My Journey to Stability, Pt. 3

by Shara Adams

A circle of blurred faces surrounded me, all talking at once. The level of chaos outpaced my own mind and I struggled to keep track of what was going on. Drugged and intoxicated beyond capable cognition, the world began to slip away once again. In the mess of voices, the realization of my fragile state caught the action of the paramedics and I was whisked down the stairs from the apartment to the ambulance. Because of the design of our place, a stretcher was worthless. They half carried, and half walked me down the precarious stairway. Once I was inside the bus, one of the paramedics joined me and began a pleasant conversation with me.

Blonde hair and blue eyes watched me intently. It may have been my lost mind, but at that moment, he had the most beautiful eyes that I had ever seen. Smiling, I was lost in his hypnotizing gaze. His voice was soft and inviting. I felt like I could listen to it forever, and I did listen to it the whole way to the emergency room. He conversed with me to keep me awake and cognitive of what was around me, and it worked perfectly. It also kept my mind off the fact my husband had not come with me. I did not notice this fact in the middle of everything going on; he was completely absent from my side.

Once inside the ER, I was forced to drink charcoal from a small cup, and it did not take long for it to make a reappearance. It was absolutely disgusting, and my toxic stomach contents were having none of it. Frustrated nurses yelled at me for throwing it up and then gave me another cup – but I never touched it to my lips. Without something to focus on, I was slipping away from the bright lights of the room. Metal walls of the elevator were my final memory before losing consciousness. I have no recollection of being in the ICU or being ‘asleep’. No dreams or thoughts; it was as if I went to bed and woke up the next morning but waking up this time was a much different experience.

Stirring in the hospital bed, my eyes opened several days after my arrival. I felt lost and confused at my surroundings, but my eyes fell on a familiar face and relief washed over me. I am sure she felt the swell of relief as well. My mom had driven about 740 miles in eight hours to be by my side. We later calculated that she had averaged about 95 mph the entirety of the drive, never being pulled over. There was always a driver going faster than she was, and they were the ones to get caught. Her foot never left the gas pedal, and I will never make fun of her panic.

Once awake and somewhat aware of where I was, I noticed the lack of a certain person from the room: my husband. This was something my mom attempted to fix, but it was only mildly successful. He came to visit me once during my entire stay, but never said a word and refused to look at me. He sat on my bed and I rubbed his back, but nothing I did to interact with the stone-faced body made any difference. His blatant resentment was more than I could overcome. I began to wonder if I went too far to prove my point, but it also seemed to be working.

The chaos from the apartment had compartmentalized in my mind, blurry and distant memories, just like that night.

by Shara Adams

For more stories by Shara Adams, visit http://pennedinwhite.com.

That Time I Almost Went to Disneyland

Growing up, my family never went on any vacations. One year when I was eight, we traveled to Tennessee for a family reunion. I didn’t know anyone on that side of the family and never made friends quickly anyway. I don’t remember any other time we traveled somewhere that didn’t involve moving. We lived in about six or eight different states before I turned six-years-old. We were always moving to a new place. My father worked for interstates as an electrician and we traveled to where he would work. We settled in Oklahoma and stayed for several years.

I thought my childhood was normal. As I got older, I repressed most of my trauma. Any memories I did have, I didn’t think were that bad. I thought everyone lived through things like that. I looked at photos a lot as a child. I’d see pictures of myself as a baby or toddler and never remembered anything from that time. Most people don’t remember being a baby. I saw pictures from before I was born. These were interesting because it was life prehistory. A time before life. More often than not, my family had to tell me who was in the photos.

One photo from the summer of 1986, the year I was born, showed two little girls standing in between their two parents. The mother was pregnant. The photo looked faded and old in the standard four by six size. They were my two older sisters and parents at Disneyland. There were other photos of the girls on various rides like the teacups. The rumor is they no longer have the teacups ride. At the time, the family lived in Southern California and would for another two years. In those first two years of my life, the family never went back to Disneyland.

