Friday, November 25, 2011

What is Tradition?

For the first time in 19 years, I didn't do "the big dinner" on Thanksgiving.  I don't intend to do the big Christmas dinner, either.  I just don't have it in me to do them right now.  We had a Thanksgiving-style dinner, but it wasn't *my* cooking.  It's not just that I'm a good cook (which I am)'s that the tradition wasn't there.

As a child, we didn't have many family events.  Mom and I were pretty solitary before she met my stepdad; even then his family was fairly small.  We still had "the big dinner" though, and the ritual was always so soothing.

Thanksgiving morning began with a fairly early breakfast; usually pancakes and sausage or something similar. Then, the women would start cooking.  Turkey, stuffing, ham, potatoes, several veggies, salads, deviled eggs, trays of olives and pickles, rolls, and pies.  Our dining room held a table that seated 10, a buffet, and a sideboard.  Every surface that could hold food did, plus some left in the kitchen.  The table was meticulously set with china and silver, cloth napkins, and all the good serving pieces.  The big coffee urn was filled, sodas set out, pitchers of iced tea, milk, and juice joined them on the sideboard.  Then, everyone gathered and found their seats.  The children were seated at a small table in the kitchen, while the adults sat around the table.  Then began the prayer of thanks, followed by the ritual of carving the turkey and passing dish after dish around the table.  Plates were loaded for us kids and brought to our table.  The food itself really has no memory for me (except the creamed onions - oh how I love them), but the spirit of the meal does.

After everyone had eaten their share, the kids were sent to the family room while the grown ups cleaned up.  This was before every household had TV with a million channels, so we likely watched a Christmas movie on one of the few channels we received, or we laid on the floor in a stuffed stupor.  Once the kitchen was clean and the dining room re-assembled, we would play fun games together like Charades and such.  There was such a feeling of joy and togetherness that I relished the holidays.

I've tried over the years to preserve that tradition.  I've done what I could to make each year's holiday as festive as those I remembered from the past.  I've spent as much as 8 hours in the kitchen at a time, toiling over pots and pans and fretting about how I would keep everything hot at once.

With the stress of grandma's issues and the tight budget we are living on, I had no desire to put the effort into the tradition this year.  My therapist challenged me when I told her I had decided not to do it and asked if I thought I was depriving Faith of a memorable experience.  Honestly, with what we have gone through recently, I don't think I am.  I know in my heart that next year will be amazing and new traditions will be started....but this year, my heart isn't in it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just What Is Wrong With You Anyway?

I have new readers here on the blog, and a few new Facebook friends who have expressed interest in knowing why I'm in therapy and what my medical problems are.  Usually I'm not so open about these things, but it's best to lay everything out on the table, right?

I'll address the medical first since it's easiest.  About two years ago, I started having seizures and massive memory loss.  I was unable to even go to work for weeks at a time because I could hardly function.  The seizures (grand mal) became more and more frequent and my doctors frantically scrabbled for a reason.  I had CAT scans, blood panels, MRIs....with no resolution.  It wasn't until the MRI company accidentally scanned the wrong area of my brain that they found the reason for the issues...they discovered AVM lesions in a deep area of my brain.  Thankfully, they were small, but surgery would have had a poor outcome and carried a large risk of death.  The neurologist thought chemotherapy would be successful, so I underwent a short course in Medford.  Thankfully, it was mild enough that I only lost a small bit of my hair; but the mouth sores, constant vomiting, fatigue, and serious dehydration took a huge toll on me.  It was about six months before I felt better again, and my memory improved greatly.  The seizures got somewhat better, but I was still experiencing grand mals.  As a result, I went through several different seizure drugs, and I'm still on a trial with my current medication.  While controlled, I still have absence seizures and occasional eyelid seizures.  My body is on the road to recovery from the illness and the chemo, however slowly.  Unfortunately, I lost a lot during my job, many friends, and my longtime relationship.  I came to realize that they weren't worth keeping if they were that easy to lose.

As far as the mental issues, well....they are more complicated.  My actual diagnosis is:

All three are treatable, and I take medication in addition to the therapy I participate in weekly (well, when I get the scheduling down anyway).  So far, the agoraphobia has been the easiest to treat, although I still have issues in crowded situations.  By no means am I unable to leave my house, I want that to be clear....however, my home is my "safe" zone and it's nearly impossible to allow people inside.  I hope to have overcome that with EMDR when I'm finished with that therapy.  The other two issues are controlled with medication and can be cured with EMDR as well.

I have been in therapy before, but never found resolution.  The therapy I participate in now is much more aggressive and targeted to an actual diagnosis.  My hopes are high for success.

What does this mean?  What kind of person am I?  Easy to answer.  I'm a person with a life-long illness that can eventually become more serious.  I have a treatment plan in place, and intend to fight with everything I have to stay healthy and well.  I am also a person who has mental illness that is managed and being treated.

