Talking Is Overrated

Three trigger dates fell within the same week this year in April. Easter is a kind of “floating” trigger date as it isn’t one of those holidays that’s nailed down to one particular day. I managed. I got through them. As always, I avoided as much as I could, distracted when I couldn’t, and coped when reminders triggered flashbacks or panic or whatever else. I’m told that’s all I can do. I feel numb, emotionless, and detached — not surprising for this time of year, especially not surprising for the month of April.

I’m convinced this is as good as it gets.

The final trigger date at the end of April passed much the same. I was supposed to meet with my case manager that day, but she called the day before to cancel again. I had an appointment with my counselor this past Friday — the day after that trigger date; but I didn’t even mention my son’s birthday. My biggest problem is that I avoid discussing these events in my life even when I know I need to. Rather, I opt to talk about trivial matters or anything else. This causes me to feel even more frustrated with myself as well as mental health treatment (obviously, considering my last post).

“Is there anything else major you think we need to talk about?” That open-ended question is daunting. It fills me with dread and panic, signaling the end of a session. Immediately an inner conflict arises as some parts express a desperation to be heard, demanding with urgency the chance to speak up, while others caution against saying too much. The fatalist cynic reminds me of the pointlessness of therapy as the paranoid social phobic sounds the sirens of compulsive distrust. All within seconds of each other, the final word comes down to the inner critic who demands silence, effectively shutting me up.

What actually comes out of my mouth in response is resigned exasperation of yet another wasted chance to talk with another human being about something more meaningful than the weather. What actually comes out of my mouth in response is the minimization of how I feel. Detracting from the complexity of my inner world protects it, protects each part of who I am from further humiliation.

What I don’t say keeps it locked safely inside, guarded against criticism of being overly sensitive or crazy or weird or any other judgement I’ve heard time and time again throughout my life because I know it sounds absurd. I know it sounds completely insane. Worse yet would be no one believing me should I disclose such an intimate detail of how I experience my life. The conversations within my mind have more value to me than conversations with other people. I’m convinced other people don’t listen anyway, whether it’s family, friends, or those within the profession of “paid-listener.”

I get that it “takes a while” to work through particularly difficult issues like what I’ve faced in my life. I know there is no simple, easy solution to working through past trauma or present difficulties. I need no one to remind me of that. It doesn’t help matters any to be shuffled from counselor to counselor to counselor or having no consistency in a treatment schedule whatsoever. The hopelessness of this situation was triggered at the end of my last counseling session when my counselor suggested that I switch to yet another counselor — someone I don’t want to see, someone I already know I don’t “click” with because she and I have met before.

After our session, my counselor asked me to wait in the lobby to meet with one of the care coordinators. As I was sitting there waiting, the conversation in my head debated wildly about the prospect of having to find a trauma therapist elsewhere. Starting over completely at a different facility entails a bigger change than simply giving up on treatment altogether. I waited until my counselor called her next client back and they disappeared behind the door. Feeling the familiarity of that trance-like disconnect, I impulsively gave in to the argument within my mind.

I impulsively gave in to the urge to flee and simply walked out — left the building, got into my car, and drove away.

Facing An Important Decision

Today, I find myself reflecting on a past decision to leave mental health treatment back in 2008, ultimately the decision that cost me SSDI and Medicare health coverage in January 2013. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a “conscious decision” to leave treatment. A series of events led to a state of overwhelm and dissociation that prevented me from leaving my home — a state of agoraphobia that lasted from mid-2008 up until the time KR and I moved to Cookeville, TN, in May 2010.

I still struggle with this today; but by June 2008, one missed appointment left me in the precarious position of walking away from treatment altogether. I never returned to Centerstone where I received care from 1998 through 2008.

I never even considered the consequences. I just didn’t go back (much like the last time I was employed, a coincidence that only occurred to me today). I was so frustrated with the roller coaster ride that was (and still is) mental health treatment that I simply gave up.

Today’s reflection was triggered by a phone call from my disability advocate. It was over a year ago when we last met to discuss appealing the judge’s unfavorable decision. Honestly, I thought my disability advocate and I had agreed to drop the claim because the entire process was triggering way too much for me. He apparently filed it anyway because I received another denial letter from SSA in regard to that appeal around the end of February. He finally called about that denial letter today.

The only other options would be to either take my case to Federal Court with the help of an attorney, which he basically led me to believe is impossible, or to file a completely new claim.

No.

I’m done.

It’s OVER.

Before we said our goodbyes, he reiterated something I heard him say in the courtroom. He said that I’ve ordered my life within certain boundaries to maintain my mental health; but he feels that I would not be able to consistently maintain employment within those boundaries while at the same time managing my mental health. He knows that as well as I do, as well as KR does, yet convincing a judge of that when my own treatment team doesn’t even believe it… well, that’s another story.