I went through grade school hearing other kids talk about their time at Disneyland. I would joke and say I’d never been, but I had the food. They’d look at me in confusion. I would explain my mother was pregnant with me when the family went. They would nod and look awkward until the subject changed. I grew older and older sharing this same story. People would become enraged shouting how they didn’t understand how I had never been to the happiest place on Earth. Before now I don’t think I could have comprehended what happy meant.

I have ridden rollercoasters where they take your photo. My picture would show me grimacing. I didn’t think the rides were as exciting as everyone else. The rides which pushed the limits are the only ones I find exciting. The only rides I actually smiled in the photo. I can think of two. No more. As a kid, I don’t think I would have appreciated Disneyland for what it had to offer. I’m not sure if I will now. It’s rare to find someone in their 30s who hasn’t been to Disneyland. The closest I’ve found is someone was 25 or 26 when they first went.

I’m not saying my family stopped going on vacations after I was born because of me, but I am saying my childhood was not great and enjoying things can be difficult. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get to visit this magical place. Part of me wants to and another part cares less and less each year. I think I will go one day and it’s possible I’ll go alone. Just so I can say I did it. But I think the point of a place like that is to enjoy it with people you love. That’s the part I’m still working on.

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Grief And Mental Health

Photo by Rahul Pandit on Pexels.com

Grief and Opinions

If you have faced a tragedy and someone tells you in anyway, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be. That it happened for a reason and that it will make you a better person. Or that taking responsibility for it will fix it. You have every right to remove those people out of your life.

Grief: what is it?

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. Yes, death is another form of grief. It also occurs when relationships fall apart. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve. So, I am going to repeat words I have uttered countless times to these people in my life. Words so powerful and honest that they tear at the hubris of every person who participates in debasing grieving. Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone. Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars but they carry on living despite it all.

Finally…

There are times when life events leave huge question marks as a sign to stretch our faith. Time will fade sorrows. These struggles will diminish. You’ll be you again, I promise. You will be happy again, you will be yourself more than ever. You will understand your heart better when you heal. You will be whole.

Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Love, Francesca.

A Guest Blog Spot – Emily K. Harrington

Memories That Almost Break Me

By Emily K HarringtoN

https://goldfishpainter.com/blog/

Yesterday in therapy I told the story of the last days with Sophie and my first days of incapacitating mental illness, just before I was officially diagnosed. I was surprised at how upset I became in therapy, and by the clarity of my often faulty memory. Timeline was:

I started to feel like I was becoming invisible in October, right after I started dating Sophie, right when I turned 19.

My depression increased. I started to disappear.

By Christmas, I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I remember saying “Something is really wrong with me,” to my mom when I came home for Christmas break. When my folks drove me to Austin at the New Year to put me on a plane back to Ohio, my dad gave me a giant teddy bear in the parking lot, and I hugged him and cried very hard. My mom took a picture of us that I have here in my house. Our eyes are red, even though we’re smiling. His arm is around my shoulder, and we both look like we’re holding our breath.

January was something called “Winter Term,” which exists because it’s basically too cold to live in Ohio in January. The campus empties out. Everyone did an individual project during Winter Term, appropriately called a “Winter Term Project,” and you could complete your project anywhere in the world. Oberlin is mostly wealthy, so students would do their projects in Hawaii or Barbados or Portugal. Wherever they wanted, basically. A tiny minority of students would stay on campus, so the ice-laden, snow-covered campus stayed partially open. The libraries had some limited operating hours, and one of the cafeterias was kept functioning. I chose a listening/research project on mezzo-sopranos of the last century. My roommate, Laura, went away somewhere for the month, so Sophie and I had a giant room to ourselves. We hid inside, only leaving to find food or go to the conservatory to research. Baldwin had a large, round practice room on the first floor with a piano in it, directly below my own round room, so we didn’t even need to go to the conservatory to practice. There were two places near us that delivered food: a Chinese place on Main Street and a Dominos about 30 miles away. With temperatures severely below zero, it was worth the money and the wait to not have to leave the house. We binge-watched TV and movies on her laptop, ate takeout, and existed naked with the radiators cranked. The sky was only ever grey or black.