Most importantly, I am a loving mother to my daughter.  I am a person who is blessed with friends who love her, despite experiencing issues with my disorders.  I am a woman who loves the man in her life completely and will do everything in her power to ensure he will be happy.  I strive to protect those I love from experiencing the negative side effects of the above issues.  I am caring, nurturing, and loving.  My joy in life is giving others happiness.  I am not a whole person, obviously, but eventually I will be.

I hope that gives you all some perspective.  Life is worth living, no matter what obstacles we encounter.  My life from this point on will be spent finding happiness.  I'm so lucky to have it within my grasp.

Crying - Not a Release for Some

Last night was a rough one.  Sometimes the anniversary passes with little more than a sad thought, and sometimes I really struggle (like last night).  I don't know why it was so hard this year....perhaps because therapy is opening some doors to release emotions; perhaps because I have the loving support of the man I adore and I feel safer in expressing the memory of the pain.  It most certainly opened a floodgate of tears, which took a couple of hours to exhaust.  

Crying is physically painful for me.  Others speak of a release when crying, but the most it does for me is create a giant headache and cause a choking feeling in my throat.  It can occasionally bring about a seizure, more because of the stress it causes.  The headache and choking feeling come from the desire to control (swallow back) the tears.  If I let go and let the tears come, I cry so hard that I throw up.  Pleasant, no?

The compulsion to hold back tears comes from lifelong behaviors.  When my mom would punish me, she would get unreasonably angry when I cried.  I learned to be still and quiet, no matter what she was hitting me with (belt, spoon, time she spanked me with one of my dolls =/.  She wasn't gentle about spankings, either).  Her lesson was to be still and take the punishment I deserved.  So, I learned to hold back the tears.  I would only cry when I shut myself in my closet and stuffed a pillow to my face so she couldn't hear me.  My grandma had her own methods as well....she was not a corporal punisher, but she used psychological tactics.  "Ladies do not cry." "Crying is weakness, stop being weak."  So I had to bottle it up to avoid being admonished.  My ex-husband would become disgusted with me when I cried.  The man who beat me unmercifully that fateful night became more enraged when I cried.  From these events, I learned that tears were bad, and I stopped crying altogether.  For over a decade.  To be fair, a tear or two would trickle when I experienced something sad (a sad movie, for example), but never full-out crying.

My therapist is trying to teach me that tears can be good.  Every session that I cry is so exhausting that I can hardly drive home afterward.  I can't find any comfort in the tears.  Perhaps EMDR therapy will solve that problem for me.  

Last night, I feel like I crossed a barrier of allowing emotions to be expressed.  I am still holding back (mostly to avoid throwing up and/or causing a seizure), but the tears are flowing.  Nearly to the point that I can't stop them, which is annoying.  I still find no release in them, but maybe I'm on the path.  I just don't want to break down sobbing when a butterfly hits my windshield.  Please, universe....some balance.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Angel of Darkness

Thirteen years ago today, at 11 pm, I tried (nearly successfully) to end my life.  My life had become so dark and I was so lost that death seemed like the only cure to the intense pain I was feeling.  I took several different medications (including beta blockers I had stolen from my grandmother to overdose on), and laid on my living room floor, surrounded by photo albums, listening to "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan over and over, and sobbing.

My angel came to my rescue, in the form of my daughter.  I heard her shuffle in her crib and realized what a horrible mistake it would be to leave her motherless.  Unable to face my ex-husband as I knew he would be angry, I called a friend.  She hung up and called 911, then called back and woke my ex.  He found me lying on the floor, nearly passed out by this point.  Although we lived far, far out in the country, the ambulance arrived in record time, and the EMTs worked heroically to reverse the effects of the drugs I took.  I don't remember much beyond that point, aside from seeing my infant daughter crying while the doors of the ambulance closed.  I woke several hours later in the ICU, restrained and feeling like someone had ripped my throat open.  I found later the hospital staff had pumped my stomach....believe me, you don't want to know how much that hurts afterward.  I was kept sedated until the hospital psych came to evaluate me.  I spent 3 tortuous days in the psych ward.  There are truly frightening people in residence there....I knew I didn't belong.  I was only released after signing an agreement to enter treatment.

After an intense year of combined medication and counseling, I overcame the depression that nearly killed me.  I should have died that night - the staff at the hospital told me I nearly died twice.  The spirit inside me, combined with the love of my daughter, saved my life.

I've struggled with depression and anxiety since, but I've never sunk back into the darkness again.  There is goodness in the world, and even if I spend the rest of my life alone, I will continue to seek it.  Thankfully, fate has smiled on me and given me the love of my life.  With him by my side, I know the darkness will never return.