My present situation with regard to treatment at PMHC is no better than Centerstone in 2008. I’ve basically put myself through hell again for the last 4 years… for what?

I’ve made no progress. Far too many of my symptoms have only worsened over these last 4 years rather than improved.

PMHC has me so confused that I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t understand the practices of this facility. I’ve met with the new counselor 4 times. I don’t feel like I’m building a rapport with her. Appointments are brief and feel rushed. This last appointment on Friday barely lasted 20 minutes, and we didn’t talk about anything of substance. My bad. That connection isn’t there. I’ve lost trust and faith in this treatment facility. It’s not like I had much trust and faith in it to begin with.

At the end of that appointment, my counselor told me I needed to meet with a care coordinator.

“Wait, what?”

She explained that care coordinators are there to “check-in” with clients while at the facility. I thought that’s what case management was for! Why is my case manager visiting my house every month if not for this reason? My frustration bordered on rancorous spite.

“Remain calm. Jump through their hoops.”

She ushered me into this nameless man’s office. Neither my counselor nor the care coordinator told me his name — no introduction of any kind.

“Yep, manners are a thing of the past.”

“Lose the sarcasm.”

“Nope.”

I felt stubborn, deciding then and there that I had no desire whatsoever to cooperate and zero patience left for idle chit-chat.

“Short answers. Don’t bother hiding your indignation.”

After he finally finished asking all his questions, I asked if I would be meeting with him regularly in addition to meeting with my case manager. After all, they basically have the same exact job, except my case manager meets with me at home. He said, “Nope, I’m just for check ups,” whatever that means. It feels redundant and unnecessary. It seems like a waste of time and money.

Maybe all of it is.

Throughout 9 different counselors and therapists over more than 22 years, I’ve questioned the process of therapy relentlessly — wondering how is this supposed to work, wondering what exactly am I supposed to be talking about? I need direction from a counselor. I need a little push every now and then. I avoid anything that’s uncomfortable. It’s how I cope with life. Give me homework. Give me art prompts. Give me writing assignments. Give me something, anything, we can actually discuss that moves me forward and helps me face what I’m actually there to work on!

I’m out of patience. I’m frustrated. I’m contemplating walking away from treatment again because I have no desire to continue wasting my time. I know I am ultimately responsible for efficiently making use of my time in the counseling room; but counselors also have the responsibility for directing clients in the most productive use of our time.

Maybe I’m just triggered from today’s conversation with the disability advocate, but I have to decide what is best for me and my mental health. I’m just not sure what that is anymore, and I’m definitely not convinced that the facility where I receive care is even a “good” choice, let alone the best choice.

The Clothesline Project

Today was an interesting day. As I looked through my Facebook feed, I noticed a post made by Genesis House about an event going on at Tennessee Tech University called the Clothesline Project. After calling for more information, I made the spontaneously impulsive decision to drive to Cookeville to check it out.

I remember hearing something about this last year but didn’t go at that time. Today, however, I was determined.

I went. I walked around looking at so many people’s contributions to the project and chose to make a T-shirt of my own. My hands were shaking the entire time I worked on my shirt. I drank 2 cups of water in the short time I was there as my nervousness tends to manifest in dry mouth and thirst. A nice lady from Tennessee Tech’s Women’s Center provided the second cup and a couple of brownie bites. This made me smile and eased my mind a little. In fact, everyone there was so supportive and encouraging.

Despite my horrible anxiety and nervousness, I think my shirt turned out pretty well:

It felt good to participate. My only regret is that I wasn’t finished with my T-shirt in time to participate in the “Take Back the Night” march around campus. Still, I’m proud of myself for having gone there, for handling the triggers so well, and for making my own voice heard. I’m proud of myself because I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to participate in this.

This was a special and meaningful day for me — very therapeutic.

Peace Versus Fear

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself –nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. [Emphasis added.]” — From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address delivered on March 4th, 1933.

What is the opposite of fear?

My counselor asked me this question during our last session. I guessed fear’s opposite to be bravery or courage. Thinking about it a bit more, one must experience fear to be brave or courageous; thus, bravery and courage are an action resulting from the emotional state of fear, not fear’s opposite.

I can’t think about fear without also thinking about the current state of affairs in the United States. This year’s election campaign is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever witnessed. People have themselves worked up in a frenzy over it — most certainly for good reason given the idiocy we’ve come to tolerate; but politics is a mere distraction meant to divide people through their fears. Fear is a powerful weapon. It’s been used since the beginning of time to divide, conquer, and enslave. Politics is its current manifestation — a competition, a game of manipulation, that preys upon the insecurities and weaknesses of the public.

