My Story – Part 13 (Chaos Reviewed)

Continued from My Story – Part 12

I spent the last few years putting together a timeline of my life experiences and the last year writing out My Story here in order to make sense of everything that happened in my life and in an attempt to process the emotions attached to each event. I analyzed my inability to keep a job and maintain a stable lifestyle to the point of obsession. I struggled the entire 5 years that I received Social Security benefits to justify my need for them. I questioned the validity of my illness and berated myself for not trying harder. As the stigma of mental illnesses became a talking point for political bureaucracy, the voices of so many people commenting on social media and articles about the misuse of social services ran through my mind, saying things like, “Why can’t you just keep a job?” Or, “You need to try harder.” Or, “You’re just lazy.” It’s very difficult not to take things like this personally when I’ve struggled with mental illness for the majority of my adult life and heard friends, family members, and even professionals in the mental health field say those exact same things to me. The hopelessness of realizing that my life is somehow worth less because I haven’t figured out how to live in a world of chaos is devastating.

As more and more people spoke out about the traumatic consequences of having experienced rape and sexual assault, it became clear to me that the sickening display of public ignorance surrounding these tragedies is most certainly a contributing factor for the “rape culture” in which we live. The lack of compassion and victim blaming that occur in our society should give each of us reason to pause and question how our morals are serving us or if they are at all. It is with profound sadness and intense anger that I struggle to understand a callous society that feels so alien to me. A society that re-victimizes those who have already experienced horrible victimization through the criminal acts of rape and sexual assault by shaming victims when they are most vulnerable rather than placing that shame and blame where it belongs — on those who committed the crime of rape.

The effects of constant chaos in my life continued for years — one thing after another after another. I never knew what I was feeling because there wasn’t time to reflect. Much of the time everything felt so unreal that time no longer had meaning. I simply had TOO much life to process in TOO short of a time! In the years after I was raped, I had numerous other encounters of a sexual nature that tested my strength to survive. Maybe it was my naivety or maybe it was just plain stupidity on my part, but I was easily taken advantage of. For some reason, I have a knack for getting myself into situations that have serious detrimental effects on my emotional well-being and my ability to function as others do.

All types of relationships are extremely difficult for me, whether it’s family, peers, or intimate relationships. There’s a point of contention where most people would say that I don’t put forth the effort in which to “maintain relationships.” While I acknowledge some truth in this statement, I would also point out that most, if not all, people struggle with exactly the same thing. Out of sight, out of mind takes on a very literal meaning for me when so many people I was once close to told me to basically “buck up and get over it” during some of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

I’m like a feral animal who’s been kicked one too many times.

Trust most certainly does not come easy for me. It was for this reason that seeking therapy this last time was so terrifying. It took every ounce of courage I had in me to seek out help. I continue to reject the notion that psychiatric medication is necessary in the treatment of severe mental illnesses. I acknowledge that these medications might prove beneficial to some people, even life-saving as some would say; but for me, they were completely worthless, often more damaging than helpful. Therefore, I will continue to refuse medication. I did, however, accept therapy and case management. I still remain leery of therapy which, perhaps, hinders any progress as a result. Therapy is a slow process, one that I question relentlessly. I’m still not convinced that it “helps.” Or maybe I just haven’t found the “right” therapist for me.

Now, I doubt I will ever know because I simply don’t have it in me to start over with yet another new therapist. After a year and 4 months, my therapist and I parted ways, rather abruptly this past week. I’m still trying to process this sudden end, so I’m not really sure what I should say about it. I think my defenses went up when my therapist commented on the fact that a lot of my issues are financial in nature; so I should get a job, something I’ve heard so many times from so many people. If only it was that easy. I could have been a real smart-ass and said, “Well, nah-fuckin’-duh!” But I didn’t. Honestly, I’m not really sure what my response was other than maybe stunned silence. I simply don’t remember.

He asked a simple question, “What are your goals for this year?” I couldn’t answer. I have no idea. I really wanted to scream at him (but didn’t). If I could answer questions like that, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have sought therapy to begin with! Then, he asked what my goals for therapy are. Yeah, same reaction — complete shut down. All I remember is the argument going on in my brain for me to SHUT UP! when I tried to fill the awkward silence by voicing my concerns again that therapy is a waste of time. And before I knew it, he was handing me his business card, telling me to email him when, for all intents and purposes, I was ready to actually “talk.” He literally said, “The ball’s in your court.” As if this, my life, is some sort of petty, manipulative game.

If the ball is in my court, I choose NOT to play the fucking game!!! Perhaps, by simply making that statement or writing about any of this publicly is indeed “playing the game;” but I take a very literal approach to my life, no-nonsense. I hate drama in real life. It feels like a waste of time. Drama is for television and fiction novels at best, just as games are for people who feel competition is a necessary part of life. The two go hand in hand and are part of the illusion that creates suffering.