I started to think that I would marry this girl, and soon after I had that thought, I started feeling stressed and trapped. I didn’t think I’d ever be strong enough to leave her. There were things I didn’t like, but I felt so stuck. I was madly in love, and marriage seemed like an inevitability, but I had the sense that I was too young and hadn’t been with enough people yet, seen enough of my life, or learned enough about myself to be happy making that lifelong commitment. Then I started to get sick.

It started with stomach pain that turned into nausea and vomiting. I went to the doctor, got lots of tests done (including a CAT scan and a vaginal ultrasound), and wound up with a diagnosis of an ulcer, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and interstitial cystitis. I did have cysts on my ovaries, but one correct diagnosis out of three is a pretty low success rate. The gyno who did my pelvic exam said I had a bladder condition, prescribed legal speed, and sent me on my way.

The first day on that stimulant was the night I became furious with myself in a conservatory practice room, blacked out (also known as having a dissociative fugue) and walked several miles out of town. When I came to, I called campus Safety and Security officers to drive out and pick me up. I got back to the dorm, popped two hydrocodone (my first attempt at self-medication), and stood outside of my room looking at the doorknob, feeling like there was a pane of glass between my outstretched hand and the door that I couldn’t possibly penetrate.

At some point, I found out my stomach pain, combined with my psychological symptoms, could be bipolar disorder. I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, went in to be assessed, told him about my perfectly practical and achievable plan to hang myself in an abandoned barn I’d found with a ladder and an electrical cord, and he sent me to a psychiatric unit for violent offenders in Lorain, Ohio. I stayed for 4 days and then came home with a Neurontin prescription and no diagnosis.

At 2:30 AM one night, Sophie got really sick and needed to go to the hospital overnight. The prescription speed and a missed night’s sleep started the true psychotic break, which you’ve heard all about. When I came to a moment of functionality around 4 pm the next day, I called my mom and said (again) “I’m not okay.” She told me to find someone to drive me to the airport at 5, that she would book a flight immediately, and to give her Sophie’s phone number.

On the drive to the airport, the blue sky was heavily dotted with bright white clouds that had the same texture as my mom’s fluffy scrambled eggs.  I could hear them singing to each other. By that point in the day, my psychosis had completely enveloped me, to the point of adjustment. It wasn’t at all frightening; the heavens were singing to me. I am not a religious person, but my psychosis has frequently taken on a literalist interpretation of angels, Satan, spirits, hell, and heaven (so far).

On the plane a few hours later, I was watching the Johnny Cash in-flight movie from the aisle seat. Next to me sat a man in his 40s with glasses, a button-down shirt, and khakis with a phone holster attached. Total white-guy dad. He was bouncing his 2-year-old son on his knee to distract and comfort the baby boy from popping ears and irritating confinement and boredom.

About halfway through the movie, I started to see a red glow in my peripheral vision where the man was seated. I turned to look at him and his eyes glowed red. I could see red light surrounding him, and his hands grew long claws from the fingertips. He was still bouncing the baby boy on his knee, holding onto him tightly with those terrifying claws. I knew in my bones that I was sitting next to Satan. I didn’t know what to do. I called the flight attendant but was afraid to speak when she came to me. He was going to hurt that little boy, he was going to drag me to hell with him, and I thought about screaming for help, but couldn’t see how anyone else on the plane could possibly save me from Satan, himself. As I looked around in a panic, I felt the floor beneath my feet drop away, and when I looked down between my feet, I saw 30,000 feet of empty space between me and the carpet of blackness and lights that make up a city from above at nighttime. My feet were swinging freely. My seatbelt seemed a laughable precaution. No one else noticed, so I stared straight ahead with tears raging down my face. I thought it best just to try to act the same as everyone around me. Surely the judgment of the many was currently better than my own.