It’s a game, not meant to test the merit of its competitors but the virtue of its spectators.

I don’t understand what “need” competition fulfills in those who compete or even those who choose to watch (not just in politics but sports or any other form of competition). If we, as humans, moved past that rivalry and antagonism, perhaps we could finally move toward cooperation and teamwork for the sake of, you know, actually getting shit done. It’s that cooperation and teamwork that unites people — a prerequisite for promoting a “civilized society.”

I’m guessing some people don’t want that. I’m sure there are some people who would love nothing more than to see everything collapse into a state of anarchy. I get it. Chaos is stimulating. It’s action versus inaction. It’s something different. It’s scoffing at a broken system, demanding it to change to suit some arbitrary need.

Except — everything in the Universe is like a finely tuned machine that eventually balances out and follows a pattern despite chaos.

Anarchy is like a deep-seated anger or tantruming 2-year-old.

If you subscribe to Robert Plutchik’s theory of emotion, anger is the polar opposite of fear. Anger is certainly in abundance during this election season, but that anger is more appropriately fueled by fear. Isn’t anger comparable to the fight response of fear? Isn’t “hate” a form of anger and thereby also an extension of fear?

The next time you start to use the word “hate” use instead the word “fear” because that is what it really is.

“The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your own safety.” — Neil Strauss, from Rolling Stone’s, Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear

Thinking about “fear,” I imagine a feral cat or deer or even a black bear. Where I grew up in East Tennessee, deer and black bear sightings were fairly common, especially in the Smoky Mountains. Past and present, I’ve had ample opportunity to watch wildlife as it’s a passion of mine. Watching wild animals’ behavior helped me understand my own behavior as much as other people’s behavior. Go anywhere near a wild animal, startle it, and you’ll witness raw fear in its purest, most instinctual form. The wild animal will either freeze, run away, or attack — same as any of us when we’re in the emotional state of fear. Yet, if you observe a wild animal from afar in perfect stillness and quiet calmness, that same wild animal will remain perfectly at peace, content in its environment.

This leads me to believe the opposite of fear is peace — calmness.

do-not-feed-the-fears

During the last 8 years, I have worked diligently to maintain a simple, safe and secure, peaceful environment to benefit my mental health. That is what I need. Perceived threats [see: The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share] — whether real or imagined — cause life to feel out of control, chaotic, and full of fear.

Fear and anxiety have been constant companions throughout my 44 years of life. Fighting fear requires all of my energy just to maintain that level of balance I need to nurture my mental health. Fighting fear is the equivalent of avoiding it — whether through distraction or numbing or denial of its existence. Fighting fear is an unconscious coping method/defense mechanism that takes over, subconsciously stating, “This feels bad. I don’t know what this is. I must avoid it.”

Fighting fear is action without exploration.

Accepting fear is the opposite reaction, requiring conscious action. Accepting fear leads to peace, a state of freedom — the opposite of fear. Accepting fear is the equivalent of consciously choosing to acknowledge, “I am scared” or “I am anxious.” Accepting fear is exploring my state of fear to gain understanding which allows me to validate the emotion. Accepting fear soothes, comforts, and nurtures the soul.

Accepting fear consciously acknowledges, explores, validates, and nurtures; thus allowing you to move from a state of fear into the state of peace. 

Living in a constant state of fear is exhausting. Fighting, fleeing, or freezing all seem to take on the same avoidance characteristics. Each serves a purpose, and none is either right or wrong. They’re reactions to fear and still methods of coping. For me, it’s a persistent, never-ending battle to cope with fear and anxiety. I’m still learning to recognize and remain “conscious” when I find myself in these states of emotion (or any state of emotion, for that matter). I’m convinced it takes a lifetime to master.

My advice for anyone facing these same challenges:

  • You’re NOT weak. Fear and anxiety are normal responses, especially in precarious times such as these. Above all, remember that. Go easy on yourself.
  • Practice living in this present moment. Conscious awareness is key. If you find yourself depressed, you’re living in the past. If you find yourself anxious, you’re living in the future. Now is really all that matters.
  • Turn off the TV. Get off the internet. Take a break from media. That shit will drive you crazy! It’s all about moderation and balance. Go for a walk out in nature, spend time with friends and family, do something that lifts you up rather than brings you down. Give yourself space when you need it.

Seek out moments of calm. Moments of calm are practice for the emotional state of peace. 

