. It’s a vicious circle.

Somewhere around the beginning of June, there was a profound shift. Bri’s actions still triggered me, but it was just the reactionary anger, which I was able to clearly see. Since then, I’ve been able to handle those reactions without adding in emotional memories of my own shit or judgements of the situation. It’s like I can simply see the situation for what it is, without piling on the emotional baggage.

This has been such a profound change in my life that I have spent the last month “checking” it. Asking B if I seem different (yes), asking if I still seem different (yes). Checking in with myself. Yep—something has changed.

As if that weren’t enough, I applied for and was accepted to be one of the artists in a group project that Workman Arts is producing for Nuit Blanche. So my first art show ever is gonna be a big one. {grin} I don’t like to start small. This is also no small matter. I’m creating a sculpture representing a woman who lived at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane for many years. She insisted that everyone call her Angel Queen XIII, and they did. My kind of broad ;^). Anyway, I’m learning about sculpture and planning this life-sized work of art. For someone who is trying to transition careers and become an artist, this is about as big as it gets.

Oh yeah, there is one more thing. My ex-husband, the one who had a sex-change operation before our divorce was even completed, apologized in his her own way: she made me the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Her common-law spouse at the time of her death wasn’t too happy about this, precipitating a court challenge. Toronto courts are overloaded and slow, so it’s taken over a year to get the case heard. But I’ve had my day in court and the judge ruled in my favour and I can’t believe we’re gonna be out of debt finally and able to buy a house. So, yet another huge thing. And not just because we can buy a house, but because this allows me to be an artist and a homemaker and not worry about going back to work at a job that would likely crush my soul again. So I can let go of another thing that I’ve been worrying about ever since I left work on disability two years ago.

Needless to say, such major changes are dangerous territory to navigate when one has an emotional disorder. In spite of my new awareness, or possibly because of it, I have been doing a lot of pulling back over the past while. My emotions are all over the place: the court stuff brings back memories of my ex and his transition to womanhood, an extremely painful and difficult period in my life. As those arise, I am doing my best to deal with them and not let the past poison the present. The money stuff, while good, is also change and creates emotional waves to be dealt with.

Most days, I feel good if I get a decent dinner made and some time spent in the studio on one of the various projects on the go. Things need to get finished. Plus planning to buy a house, relocate Brianna, figure out how to switch schools, when would it work best for her, how will this all work. I’ve been verging on overwhelmed much of the time, though I’ve been coping with it. Actually, I’ve been coping rather well, and part of that coping has been my pulling back to just the essentials. So I apologize if I’ve neglected my friends in favour of my family—just now, that’s what I need to take care of myself.

And that’s where I’m at. Though it is difficult sometimes, it is a good place. May you find peace where ever you find yourself.

How I Spent My Xmas Vacation

I was going to title this “Why I Hate Xmas”, but I don’t hate it, really. It’s just an extremely difficult time for me. Let’s look at that:

Emotional State

Xmas Emotion Meter

The above is a graphic representation of my emotional state on Xmas day. It didn’t really matter what the trigger was, I kept getting emotionally triggered—angry, sad, afraid. I was aware that my emotions were seriously out of whack. Deep breath, let it go, relax, move on. Don’t hang on to “I don’t want to feel this way” or “This isn’t fair” or “I’m ruining my family’s christmas”. Come back to the moment.

Some moments were wonderful. A child’s face on Christmas morning, full of wonder at the magic that is Santa Claus. And funny too:

  • “You are just so PRECIOUS!” — Brianna to me on opening her Queen Amidala keychain
  • Booting up her computer for the first time “Who’s that ‘Admin’?—he must be Santa’s elf who set up my computer”

I managed not to miss this in spite of the rollercoaster of emotions going on inside. Yay me!

It was really good that we stayed home. This was the first xmas since my mother’s death without Seroquel, the atypical anti-psychotic that I had been taking for years. I can safely report that Seroquel does suppress emotions effectively, albeit with a host of side-effects.

In spite of my emotional free-fall, Bryan reported that this was the best Xmas in years, in terms of living with me and my moods. At least this year I was aware. Not, not “at least”—this was the year I really saw my emotional rollercoaster without jumping on and going for a ride. In terms of steps forward, this is good. Really really good. Yay me!

History

So, am I just über hung up on the fact that my mother died on Xmas day? Not so much. Yeah, that sucked, and of course the memories of that day arise with the holiday, but I was not a fan of the holiday for many many years. Why?

