Category: Mental Health

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Do you ever have those days where the thoughts rush thru your head so fast that no thought gets finished before the next begins? Like there is a monkey in your head spinning a radio dial back and forth while making that insane laugh noise that only monkeys can make? Like the mystic being in charge of your brain has decided to play 52 pickup with a deck of flash cards? Like you gave a room full of four year-olds kegs of Mountain Dew and an unlimited supply of Pixie Stix?

Welcome to my world today.

I am resisting the urge to forcibly shut the voices down with wine or Valium or the fishing channel . Instead, i am relying on tea and nature sounds and fresh bed sheets. This is how i self-comfort. I am moderately successful. Sometimes. Well, more than half the time, anyway. I am still learning.

Do we ever really stop learning?

Baby steps.

You may remember when i first started on the road to self-soothing. My unsuccessful attempt to learn meditation (Stream of Consciousness ).  I still suck at it. But i have learned a few tricks that make my mental state more like a ballad by Meatloaf and less like a Megadeath concert. Still not zen calm, but better than mental thrash metal.

Why did on Earth did Marvin Aday want to be called “Meat Loaf”?

Baby steps.

I may never learn to truly quiet my mind. I may never master meditation. And i may end up taking something to help me sleep tonight. But i am still better than i was. More tranquil than i was. The voices are softer and there are fewer of them.

No – not those kind of voices. My own voice. Just multiplied. And i won’t shut up.

I talk too much. Even to myself. Like a one-woman Broadway show that no one wants to see. Carrie: The Musical.

Why would anyone think that was a good idea?

I think i have that book somewhere. Where did i put it? Oh, an i must find that book of funny poems while i’m at it.

There once was a girl from Glen Hart…

Baby steps.

 

 

 

NO MORE

Warning: Violent and honest content about a current news story is discussed herein.

 

Last week, a local high school basketball team was in a vacation destination close to here for a holiday tournament. From the various news stories i have read, this is what we know: At the time of the incident, the kids were unsupervised. They were in the basement of a vacation cabin where the younger players were begin “hazed”. Comments were made to the younger students that it was part of being on a team, and that they would get to do it to freshman players when they were upperclassmen. The younger students were beaten by the upperclassmen  with pool cues. Two of the younger students suffered minor injuries. A third collapsed the next day and was found to have a punctured colon and bladder where he had been sexually violated with a pool cue by three of his teammates. He spent eight days in the hospital being physically repaired. The team continued to play on. When they returned from the tournament, the offending three (As if the rest of the team beating freshmen with cues isn’t offensive enough), were expelled from the team and suspended from school by the county school board. Many members of the school board are infuriated that the team didn’t come home immediately following the incident, that the team wasn’t better supervised, and that the school board hasn’t been give a complete account of everything that went on (At least not as of yesterday, and this happened between Dec 21st and 23rd.) Two of the accused three are being held in jail on aggravated rape and aggravated sexual assault charges. The third was released on bond. The victim is at home, trying to recover from his physical injuries. The emotional injuries will be much harder to heal.

There are far too many vile issues to deal with in this story.

The culture we have in this country seems to perpetuate this archaic and violent idea of manhood: One where sexual violence is accepted as if it were a dog lifting his leg on the sofa to mark his territory. I heard someone say about the incident that she didn’t understand how the kids would think it was “normal hazing”.  I can. Just watch the news. Listen to the things your kids talk about. Listen to what WE talk about. We make excuses for everything leading up to this. “Boys will be boys.”  There are still ignorant people making statements to justify rape based on the victims clothing/demeanor/inebriation status. And then when it keeps escalating until something like this… Well, we really have no right to be surprised. We tell kids not to bully, but the masculine culture is still that juvenile machismo bullshit that has been around since the beginning of time. We tell kids to not buy into it, but just like everyone at that age, they want to be accepted, so they take it. And by virtue of constant exposure, they become it. Or the opposite, we tell them to avoid violence and just walk away. Ignore it and the bullies will give up. And they get their asses kicked (or violated) as a result. How about we just find a way to stop the cycle? How about we fix the problem?

