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Archive for April, 2012

Rant

Tomorrow is my ADHD testing. I’m frustrated with my doctor. Today at a support group meeting, I mentioned my doctor’s name, and everyone said bad things. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I’m done. My treatment plan is completely up to me. I tell her if I want more medication. And I get permission to take less when I ask for it. A friend pointed out that, to a degree, my treatment has always up to me. No one is going to make me take my medication. I agreed, but also reminded her I have a history of being compliant with what my doctor says.

My former psychiatrist gave me a voice in what medications I took, too. I’d go in saying, “I don’t like being on this many medications. The newest one has annoying side effects like lightheadedness. My sleep and mood have been better since I started taking it, but that could be a result of other things I’ve been doing to stay healthy.” Then, the doctor would advise me to either discontinue or continue taking the latest medication, explaining why. With my current doctor, I say “I’m not sure if I need to be on this medication.” Instead of asking for more details, she’ll say “Okay. Stop taking it and see how you feel.” It’s a battle every night whether or not I want to take it anymore. I’m taking it tonight, because it helps me sleep. I want a good night sleep before my 3 hours worth of testing tomorrow. I’m on a low enough dosage, I could stop taking it, see how it goes, and resume taking it if I notice any problems. I’m angry that I even have to worry about this, because that’s what my doctor gets paid to do. I don’t know the difference between when I’m healthy enough to cut back on medication and when my mental illness is the one telling me to cut back on medication so it can take over.

I move back to my hometown sometime in June. In August, I’ll move South. There’s no point in finding a new doctor before moving in August. My family doctor can hold the fort down for the summer. I’m sure thankful I’ve been stable all year. I don’t know what I’d have done if I was unstable and stuck with an inadequate doctor. I probably would’ve had to move in with my parents. Then I’d have missed all the peace and beauty I’ve found here at the convent. After a bitter entry, I want to emphasize my gratitude for stability and my new found peace here.

Rationalization

Blogging doesn’t feel like real writing. This doesn’t mean I don’t take other blogs seriously.  I just don’t think of my own blog as legit writing. It doesn’t provide freedom to brainstorm like a journal, and it doesn’t allow me enough time to make the words into a piece of art either. It’s an avenue for me to look at my thoughts through the lens of others. It’s also a way for me to feel heard. I always appreciate when someone tells me they read my blog. It allows me to reread entries, imagining what they think while reading my words. It also motivates me to blog when the negative thoughts convince me I don’t have anything worth saying.

Chris, a friend from the first writing group I ever participated in, asked me to critique his blog recently. Quick Back Story: He and I come from a small community, we discovered–through a piece he’d written about his grandmother–that we’re distant cousins. Hence why he gets the name Cousin Chris for his blog. Check it out. He’s a beautiful writer. He’s been an older brother figure to me, and I’ve been meaning to write him a letter about how highly I think of him. I’m way behind in my mail, so for now he gets a half-assed YOU ROCK in this entry. The point of all of this is that Chris offered to critique my blog entries in exchange for my feedback on his. As a writer, criticism is a good thing. I’m honored when someone, whose judgment I trust, offers to critique my writing. Chris offers great constructive criticism while encouraging me. His offer made me realize I don’t want criticism on my blog. If I know my writing will be criticized, I get stuck trying to anticipate the criticism. It really slows my process down. I start obsessing over every flaw (And there are always so many flaws in a first draft).

I’m a slow writer, because of my perfectionism. If I put the energy into my blog that I invest in my other writing, I wouldn’t blog at all. A blog lets my loved ones follow up with me when I don’t have time to give each one of them an update. I treat it like a mass e-mail. So, here I am–trying to convince myself I didn’t betray my writing by turning down an offer for free criticism—in front of an audience.

RATIONALIZATION: As a writer, I try to put myself aside, for the sake of art (Any artist will tell you it’s impossible, but we try!). When I don’t treat my blog as art, it is harder to put myself aside.