  1. My first suicide attempt was when I was 15 years old. About two weeks before Christmas, I took two full bottles of my mother’s prescription Valium then lay down behind the couch in the living room. I didn’t know that Valium alone is extremely unlike to kill a person. I ended up an inmate–er–patient on the Child Psych Ward of Mt. Caramel Mercy Hospital in Detroit, Michigan for six weeks. Through the metal mesh over the window, I could see the smokestack from my high school, only two blocks away. The room I was assigned shared a wall with the padded room. I remember watching two grown men (orderlies) hold down a 6-year-old boy, strap him into a strait-jacket, and put him in the padded room. He screamed and threw himself against the wall for hours. I was allowed to visit my family for Christmas, but Christmas Eve was spent on the ward and Christmas Day ended with my return to the hospital. I was released to go live with my dad in late January.
  2. My dad died of a massive heart-attack at the age of 42. I was 21. It was December 12.
  3. I’m not a Christian, I don’t like Christianity—all my family claimed to be true Christians:
    1. Grandpa George, the sexual molester
    2. Grandpa Margaret, the single-most hate-filled person I’ve ever met. Seriously.
    3. Mommy, the child-beater

    Why would I celebrate this Christ-guy’s birthday? I watched my mother attend church week after week, chatting with the ladies, being all pious, then come home and beat the shit out of me, or berate and belittle me to the point of tears.

    I don’t trust Christianity and don’t wish to celebrate it, although I can say that I don’t hate it the way I used to.

And now here it is New Year’s Eve. The season makes me think about family, and in my extended family everyone is dead or gone. Except for my brother, who phoned me to wish us a merry one (though I noted that he did not call on xmas day, but a day later). Of course, Ron being Ron had to make a comment about how Barack Obama is just like Hitler and he’s not a real black man anyway, you can’t be a real brother growing up in Hawaii. I told him that I wasn’t having this conversation. So, like I said, my family is all dead or gone.

My mother used to tell me that I’m too sensitive. She usually said it in a disparaging way, telling me to shut up and get over whatever hurt I was feeling, often caused by her. Perhaps I am. But when my emotions are peaking, this is what it feels like inside:

Kim Phúc photographed by Nick Ut

No, I’m not exaggerating. Welcome to BPD (borderline personality disorder, a.k.a. emotional regulation disorder). When your emotions feel like that, you scream, you cry, you beg for help. But if anyone tries to touch you, you pull away. It’s painful to be raw and open. It fucking hurts like hell.

Xmas day pretty much guarantees that I’m going to be “too sensitive” and that just how it is. I need to feel safe, secure, and loved as I deal with things. Hey, shouldn’t everyone feel safe, secure, and loved on xmas day? Isn’t that the point?

In any case, obligatory dinners with less-than-sensitive relatives are not on my xmas wish list and won’t be for the forseeable future. One of these relatives actually complained about our absence, whining that she wouldn’t get to see Bri until “next Christmas.” Please note that said relative has not invited us to her Toronto home once in the seven years that I’ve known her. If you were me, is this a person you’d choose to be around when you’re at your most vulnerable? Me neither.

So from now on, we’re staying home for Christmas. Me and my family are reserving this day for ourselves. Everyone will be visited and gifted on other days of the xmas week. And that’s the way it is.

Going Forward

This New Year’s Eve is an opportunity to reaffirm my life. One of my bestest friends is coming for the night and I can think of no other folks I’d rather be with this evening than her and my family. Although it was difficult, this was a good xmas. Our little family is stronger and happier than ever before. For that, and all the other blessings we enjoy, I am deeply grateful.

May you and all beings have peace, health, and happiness in the coming year.

P.S. Kim Phúc, the girl in the photo, now lives in Toronto. It seems that Toronto is a good place for survivors. Blessings to her and her family.

Bodhi Day — What’s a Mama to do?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is not the holiday that I want to build a family tradition around. Oh, sure, Santa Claus will visit on Christmas Day, but I prefer to put my “holiday energies” into Bodhi Day. Last week, I spoke at Brianna’s school about Bodhi Day and why we celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment.

Senior Kindergarten learns about Bodhi Day

So, what are the elements of a family-oriented rohatsu celebration?