I still have a hard time listening to this song, but it reminds me that my angel saved me.  So, today, as every year on this date, I listen to it, cry, and realize that I belong here on earth....if only to watch over the angel whose love kept me alive.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What's Love Got to Do With It?

As you all know (all 7 of you who read this blog), I'm in an amazing relationship.  We talked about love in texts yesterday, and it got me thinking.

Love is pretty fickle, isn't it?  We're so sure we've felt love at some point in our lives, but when it happens for real, we realize all those times before were probably not love.  Let me explain my point.

My first real relationship, I believed I loved the man (boy, really) completely.  He was charming and receptive, but didn't give love....rather, we had a screwed up kind of brother/sister relationship.  Gross, right?  He treated me like a sister; he was protective and affectionate, but that is where it ended.  I was so hopelessly in love with him, but I never got back what I gave.  We did end up having a deeper relationship later, but I discovered things about him that made me uncomfortable and made me question the depth of his it ended.

I went through a string of really effed up relationships between 18 and 21.  Readers of my old blog know I was beaten severely by a "boyfriend" and left, bleeding and in serious condition, miles out on the sand dunes of North Bend.  Thankfully, I was rescued by kind men who raced back to the staging area to call for help.  If it hadn't been for them, I shudder to think how long I might have lain out there.  Not long after that, I met my now ex-husband.  Normally, I would never (and I mean NEVER) have found him appealing, but he was seemingly normal, and seemed to adore me....not to mention I wanted desperately to be married and put the bad relationships behind me.  He proposed to me on Christmas of 1994, and I said yes immediately.  We were married in August of 1995, and I realized only a few weeks into the marriage that I had made a horrible, horrible mistake.  The ink was hardly dry on the marriage certificate when he became the total opposite of the man I married.  He gave up on being loving and became lazy....putting no effort into our relationship and spending all his free time with his friends.  I was planning to leave him just 8 months after our wedding when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter...wanting to give her a life with two parents, I hung in for 4 years before I realized it was never going to work and left him.

After moving to Grants Pass and starting over, I stayed single for a looooong time.  I even made a vow of celibacy and forced myself to stop the cycle of one-night stands and "friends with benefits" relationships.  Enter MRE (most recent ex).  It was just a friendship at flirting, long nights of talking, movie dates....but no sex.  Once it did turn to sex, we made a mutual decision that it wouldn't be more than the friendship + sex.  And the sex....well, it was amazing.  Enough so that I ignored the warning signs, even though they nagged at me constantly.  We had a solid year of constant phone calls, texts, and nearly daily sex....but no other relationship-based interactions.  During a tough moment in his life, he told me he wanted me to be more than just a booty call, and asked me to be patient while he worked his issues out...and of course, I fell for it.  Shortly after that, the phone calls dwindled to nearly non-existent and our interactions became fewer and fewer each month; plus the sex became more about his pleasure than mutual satisfaction.  I put up with it for 4 1/2 more years, trying to ignore my suspicions and trying not to throw jealous fits.  When I did confront him, he made it seem that I was "imagining things" and being ridiculous.  It wasn't until I caught him out one night with a co-worker that I realized my suspicions were true...I was not the only person in his life.  I cut it off, but he made overtures to come back into my life.  I caught him once again at the coastal town Faith and I so dearly love and cut the relationship off totally.  I refused his phone calls, texts, and emails, and he finally went away.  Mutual friends told me that he had not just one, but several women in his life at a time.  It's sad....he's obviously looking for something that is missing, and hurting a lot of people along the way.

After the long process of healing, I lost hope that I would find anyone.  In fact, I embraced it and made it my new friend.  I set up a 5-year plan of celibacy and focused on getting my girl through high school and into college before I would focus on my personal life.  I also committed to remodeling myself....finally getting back into therapy and fixing the issues that had accumulated over the last couple of years.  I went through a major illness, fought it, recovered from it, and started addressing the wreck it made of my body.  In my fledgling stage of the remodeling, life threw me a curveball.  I met the love of my life.  I knew pretty much instantly that I loved him, that the love was very real, and that I would spend the rest of my life with him.  The trouble with that is how to change my 5-year plan to incorporate this new relationship.  I struggled with the decision....but I didn't need to.  When it's right, the decision makes itself.  I've never in my life been so comfortable, so loved in a relationship.  Everything feels like it's just falling into place.  I'm ready for a new life with someone I love deeply.  I'm ready to give my daughter a good, strong male influence to guide her towards her adult life.  I have no reservations about change, which is so NOT my usual reaction.  I'm just....happy.  Even when my life outside of him seems so bleak and hopeless, I know that he is there, being supportive and loving....and suddenly it's all okay.

I hate to be cliché, but when you stop looking for love, it finds you.  I had completely given up, and that's when I met my Richard.  I am so thankful that fate gave me the love of my lifetime.  My soul is complete.