In all honesty, I contemplated starting this entry over. I take pride in the “embarrassing sincerity” maintained on here. It’s not like I ever write anything ultra personal, but I do try to capture my thoughts without judging them. I will not erase this entry. I’ll push publish after I type the period at the end of this sentence.

Risks

I’m abandoning electronics for the day tomorrow. My head is noisy. Keeping my phone & computer off all day is the best way I know how to turn it down. I was offered the top financial package at a competitive MFA program, and I’d be crazy not to accept it. It requires moving several states away. I’m afraid but grateful for the opportunity. It’s a risk to step out of my comfort zone, but I have so much to gain from it.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with a religion professor. He was saying that people from his high school assume he’s crazy smart because he has his Phd. He mentioned the sacrifices and risks he took to get his Phd, then saying that many more people could do it–if they were willing to make it a priority in their life.

My brother and I have been talking about risks off and on lately. Our parents are not risk takers. Their impulsiveness, that my siblings and I inherited, manifests itself in things like gambling or shopping because they do not take professional or social risks. To be fair, my parents got married and had kids young. It’s hard to take risks when you have to think about a family.

My ind. study instructor takes a lot of risks in her writing. She’s asking me to do the same, which is invigorating. I once read an interview with her where the interviewer asked her how she felt about her students knowing such intensely personal things from her life. She said she liked it, because she can talk from experience when she’s asking them to take risks and lay it all on the line. In my latest assignment, she asked me to take a risk. It was easier because I knew she was my reader, and I’ve already seen her writing.

Between working on this ind. study, moving far away, and starting an MFA program in the fall, I’m terrified and excited to see where my writing will go.

New Camera

I bought a refurbished camera. It cost a fraction of what I’ve paid in the past, and it takes better pictures than my other ones too. I have some shame about spending more money I don’t have, but my priorities are so different after living here. Money comes and goes. I have a place to live and eat. Everything else is just added bonus. Every day I witness miraculous growths. Never again will I live on 68 acres that I get to roam like my backyard. I use photos to do my drawings. I use them to do my paintings. I even use them for writing. It’s been hard enough to go all this time without a camera. Mine died in the fall, and it’s been killing me not to capture every new leaf or flower. Every day there are scenes I don’t want to forget. More importantly, there are a lot of people I don’t want to forget. Fading memories can be heartbreaking. I want to remember the little things like eye color or the shape of each wrinkle that shows when a person smiles. Only a camera can help me do that.

 

Fierce Love

After one week of some intense celebratory meals, I started jogging today. I’m a bit out-of-shape, but found laughter in my first jog of the season. My mind doesn’t like to accept that I’m no longer an athlete. I know this going into it, so I try to go easy on myself. Yet each time, I try to get back into shape, I do worse than I expected (could that be called getting older?) My thoughts this morning looked something like this for each minute during my jog: 1. Easy does it. 2. Alright this is going better than I expected 3) I’m a rock star. Look at me! 4) Okay, this is getting a bit old 5) Starting to feel some burn 6) I have to have been running for ten minutes by now. I’ll just walk.

Needless to say, I have some work to do. The second day is always worse than the first. The absurdity of how out-of-shape I am is never as funny the second day when I realize how many days of pain it will take to see any results. Even if I don’t stick with it that long, the endorphins from exercising help my anxiety.

I painted all afternoon today. I hadn’t done it in a while, and I look a mess as a result. I’m wearing one of my favorite t-shirts. It’s from a peace club I was in during college. It reads I Am an Agent of Social Change, and it has a paper crane on the short sleeve. It’s in raggedy shape, but I adore it. The nun with dementia likes to read it aloud over and over again, which only makes me happier when I’m wearing it.