I admit, it would have been unfair to the rest of the team to cut the tournament short and leave when the violence came to light. But certainly no more unfair than to the player who had to have surgery as a result. It seems highly doubtful that the rest of the team had no idea what was going on. I am stunned that the coach didn’t see a need to report the incident and head back immediately. Yet another example to the kids that “It isn’t really that big a deal. The ‘fun’ just got a bit out of hand.” What the hell, coach?!?!?!  You KNOW you are the main example of what it means to “be a man” to a lot of these kids, and THAT is the message you give? You need to be relieved from your position for that alone, never mind for being totally unaware of what your team was doing in that cabin. Never mind that you closed your eyes and ears while it was being planned. Never mind that you have socialized a team to believe that violent hazing is acceptable practice.

The school board: There have been a few comments by the superintendent that sound suspiciously like he just wants it to go away, tho he hasn’t said anything that could be considered condoning it. He has taken a stance to investigate and punish accordingly. One female member of the school board, tho, has been very vocal about her outrage. To quote Rhonda Thurman, “I wasn’t elected to guard the cat litter box, to cover up crap, that is not why I’m here.”  Amen, Rhonda! I don’t think it’s coincidence that the most outrage is coming from a female. We know what it’s like to be a victim of such violence. We know what it’s like to have it passed off and our perpetrators be made out to be victims as much as we were. We know what it’s like to have everyone act like it isn’t a big deal. If it didn’t happen to us personally, we have someone very close to whom it has.

Men have less experience in the publicity of sexual violence. Men aren’t generally allowed to acknowledge when they have been victimized in this way. The public has a much more visceral and disbelieving reaction to their plight. After all, males aren’t weak, so why didn’t they just fight back? Just like lesbian culture vs. gay male culture, the public has a much harder time accepting men being anything but Ward Cleaver or George Clooney. They can’t stomach the thought of anything else. I never have understood why that is. Granted, i grew up in a house full of women where effort was made to accept us all as we were, so i am lacking in a lot of the typical American socialization. But the fact of the matter is, in any major city here in the U.S., you will see billboards, PSAs, and pamphlets making the public aware of rape crisis centers and counseling available… And you can bet the bank, the picture accompanying it is of a female. It’s as if male rape doesn’t exist.  We need to face the fact that being raped is not dependent on the victim’s sex. Nor is it about sex. As much as we hate to think about it, we are a violent people. This situation is the result. And we have no solution available for it because we don’t talk about it.

So this poor 14 year old kid, who is at home trying to walk again after the surgery to repair his destroyed guts, has very few places to turn to get help healing the emotional scars that accompany his physical ones. And any woman will tell you that the emotional scars are far deeper and worse than the physical ones. There might be a  therapy group in this city for sexually abused males, but i’ve never heard of one, and i make it a point to be aware of the mental health services available here. He isn’t the only young man who has been raped in this city, but you’d never know it if you were looking for support services. That is a shame and totally unacceptable.

You can say that rape is rape, and gender doesn’t matter, but i don’t believe you. We’ve spent the last 40 or 50 years working hard to strengthen our women in this country. Teaching us how to be strong in ourselves. What we deserve and what we don’t. What we are to blame for and what we are not. To blaze our own trail. And to turn to our sisters for help when we need it. However, in this same amount of time, we have done very little to change the way our men think. There aren’t many groups out there to teach young men what a man really is. (Shout out to my coworkers and friends and their ilk who work, mostly,  thru their churches with these young men.  I salute you making the effort, and i promise you, you are making a difference!)  There aren’t advertisements for places to turn when a man is violated. Or when he sees a violent trait within himself. And far too many of our typical socialization groups, like team sports, still perpetuate the caveman as the model for masculinity. No wonder so many young men are so screwed up.

I am not, in any way, saying that rape of men is worse than women. Only that there is far less available to help a man heal from rape. Because we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to think about it. We can’t imagine it. And we don’t know how to reconcile “man” as “victim”.