Tips from around the web:

  • “A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.” — Atlas of Emotions
  • “The goal… is to separate real threats from manufactured ones. And to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we aren’t taking steps to protect ourselves.” — Neil Strauss, Rolling Stone’s, Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear
  • “When we let go of our notion of fear as the welling up of evil forces within us—the Freudian motif—and begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically information, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears will frighten us and control us.” — Karl Albrecht, Ph.D., Psychology Today, The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share
  • “The question isn’t whether or not we experience fear in our lives (because we all do and always will for as long as we live); the more important question for each of us to ask and answer is how we can move through our fears in an honest way so that they don’t stop us from being who we really are and going for what we truly want in life.” — Mike Robbins, The Huffington Post, How to Move Through Your Fear in 7 Steps

Coping with Treatment Fears

There seems to be nothing I can write to explain my mood this week. I have felt insecure, confused, and rejected. At the same time, I’m frustrated and skeptical to the point of choosing my words with diligent consideration while fighting an inner rage who stubbornly refuses to see reason.

I met with the “new” case manager yesterday. I don’t really have much to say about that except after we meet for a second time this month to fill out some paperwork, I will only be meeting with her once per month rather than the usual 2 visits per month. Apparently, case management is undergoing some changes that limit support to “maintenance care.”

Like so many times before in this never-ending cycle of reliving past trauma, I’m questioning, “What’s the point? Why bother?” And I fear even acknowledging those questions will leave me with no care at all, stuck trying to figure everything out on my own.

 

The Local “Buzz”

Driving home this evening after a trip to the grocery store, I was listening to the radio — 102.9 The Buzz, a radio station out of Nashville, TN. The two radio hosts were bantering back and forth as radio hosts often do. The initial comment made by the male host was a joking remark about multiple personality disorder. From there, the exchange just got worse as he trivialized both multiple personalities and schizophrenia to announce completely unrelated upcoming concerts.

As I listened to this in disgust, I actually said out loud to myself, “What the fuck?!”

When are people in the public eye going to get it through their thick skulls that careless comments like the ones these radio hosts made tonight are damaging? They’re not only in poor taste but stigmatizing to those of us who suffer from mental illness. Misrepresentation in the media accounts for a large portion of the prejudice and discrimination that lead to negative attitudes about mental illness.

Dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia aren’t even the same thing which proves the fact that, obviously, these two radio hosts were speaking out of complete ignorance.

Blatantly joking about something that affects so many people — not just the individual who suffers from the illness, but also their families — perpetuates stigma and does nothing to educate the public about illnesses that have devastating consequences on people’s lives. Joking about mental illness trivializes and invalidates their struggles.

Public broadcasters have a responsibility to the public NOT to spread stigma in this way. They have the responsibility to be mindful of their role in our communities to support positive change through rejection of stigmatizing stereotypes of this nature.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I’m stuck in a creative block. I haven’t drawn or painted anything since December. I have no motivation to play the piano. Writing has been particularly difficult. I have little to say, my thoughts a jumbled mess. The Critic steals my words. I’ve taken a few photos, but even photography isn’t bringing me the pleasure it once did. Creatively, I feel uninspired to create and disconnected from the parts of myself who express themselves in these ways. They’re distracted, with what? I don’t know.

Exhaustion is kicking my ass. I’m sleeping far more hours than I need to be, waking up much later in the afternoon than I mean to, often after sleeping 10 hours. I’m struggling to make myself get out of bed at a reasonable hour. Mentally, I feel blank. When I Googled “feeling blank,” it brought up “emptiness.” That’s not right. I don’t feel empty — except of energy.

I mean literally blank, like looking at a blank sheet of paper, nothing going on upstairs kind of blank. Maybe I’m dissociative. I’ve experienced this type of detachment plenty of times throughout my life, but I usually don’t recognize it while I’m in it. Usually, it’s afterward that I look back and think, “Oh, I spaced out for a while there, didn’t I?” These days, it’s measured more in moments or hours. Years ago, I could survive that way for weeks or months at a time, functioning at minimum capacity through a foggy, dreamlike state.

Why now, though?

There’s nothing particularly horrible going on. In fact, things between KR and me have been pretty good. He’s been in good spirits and much more relaxed lately. So have I. I’m still sober — on day 54 this time around. I can’t think of any trigger dates in the month of February that would warrant this level of detachment and emotional numbness. My son’s birthday is coming up. That’s not for another week or so, and I’ve been feeling this way off and on for more than a couple of months.

I keep wondering will these episodes of whatever this is never end? Maybe it’s just hormones. Maybe it’s just who I am. Maybe it’s the usual depression I fall into every winter. Maybe it’s this nasty weather — cold weather, grey skies, rain, snow, more rain, torrential rain, drizzly rain — when will this rain stop?! I anxiously await spring’s arrival. This really does feel like a never-ending cycle. Maybe that’s all the explanation for it I’ll ever get.