My new medication is working okay, I think. It’s a bit early to tell. My mood has been pretty good, but my anxiety hasn’t gotten any better. It makes me light-headed/black-out easily, which means I need to be careful jogging. It also makes me stupid tired when I take it. I hate that about 30 minutes after taking it, I feel drunk. Not the fun kind, either. It’s the tired kind where you’re willing to pass out on a bathroom floor. Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but it does make me tired enough to stir up internal arguments about whether brushing my teeth is really as important as I make it seem.

This next story is a bit complicated to explain, but I need to highlight one of the many incredible women I live with here. As previously mentioned, I’m working on an activity for my ind. study about voice. I’m supposed to choose a topic that is a risk for me. This has me really digging deep, looking through old journals and kicking at any untouched skeletons in my closet. I’ve done several recent journals diving into difficult subjects.

Yesterday, a situation occurred that left this sister alone at a desk with my journal. It was wide-open to one of the recent entries where I dive into tough subjects. It wasn’t until I returned later, I realized my journal was flashing her words that would peak anyone’s curiosity. I had a moment of panic, wondering what she would think of me if she read it. It didn’t take long for logic to kick in. I realized I’m almost certain she didn’t read it. She’s the kind of woman who would purposely divert her eyes. Also, in the small chance she did read it (I wouldn’t be able to blame her. This was the sort of situation where a person could have accidentally glanced at it), she would never tell anyone or judge me.

I sighed, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude. This nun already spoils me like I’m her grandchild. She’s just incredible with such genuine, small gestures of great love. This is far from the best example, but that morning she’d given me a big hug at mass, whispering, “You look gorgeous” because I dressed up. Just little things like that, which always make me smile. This “journal scare” yesterday is an example where just by having witnessed the sincere person she is, I felt safe—a safety that’s bigger than the journal. A safety in the power of love. I feel like I stole that from an after-school-special. It’s not TV Love, though. It’s that fierce love I’ve talked about before.

Holy Week

Thursday night I said something I never dreamed I’d say after an acquaintance invited me out for a beer. I asked if we could wait until after the weekend, saying “It’s just so crazy right now with Holy Week.” I had to step back and laugh. I haven’t celebrated Holy Week as a whole since Middle School. High School is when I started to protest the hypocrisy. I’d eat meat on holy days at school in attempt to prove to myself I had a faith beyond keeping up appearances.

Yesterday I took a vacation from my phone, computer, and ipod. It was delightful. I hadn’t thought of it as “healing” until one of the nuns phrased it that way. I sat with a few sisters I don’t normally get to sit with, and they asked me about grad schools and my “book” that doesn’t really exist anymore. I explained how I scrapped the original book plan, and I’m doing a lot of explorative writing about healing. Later in the discussion, I mentioned I’d abandoned all electronics for the day, and they pointed out how healing it must be. I realized they were right. Before moving here, I can’t remember the last time I had a day to play outside. Yeah, I said “play outside.” I spent the day on this porch-style-swing that overlooks a giant drop-off with even more giant trees, wrote, climbed a tree, read, and then sat on the swing some more.

That’s the sort of day that causes many people to say they are jealous of my life. My dad once said he worried I would always think “life’s this easy.” It is true that I live my dream life here, but it took me a hell of a long time to figure that out. My mind and body are still trained to think life needs to be a struggle. Life implies struggles, yes, but it does not have to be a struggle as a whole. I wish someone would have told me that sooner. I’m also grateful to be figuring this out at 24 instead of waiting until retirement like too many people. Due to this false idea that life has to be a struggle, we create so many unnecessary struggles along the way. We numb our minds with work, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, work, electronics, social media, and more work. God forbid we have a moment to actually contemplate life, purpose, beauty, wisdom, pain, betrayal, shame, or anything and everything in between.

It takes a good portion of my days with no electronics to finally get to a point where I can stop thinking about everything I think I should be doing, as if I’m that important. Yes, I do have some accountability and responsibilities. We all do. However, we are not as important as our egos like us to believe. We fool ourselves into feeling valued by receiving another text or voicemail. Are we really so important we can’t give a few close loved ones a warning (and a way to contact us in case of an emergency) and then take off a weekend with no electronics? If you ARE that important, then just do it for increments of a few hours. You don’t have to meditate, write, read, or do anything else that can trick you into feeling important. Just sit somewhere (preferably outside) and get lost in your head. It’s incredibly therapeutic. I plan to do it more often.