In a small step towards supporting our young men, more and more adult men are starting to speak out on surviving rape. Manly men, by American standards, who no one could think of as weak. Ice-T, for example… When his badass self appears in a PSA against rape, it makes a small nick in the rock of machismo.

icet_nomore_psa_printad_9_17_13

Enough of these nicks, and maybe we can chip away at the rock that is the distorted view of men in this country. A nick for every school assembly on violence that includes where boys can go for help if they are victim or horrified perpetrator. A nick for every man who speaks out against ignorant comments made by a peer. A nick for every billboard for rape crisis centers that shows a male as well as a female. Pretty soon, a small movement will take hold and we can make bigger nicks.  A nick for every coach who talks to his team about the issue of hazing, and personally confronts violent players. A nick for every student who stands up and says, “Not on my team!” A nick for every woman who stops talking like rape is only a woman’s issue and remembers that it is a HUMAN issue and not about sex at all. And a nick for every generation to come that tolerates the bullshit less and less.

I have a 13 year old son. I have never spoken with him about sexual violence, except to note, when it appears in the news, that it is vile and unacceptable. And i have no excuse. I know the devastation it can cause. I have lived with it. And, i know others, both men and women, who have been violated and suffered lifelong for it. And still i haven’t mentioned it. But you can bet your life on the fact that i will be having that discussion now.

The first step in becoming part of the solution is realizing that you are part of the problem.

I won’t be part of the problem anymore.

 

For more information on help available for ALL victims of sexual assault, this is a great website with a lot of links available to other sites and services as well:    http://nomore.org/about/  You can also check with any local outpatient mental health facility or your local hospital to find qualified help. 

Stream of Consciousness

My therapist has taken to guiding me thru meditation. Because, you know, it’s too frigging difficult for me to figure out. Breathe in… Breathe out. Yah. WAY too difficult. Two flipping steps. Two flipping steps that I can’t manage to master.

I love simplicity. Food, art, architecture, fashion: I love when they are seamless and with clean lines. I am, however, incapable of producing such things. I can’t just fry an egg. I have to glaze the pan with bacon grease first, dose it with smoked sea salt and freshly torn herbs from the garden, lay it on a plate with toast and frou-frou jam and perfectly cooked bacon. Even if you told me you only wanted an egg. I can’t help myself.

I tend to complicate things. As my son pointed out to me earlier in the week, I can’t even just say, “I’m sorry.” I have to apologize profusely and explain the screwed up reasoning that devoured my head and made me think that tossing the condiments in the jumble bin in your car console was a good idea. Even tho you don’t give a shit and have already moved on. I should have moved on with you.

I’m supposed to quiet my mind for 15 minutes a day. This is supposed to bring me one step closer to serenity. I need some serenity. Like, I REALLY need it. I’m wired and frazzled and buzzing with short circuits. Serenity seems about as likely for me as waking up next to Liam Neeson. But I know if I can manage to get some, things will get better. SO WHY THE HELL CAN’T I DO IT?????

I am a smart woman. A resourceful woman. Other than pie crust, I’ve been able to manage everything I’ve set my mind to, sooner or later. I can do and do and do and do. The only thing I can’t do is not do. Apparently, God/Goddess/Universe forgot to give me an “Off” button.

For a lot of my life, it hasn’t been much of a problem. I can multi-task like a champ. I am good with creating things on the fly. I awaken with all the ideas that rushed thru my head during sleep. It has served me well, for the most part. It’s only when I need to reboot that I realize I’m incapable of shutting down.

You know when you go to turn off your computer and it gives you that belligerent pop-up saying “Your Thesaurus program is still running and preventing you from shutting down…” ? Welcome to my head. Words, numbers, lyrics, jingles, memes, every mistake I’ve made that day, did I remember to lock the front door, the possibility that a spider will crawl in my window, into my ear, and lay a new colony, and the realization that there has never been a Weird Al tribute album…. All these things still cycling thru my mind. And the bitch is sitting there in her oversized easy chair telling me to “Breathe in…”

I apologize. She isn’t a bitch. She’s actually one of the better things in my life. She lets me vent and helps me distinguish between things I need to fix and things I need to suck up and walk over. She’s been with me a long time now and she’s kept me out of the bin for all this time. No small feat, I’m sure. So now all she has to do is help me find my power button so I can turn myself off.