I came home confused and in pain, still wanting to kill myself. My mom called every psychiatrist in town, and the nearest appointment was 6 months out. She convinced me that the fastest way to get help was to go to DePaul, the local psychiatric hospital. I seized a moment of doubt in my plan to off myself, and I told her to take me, quickly, before I changed my mind. We got in the car two minutes later. I didn’t even pack.

I already had one horrifying hospital experience under my belt that included living with real-life murderers and armed guards stationed at locked doors holding rifles with two hands. The threat this new hospital posed was made more significant in my mind through projection. By about one hour in, I was a wreck. I went into my very first mixed-state episode. It was hell. Literal hell. Eternal, unyielding suffering. I had no idea that episodes pass. I’d never had one before. I thought this was life now, that I was finally just broken, and that I no longer had a choice to live. I was in hell.

Suicide would make it stop. I knew that much. It was the only move I had left.

I double wrapped my phone charger around my neck and wrapped the other end around the top hinge on the bathroom door. I kicked a chair out from under me, but the jerk didn’t break my neck, so instead, I started to suffocate. My vision started to go white when I saw a shadow and heard someone screaming “help!” Someone grabbed me around the middle and lifted me up to take the pressure off of my neck. I felt cold scissors against my throat and hear a snapping sound of then cutting my charger’s cord. I took one deep breath in and started screaming.

I screamed. I wailed. I remember being partially removed, as if I was standing across the room, observing. I remember thinking that I sounded like a wounded wolf. I was screaming because they had cheated me. I had the answer. I even had the courage to commit to the answer. And they stole it. How could they do that to me? It seemed like the cruelest thing they could have possibly done.          

I lost Sophie a few days later when I got out of one-to-one observation. She broke up with me over the phone. When I called her and admitted to my attempt, she was rightfully terrified and overwhelmed. Mental illness doomed and then ended the relationship, which is no one’s fault. I lost my mind and my first adult relationship at approximately the same time. This order of events is not unavoidable, but it’s also not uncommon. Many others who live with mental illness have experienced this themselves.

Lately, I’m not doing so great. I’m having more severe symptoms than I’ve had in years and some of the things that are happening take me back to these memories. All of this happened over a decade ago. The 13th anniversary of my first suicide attempt is in 2 months.

While the symptoms are becoming severe, the coping skills I have are now strong enough to provide some solace and structure. Still, even with great tools to use, it often hurts like hell, and I’m terrified of going back to the place I was in 13 years ago. I don’t want to have a full psychotic break, be hospitalized, attempt suicide, or lose my relationship.I have skills now. I have a support system. I have medical care. I have a partner in life. I have 13 years of experience in keeping myself alive. I have amassed a wealth of helpful components to cope with my illnesses.

I have to fact-check. There are worse things than having a psychotic break. There are worse things than going to the hospital. There is no evidence that I will attempt suicide. There is no evidence that I will lose my relationship.

Cope. Fact-check. Ask for help. Go to the doctor.

I know what to do. I’ve done this before.

When Family Makes You Feel Alone During the Holidays

I know I’m not alone when I say I don’t like the holidays. Everyone has their reasons. Family gatherings always reminded me of or created more bad memories. I moved away from home to get away from family. It never felt like family. Living on my own, and no family, watching everyone else enjoying the holidays with their loved ones; this only reminded me of what I didn’t have. For a few years, I didn’t have friends around the holidays. If I could, I worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Working was better than feeling lonely at home.

As I got older, I developed a kind of family with some friends and coworkers, but this took a long time to build. I had a place to eat on Thanksgiving. I had someone to exchange gifts with on Christmas. After a while, I realized this new family was only a step up from my biological family. It’s difficult feeling alone when you’re surrounded by people; people who are supposed to be there for you but never notice you because they’re trapped within their own mind and problems. Sometimes you can’t find people you click with. People vibrate at different frequencies.