That was an unplanned rant. I wanted to explain how my “Healing” day taught me much. For example, it caused me to explore the roots of my anxiety. I participated in The Stations of the Cross ceremony, as well as the service afterward. My anxiety was through the roof during both. It had also been terrible the night before during the foot [now hand]-washing ceremony. I snapped back into my childhood body and self, feeling like the entire Church & God were both watching me and keeping score. And if I messed up, everyone would be upset. That sort of thinking is exhausting. I’d take a deep breath, and try to stay logical, but it was a battle. I’m intrigued by how much of my anxiety is based in Catholicism. It can be a rather fear-based/high-pressure religion. I’m surprised I didn’t start having panic attacks back in my alter-serving days. Although, I never had full-blown panic-attacks as an alter-server, I certainly had moments of panic. I was such an anxious kid. Wish someone could have told me to relax.

 

Drugs

Life resumes at the convent. I’m both content and relieved to be back, despite feeling bad because I slept a good portion of the last few days away. I started a new medication upon my return Sunday night. It’s a mood stabilizer similar to one I used to take. The old one made me gain weight. This one isn’t supposed to do that. This new one helps me sleep and is supposed to help with my anxiety, in addition to some of the unexplainable waves of depression that kept knocking me off my feet here and there.

Starting a new medication leaves me feeling scared and vulnerable. Even though I know deep down I need the new med adjustment, the voices from everyone who ever felt it was their place to tell me they opposed psychiatric meds plays on repeat in my mind. I agree with some that, as a society, we are over-medicated. I’m horrified by some of the stories I’ve heard of friends or family being prescribed psychiatric meds by family doctors who don’t follow up properly. Psych meds are nothing to be taken lightly. The problem is that mental illness tricks those who are really ill into thinking they don’t need medication. How do I know whether I’m well enough to cut back on medication, or if it’s my illness trying to take over my life again? The truth? I don’t. That’s where a good psychiatrist comes in.

Even now, with this new medication my doctor added on top of my others, I wonder if I really “need” it. Couldn’t I continue to live without it? I was doing okay. Yes, I had some intense anxiety and sleep issues, and yes, I had waves of depression knocking me off my feet once in a while, but I dealt with it okay. This is where I have to trust my analytical side, understanding my symptoms were problematic and that I don’t have to wait until I’m self-destructive again to get treatment.

Part of what caused a majority of my health problems (both physical and mental) was that I never trusted myself to gauge my feelings properly. If someone told me I was exaggerating my pain, I’d believe him or her. I’m working to own my feelings, reminding myself that “my symptoms were problematic, so I’m treating them.” I’ve put up with others telling me how to think or feel for too long. I’m currently doing work to strengthen my narrative voice for my ind. study. It’s not a coincidence that my narrative voice is timid when I’m used to either: 1) Not voicing my opinions or 2) Presenting my opinions as questions for others to build on or combat.

I experienced an overwhelming sensation of peace this evening. Reading poetry aloud outside is the best prayer-like experience in my life. I read on a bench near a tree I call “The Vision Tree.” I don’t know enough about trees to accurately describe it, but I’ll try. It’s giant trunk has such a wide base that I climbed up in it for a picture once, and it made me look very small. It must be broken or carved out somehow. It’s not dead, but it has this place I can climb into where another plant grows. It looks like, if there was ever a place to have a vision, this tree would be the place. It’s a semi-flat, carved out surface where something or someone could perfectly stand above you and give out words of wisdom. I teased my friend that I’d have to take some hallucinogenic drugs and sit by the tree until I had a vision. She didn’t find that funny. I’m a bit irreverent for being someone so drawn to sacred things.