“Feel your scalp relaxing… Your face… your neck…” I’m trying to do what she says, but instead I’m becoming acutely aware that NONE of these things is relaxed at all. It’s like straightening your leg when you’ve been sitting on it for an hour. Existential ponytail headache. She has already moved on to my shoulders, arms and fingers, and I’m still focused on the stiffness of my ears.

This isn’t working. I’m never going to be able to do this. I must be an idiot. All I have to do is breathe. WHY CAN’T I DO THIS??? Listen to her voice. Just her voice. Concentrate on that. ‘Breathe in… Breathe out…’ I wonder if this is the voice she uses with her daughter when she is upset? Does she use this voice with her husband? Oh, ick! Get that thought out of your head. Not supposed to be thinking about stuff like that. Supposed to be concentrating on breathing. My right nostril is a little stuffy. Must be the leaf mold. All that rain over the last few weeks. I wonder if it’s going to be a rainy fall. Maybe it will be a snowy winter. Remember that winter a few years back when we actually had snow on Christmas? That was really cool. ‘Feel your toes relaxing…’ Toes? What happened to hips and knees? Have I been talking to myself this whole time? God, I suck at this. “

Maybe I should just give up and accept the fact that my hard drive does NOT turn off. That the lags will get more and more and eventually I will crash. Wait. Bad analogy. Computers that have crashed get replaced. I’m not ready to be replaced. (How awesome it is to finally have reached the point where I don’t want to be replaced!) There must be a way. An emergency switch or something. Maybe she can hypnotize me and give me some magic word or something that will turn me off and reboot me. That might work. Because right now, she’s going “Breathe in…” and I’m thinking that I need to pick up mustard at the grocery.

Got any Grey Poupon?

Ok, session is up. I’ve failed again. Still no off button. Still no reboot. BUT I WANT SERENITY!!!!!!! Sigh. I’m going to make myself a cup of tea. That at least slows me down. It’s possible I am getting better at this meditation thing and just don’t realize it. Maybe I am actually calmer than I was. Maybe the planets will align, i’ll wake up with Liam Neeson, and he’ll hit me with some Valium. Maybe he’ll hit me with a hammer. It’s Hammer Time. Hit me with your best shot… Fire away…

Breathe in…. Breathe out.

Forget it. Where’s my tea?

I Am Atlas

My eyelids weigh 1000 pounds.
Akin to Atlas, the world is my eyelids.

I went to bed last night hoping they would be lighter this morning, but it isn’t so.

Caffeine, the alcohol of fatigue, has failed to artificially convince them they are light and beautiful.

Lumps of clay, unable to be spun into any sort of vase or vessel or anything useful. Just big, gray, heavy blobs of clay.

It takes all my strength to hold them up. If all my efforts are keeping my eyes open, how do I get my tasks done? My life done? I am afraid to rest even one weary arm, sure that if I do, the lid will fall and stay closed forever.

That will not do.

It rains around me, and still I cannot let go. I hope the rain stops before I drown like this, holding my eyes open instead of treading water and staying afloat.

What a choice to have to make.

Drown or let the sun go down.
It’s true, the lifeguard may save me. It’s true, the sun may rise again tomorrow. On which shall I lay my hopes? Would that the gods Who have me holding this weight would tell me which cure will lighten the burden. I am without a clue.

For now, I keep my hands up, supporting the heavy gray masses. I watch the water rise and keep my chin up to breathe.

I believe I can hold it for

One more day.
One more hour.
One more minute.
I can do this.
I can do this.
I can do this.