Moving on, getting older, once again I thought I had found a family. The harsh reality that I’ll never be a part of the family as I would like to be is just as painful as feeling like nothing around my other family. I know I have people who care for me. I know they would be there if everything was falling apart. But people who care for you can still make you feel alone or not important without meaning to. There’s no malicious intent. They’re going through problems too. Other’s feelings are forgotten when you’re caught up in your own.

If I can, I still work on Christmas. There are too many unhappy memories around that holiday. At the moment, I’m trying to decipher how much fault is mine in dealing with anyone else. Do they inadvertently make me feel unimportant because I make them feel that way? I’ve started looking back at myself every time I feel wronged. I have to be careful otherwise I’ll fall into the habit of assuming I deserve poor treatment. When do I start assuming I deserve happy memories during the holidays? When do I feel like people want me around for the holidays? This year wasn’t bad. Each year gets a little better. 

Music and the Memories of Depression

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From the baroque era to black metal, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t listening to some kind of music, first on a little cassette player, then on CDs, and now of course through online streaming. In fact, the world of streaming music has opened my library up to hundreds of thousands of songs that I would never have thought to listen to before.

According to my iTunes library, I’ve listened to the 10,000 songs in my library over 300,000 times. Some I’ve listened to only once or twice, of course, but the top ten percent of plays – 30,000 or so – are of just sixty songs – by just ten artists.

From Coma White by Marilyn Manson, at 450 plays, to Brief is the Light by Sentenced, at nearly 500, these sixty songs are an unintentional reflection of my mental state over the years. On average, I’ve listened to these sixty songs at least once a week for the past fifteen years (since I first built an iTunes library), although of course there’ve been days when I’ve listened to some on repeat for hours at a time.

You see, music is my memory. I don’t have the sharpest recollection for things, people or events, but listening to a particular song will invariably revisit the feelings I was experiencing when I first came to know and love it. For me, music is feeling, it is emotion, and frequently, it is depression.

When I listen to My Hope, the Destroyer by My Dying Bride, I am returned to the gloriously dark, gothic days of my teenage depression, candles and vodka late at night, wondering if I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life. When I hear Join Me In Death by HIM, I remember the blood running down my arms as I cut myself repeatedly, wishing I had the strength to cut deeper, harder, more finally.

These aren’t necessarily pleasant memories, but they are the foundation of who I am today – the essence of my soul. It would be a disservice to forget who I used to be, and how it led to who I am today. There are still days when I simply can’t cope, when I want to sleep all day and forget the world; there are days when I just want to cease existing. This last week has been especially hard, coping with the death of a dear friend and being asked to read his eulogy.

And in those times, I fire up my Depression playlist, and I remember. I remember what it feels like to be alone; what it’s like to be numb, and miserable, and to want to die. These are powerful memories, and they’re important.

Sometimes people ask me why, if I’m already depressed, I choose to listen to music that reinforces the feeling. They wonder why I don’t listen to happy music to cheer myself up. The answer is that I don’t use music to change my mood; I choose my music to reflect my mood. When I’m at my darkest, I need strength; when I’m at my lowest, I need reassurance. And the memories of past sadness is, in a way, just that: a reminder that I’ve felt this way before, and that I’m still here.

Music, in the end, is timeless and eternal. And in this, it serves as a reminder that all things pass, for better or for worse. I too will die one day, and I don’t want that day to come having wasted what’s left of my life.

That doesn’t mean I want to write a book, or cross off a bucket list; to me, that’s not the measure of a life well spent. To me, it’s about feeling. And feeling, be it happy or sad, alive or numb, is the essence of life. For some, they get their feelings from movies, or books; some get it from food, or family.

I get it from music. I am eternally grateful for the music in my life, and I will continue to rack up the plays on those top sixty songs for the rest of my life. Every time I need to remember, every time I need to feel, those songs will be there for me.

So remember to listen, and remember to feel: we aren’t long for this world.

PTSD is Like the Overdraft Fee in My Memory Bank

Memories—some I cherish and want to remember forever and some I want to forget.