  • Bodhi tree — Due to a lack of ficus religiosa at my local garden center, we will substitute an evergreen tree, which are available in abundance
  • Decorations — Coloured lights (like prayer flags, representing the many paths to wisdom); the morning star atop the tree (natch); and ornaments to represent the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
  • Food— Siddartha ate a meal of rice and milk before beginning his vigil under the Bodhi Tree. Rice pudding it is! Rather than a big turkey dinner, I’d like to keep the meal simple (and light!) so as to best appreciate the subtle and amazing goodness that is homemade rice pudding. Have I mentioned that I like rice pudding? A lot?
  • Activities — Bri’s teacher and I chatted a bit about this. Kindergarteners aren’t gonna sit for 10 minutes, let alone all night. The class ended up drawing a picture of the Buddha under the Bodhia Tree with the Morning Star shining in the sky. Because Bodhi Tree leaves are heart-shaped, the kids liked drawing them. Art practice is good.

Somewhere on the interweb, I read that some folks light up the Bodhi Tree on December 8, then keep it lit every night for the next 30 days. We typically get cut trees, so I’m not sure if it’ll last that long, but I think keeping the lights on until the New Year feels like it fits nicely. Keeping a candle lit for that time also feels right.

Of course, there must be zazen, but that’s for me and the night before.

What are you doing for the holidays and why?

What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening…

Random thoughts on the day before All Hallow’s Eve aka Halloween.

Mental status update: Much improved. Seroquel and its side-effects have been jettisoned, trying an herbal remedy that has been surprisingly effective so far. Still plenty of baggage to deal with. Willing to consider the possibility of happiness in my day-to-day life. Still need to relax and trust myself.

Work update: My first attempt at commercial design, a tall window topped by a half-circle window, was accepted by the customer. Yay me! I’m still volunteering at the studio 2–3 days a week.

Physical: After a round of nasty side-effects that nearly crippled me (see Seroquel reference above), I am greatly improved. Back down to just hip bursitis and occasional flare-ups of achilles tendonitis. I’m losing weight quickly—one to two pounds a week (see Seroquel reference above). Not doing as much Wii Fit as I’d like.

Art: Took a studio drawing class and found out that I can draw pretty darn well. Making time to practice art is more difficult, but remains a priority for me.

Family: Doing great! Bri is frighteningly precocious (shock!) and no longer afraid of me. Bryan finally has a job that actually appears to recognize and appreciate his knowledge and contribution. Yay Bry!

Dog: Has fleas. Much vacuuming, laundering, and combing.

All in all, it’s life, in all its messy gloriousness. Whee!

Digging Out

I’m discovering that one of the most obvious outer clues to an impending depressive implosion is how I deal with mail. When my brain is functioning well, the mail gets processed properly: opened, reconciled or entered in Quicken or Quickbooks (depending on whether it is home or business related), and then filed. When things aren’t going so well for me, this process is one of the first affected.

Why? Probably because the decrease in cognitive ability that comes with depression makes it almost impossible to follow through with my usual mail procedure. How do I know? Because I am currently trying to work my way through a large cardboard box of unfiled papers and unopened mail: investment statements, credit card bills, old tax returns, unsubmitted medical expenses, and some just plain junk.

The process of cleaning this mess up itself is creating feelings of being overwhelmed. I’m taking lots of breaks and trying to give myself lots of credit for making it to this point, the point where the pile is going down rather than going up. My emotional response to the situation is a tendency to beat myself up for letting things get to this point. This response is actively countered by my focusing on the facts of the situation—yay for dialectical thinking.

Probably the only thing that has saved our credit rating is electronic banking. Direct deposit combined with regular pre-authorized payments keeps the creditors happy whether or not I actually look at any of the accounts.

Conclusions?

  • If you are struggling with depression, try to automate as much of your banking and bill-paying as possible. It’s one less thing to worry about, and nothing makes you feel miserable about yourself faster than collectors calling constantly. Okay, maybe some things make you feel more miserable faster, but collection calls suck.
  • Note to me and those who love me: if you notice the mail piling up, it’s time for an intervention—depression is looming and action needs to be taken.

See, all of this mail in the box is from the two–three months prior to my breakdown, that point in time when I called a time-out on life. It’s good that my brain is functioning well enough to tackle my box in little chunks of time, but I don’t want to push it too much and declare myself well. I’m not—I’m better than I was but I’ve got a way to go yet.

Interestingly enough, we’re at the halfway point of our winter. We’ve endured a lot of snowfall so far, but it’s way too early to declare the season over.