It’s All In Your Very Real Head

So many times we say it. Even more often, we think it. But like the old adage, “Just because i’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me, ” just because something is all in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

When we say, “It’s all in your head, ” what we really mean is that is where the problem begins. Medicine has proven that brain disorders can cause true health problems. Frustration can cause ulcers. Anger can cause strokes. Fear and anxiety can cause tachycardia. Depression can cause insomnia and anorexia. And pretty much everything can cause digestive problems. And the reverse is true as well. Vitamin D deficiency and lack of exercise can cause depression. Insomnia can cause memory loss. Hypoglycemia can cause attention deficit. Hormonal imbalance can cause psychosis. Body and brain are inexorably linked. So why do we consider brain causes to be inferior to body causes? If your heart races from fear instead of an intrinsic dysrhythmia, is it any less of a problem? After all, 180 beats per minute is 180 beats per minute. If you have irritable bowel from anxiety instead of irritable bowel from low serum ferritin, is your poo any less stinky? After all, shit is still shit.

The only real issue i see is in the treatment. If your high blood pressure is caused by genetics, and we treat it with anti-hypertensives, then you stand a chance of getting a good result. You can’t change your DNA (at least not yet), so you change the conditions it operates under: Specifically, you change the chemical cascade. But if your hypertension is due to the fact that you are forced to live in the basement of your chain-smoking, verbally abusive, peri-menopausal great aunt… Well, then, Metoprolol is really only masking the problem, now isn’t it? Even tho your blood pressure problems are caused from your stress and not your parentage, it can give you a heart attack or stroke just the same, so you have to deal with it. But the mechanism that causes the mercury to rise, when the mercury is taken away, is sure to find another outlet. In other words, if all you do is fix your blood pressure, the Aunt Gladys still remains, and who knows what that stress will cause next? You have to move out of the basement to really solve the problem.

Yet, we would never accept our physician telling us that the answer to our health issue is to move out of the basement. We want a prescription. A treatment. Something simple and easy, like twice daily shots in the bum with a magic serum. Somehow that seems better and more important than doing something about our sanity. A medicine chest full of pills is far more glamorous than taking charge of our lives. A prescription is far more socially acceptable than a Tai Chi class and an appointment with a therapist. An outpatient hospital procedure is far less problematic than standing up to Gladys. Give us the easy route, doc. We have enough complications in our lives already.

That is not to say that pharmaceutical mediation isn’t necessary for emotional conditions. Nothing mental is cured overnight. Gotta keep the stroke at bay while we learn to deal with the basement thing. The best long-term solution is to attack it from both sides: the mental and the physical. Take your Nexium AND your meditation. Take your Prozac AND get sunlight and exercise. Take your Beta Blocker AND move out of the basement. And don’t feel squirrelly about doing the “non-medical” things. I promise, using thunderstorm sounds to help you with your insomnia won’t cause you to wear bellbottoms and patchouli. Talking things out with a therapist or minister won’t make you social outcast, and it will probably lessen your need for the antacids. But remember, just like no magic pill cures depression, no magic herbal tea cures heart disease either. Both fronts, physical and mental, must be fought to win the battle.

I have made no secret of the fact that i hate society’s expectations and subjugation of the human brain. We concentrate so much on other parts of the body and their overall health, and yet neglect the most important organ of all, the one that makes us human. The issues in our heads that cause our bodies to be “off”, and the issues in our bodies that cause our minds to be “off” – these things should be one and the same. Part and parcel of this discipline we call medicine. Rather than a hierarchy of treatments, there should be an evolving cloud of health: Take your medicine, get your testing, sleep, eat, exercise, play, read, talk, think, laugh… All these things contributing equally to the overall well-being of the patient. Whether the problem starts or finishes in your head, the head requires treatment. For some, that treatment requires medication. For others, it requires peace.

I look forward to the day when a doctor can look at his patient and say without reserve, “Take your pill, get some exercise, and do a little fishing, ” and have each part of that statement be equally important. Indeed, it is already true, but we are just afraid to admit it.

Herbert Was Wrong

They tell me it’s because i’m getting older. All these things that keep popping up. Getting lost. Falling off. I just keep thinking to myself, “That can’t be right. I’m not old.” As an American woman, i’m supposed to be in my prime. OK, maybe the saying is about sexual prime, but it stands to reason that you wouldn’t hit your sexual prime only to have your body and brain fail for no good reason. I hope God isn’t that kind of Sadist.