A memory is the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information. I wish we could pick and choose our memories. Some memories are there forever and easily retrieved. Some memories are gone forever—vanished into thin air. Poof.

Image result for disappear I dream of Jeannie GIFs

My memory bank is much like my bank account – I don’t have a lot in it. Sometimes it feels empty, so I can’t retrieve or recall what I want or need. I lost a lot of memories due to the many electroconvulsive therapy treatments (ECTs) I had and also from being on a high doses of Klonopin (Benzodiazepine) for over twenty years.

I wish when I had my ECTs that I could have picked and chose what memories to erase and which memories to keep. Wouldn’t that be nice? That of course is not possible, but if it were there would be many more people having ECTs. That is for sure.

My memory bank and bank account are similar in other ways, as well. Sometimes they both punish me. For example, if I spend more money in my bank account than I actually have, I get charged overdraft fees. I don’t want them. They are a waste of money and that makes me angry. These unwanted and unplanned fees interfere with my budget and my ability to pay other bills and expenses.

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Flashbacks are similar to overdraft fees. Flashbacks are not planned and are definitely not wanted. Flashbacks come back to haunt me and seemingly punish me. Flashbacks can sometimes interfere with my daily activities and even the quality of my life.

A flashback is a sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma or taking LSD.  Strong feelings are attached to my memories as if I am eight years old again. I return to being that scared, hurt and shamed little girl, as if it were today.

A flashback can feel as though you are actually being drawn back into the traumatic experience, like it is still happening or happening all over again. They can occur uninvited, stirring up images, sensations and emotions of the original event. A flashback can be so overwhelming to one’s sense of reality, that many who suffer from them believe they are reliving or re-experiencing their trauma. A flashback is able to mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time (Rothschild, 2010).

As I have mentioned in some recent posts, my PTSD symptoms have been worse lately since I stopped taking psychotropic medications. Without psychotropic  medications, my memory is slowly improving and becoming clearer. I can focus better. However, my brain is now more exposed to some painful memories and wounds from past childhood abuse. With a clearer mind and better memory, old memories have resurfaced in an unwanted stronger and bolder way. Psychotropic medications can act like a band-aid and inhibit brain activity in both good and bad ways. I no longer have a band-aid for my brain to cover and hide my painful memory wounds.

Image result for no bandaids

As the years of my life progressed, memories from my childhood abuse increased and feelings associated from those painful memories increased in time. The older I became it seemed the more intense the feelings associated with my past memories became. It took many years before I understood what was going on with my feelings and dissociative symptoms. After I understood it better, I had a better grasp on it and could learn to counterattack it. I am still working on it and will most likely need to for the rest of my life.

After something or someone triggers my memory, I return to a memory from the past and/or flashbacks occur. I feel like I did when I was a child. I return to that time. I believe as a child my brain protected me so I could survive. Now I am living them again and feeling all the emotions that went them.

Two nights ago, I was awakened from my sleep and had flashbacks. I couldn’t get them to stop and I couldn’t fall back to sleep.  Lately more memories of my basement from my childhood keep entering my mind. It is strange and kind of scary at the same time. I can’t explain it.

I never lived this life before. This is my first time and I am doing the best I can. It seems when you live with mental illness, each day continues to be a new learning experience. There is never a dull moment inside my mind and brain. I guess that is a good thing. Who wants to be bored? It never happens for me as I continue to learn and grow more every day. I must

Now that symptoms from my bipolar have dissipated and improved lately and PTSD is rearing its ugly head more often, it is time for me to research and learn more about PTSD. I researched bipolar disorder and learned everything I could after I was first diagnosed with it and for many years after. Now I am going to focus more on PTSD. I find it all fascinating. The brain can be an organ that causes a lot of pain and destruction for a person living with mental illness, but you have to admit it is absolutely amazing and fascinating at the same time.

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So much to learn. The college of life is never over. Happy first day of school again and again and again…

By the way I am going to continue to work on improving my memory bank and bank account. I wish they were both bigger and had endless happy funds I could retrieve.


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