I am reasonably fit. I eat healthy most of the time. My weight is spot on the recommendations. I sleep a full night. I take medicines as directed. I don’t overindulge in alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I try to meditate. I try not to break the law. I wear my seatbelt. And i don’t wear white pants after Labor Day. Yet i am plagued. Cholesterol. Shingles. Menopause (OK, maybe that isn’t a bad thing after all), bifocals, bunions, hypertension that causes other complications, osteoporosis, wrinkles, sags, bags… And now i’m losing my mind.

My similarly middle-age friends tell jokes about going into a room and forgetting why they’re there. They lose their keys. They can’t recall phone numbers. They draw a blank on the name of their partners’ favorite beer. They miss important dates. They forget to thaw the chops for dinner. Me? I accidentally call my daughters by each others’ names. I have accidentally called my son my dog’s name. I have stared at the dog and for the life of me can’t remember the word for that species of animal. And when i get angry or excited or giddy? The words in my head come out in the wrong order. And not like Yoda, either. Like a verbal Yahtzee toss. It’s frustrating as hell. To be there, mouth open, word at the back of my mouth and i can’t bring it forth. And it gets scary when i hear a thought come out of my mouth and it makes no sense.

As a writer, words are important to me. I will delete whole paragraphs from a piece of work if i can’t find the perfect word for a single thought. I love my Thesaurus. And much like Charlotte from her web, i will yell from my laptop to my weedlings to request ideas for a word that means suchandsuch. I try to say and write exactly what i mean. To be unable to pull those words out of my brain is like craving Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. Vexatious. To hear gibberish come out of my mouth is more like hearing Elmo swear. Sacrilege.

Now, i realize that it seems far worse to me than to those around me. I am able, sometimes, to recognize that my mouth is awry and manage to shut it before spouting off like a word puzzle from the Sunday paper. And perhaps my panic magnifies the issue in my personal reality. Perhaps i don’t deal well with stress, and it short-circuits my brain when i can’t maintain calm. Perhaps all people my age say “cat” when they mean “coffee” on occasion. Perhaps all our brains are so full, at this age, that the files get jumbled. Perhaps the cumulative effects of weed and Bovine Growth Hormones and red dye #5 are catching up with my generation and having a bad impact. Perhaps we all are losing our memory bit by bit. Perhaps. But, damnit, I DON’T LIKE IT! I DON’T WANT IT! AND I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT I AM NO LONGER YOUNG!

Ma was just a couple of years older than i am now when she died. This makes it difficult to assess how i compare in the familial trend, though i remember my grandmothers from both sides being sharp and acute til the very end, and they were much longer lived. I hesitate to compare my brain to the men before me because, well, let’s face it… Male brains are a different animal entirely. Both my body doc and my head doc tell me that this is all normal, and that if i could learn to control my stress better, my brain will respond (As will the blood pressure, the shingles, the tmj… Pretty much everything but the bunions.) But i regularly attempt meditation, and i always fall asleep. I tried yoga, but the sweaty mats made me schieve. I considered running, but my boobs begged to differ. Tai Chi moves too slow. BioFeedback isn’t covered by my insurance. I’m too poor for regular massages.  And weed is illegal. So what is left? I write. I walk. And i bitch to my girlfriends. I may still be stressed out, but i’d hate to see what i’d be like without those things. I’d probably explode like in that old movie Scanners. And that would give my children nightmares, so that option is out.

In my all-time favorite book, Flowers For Algernon, i still cry every time i get to the part where Charlie starts to lose his edge. The pain of him knowing what is seeping away is so profound that it stabs me right through the pages. And i worry it will happen to me. Even knowing in my head that i am no worse off than anyone else my age, my soul still panics at the thought of losing my intellect. I have no doubt that my healers are correct and that obtaining some zen, some way, some how, will improve my health and clarity. Tho i may still misplace my dog, i will at least be able to remember her species. It’s an improvement anyway.

In Dune, when Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit, he recites a mantra to remind him that fear is the mind killer. I disagree. It isn’t fear. The real mind killer is stress.