I’m left wondering, “What the hell is wrong with me?!” The same question that has plagued me since early childhood.

I took his card. I left in silence without saying a word. I was livid; but more so, I was hurt. As I drove home in my car, I cried the tears triggered by a deep sorrow — despair that I may never heal, despair that I’m left to face it all alone yet again. One of my favorite parks in the area was on the way home; so I decided to stop at the last-minute to go for a walk and try to clear my mind. Nature walks typically quiet my thoughts to a more manageable level. Considering it was only 33° that day and I was wearing dress shoes rather than my usual hiking shoes, it may not have been the best idea; but I needed to test a theory.

Safely back home, I cried more. I vented to KR when he got home from work. I vented to my case manager the next day. The thought occurred to me that I should quit case management as well, but that small part of me whispered, “No, not yet.” Maybe my case manager is right. Maybe I would benefit more from a life coach rather than a therapist, but part of me feels that too much from my past still affects my conscious mind and interferes with my ability to move forward. I don’t know how to process any faster. I can only grow from that which I understand, at the pace my brain allows me.

The echoes of my past are as jumbled a mess as ripples on a lake, as hard to decipher as a nightmare in heavy sleep.

I’m convinced that depression is a grieving process — stuck grief. Most people don’t give themselves enough time to grieve losses, myself included. When we push away that grief by carrying on as always, it prolongs the grief. Having lost a lot in my life, I wonder if I will ever properly process all of the emotions that I fight to this day, particularly when the emotions themselves trigger such a strong flight response that I simply check-out for a while. It’s usually when I’m most stressed and depressed that I end up isolating myself the most. The majority of the time, I just want to be left alone. Solitude has been my one saving grace. However, it has its price as well. I meant for therapy to be my “reality check,” to assist me in coming to terms with my chaotic past. Sometimes, I need help in gauging what is rational and what is irrational. The anxiety that I feel daily as a result of this constant second-guessing is equally chaotic and overwhelming. Is it really too much to ask for one person who is willing to help me remain grounded, to help me recognize what so often I cannot — that I’m slipping too far down the rabbit hole?

I don’t know what the future holds or if I will ever be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, let alone successfully maintain employment. The only conclusion I have made from all of this self-reflection and introspection is that I am flat-out exhausted. My life is a minute-by-minute struggle on a daily basis to keep my head above water. I’m tired of bottling everything up. I’m tired of having no one to talk to about this incredibly difficult time in my life. I’m tired of feeling worthless. I’m tired of second-guessing everything I say.

And most of all, I’m tired of remaining silent.

This is my chance to tell my side of the story.


~ Finitoque ~

This is where I will end The Story of My Life (for now, maybe). It’s seems only fitting to end it where therapy ends. I apologize for the length and redundancy in parts. For those of you who remained loyal in reading My Story and those who stopped by for a briefer glimpse into my crazy world, my bizarre reality —

I thank you sincerely and wish you all the best. 

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My Story – Part 12

Continued from My Story – Part 11

By January 2008, I was approved for Medicare coverage since I was receiving SSDI. However, for some reason, Medicare didn’t cover the therapist I was seeing at the time — who I saw for almost an entire year and liked very much. So, I had to switch to someone else. I never connected with the new therapist because she was so much younger than me. I continued therapy with her until the end of May 2008. By that time I was really struggling to go out in public (borderline agoraphobia) even to get to appointments. The bus rides were sometimes frightening. On top of the usual catcalls I experienced anytime I walked to and from bus stops, I witnessed a fist fight at the bus shelter downtown, a few shouting matches, and another day a man became violent when the bus driver told him to get off his bus for being disruptive and rude to other passengers, not to mention this one poor, old woman who was so lost in her own reality — so deeply down the rabbit hole — that she was carrying on a complete conversation with herself. It was a beautifully curious sight to see. No one would sit beside her, so I did. I empathized with her, yet she frightened me at the same time… because I worried I was her.

I scare so easily.

It was around that time that I remember feeling like I could take no more and stopped treatment altogether. I gave myself the break from psychiatry that I felt I needed for my own sanity. I felt that I had been a guinea pig for the industry long enough. I felt that I owed it to myself to find alternatives that would actually work for me rather than trusting another person to figure it out who doesn’t live inside this body. It’s difficult to know when treatment is doing more harm than good; but I sincerely believed that, in my case, the psychiatric medications and even some of the therapy I received in the past did far more damage than I realized. As a result, I simply no longer trusted doctors, psychiatrists, or any use of medication, not even for physical problems. Having been off all of the medications for well over 6 years, I’m not certain that the long-term effects of having taken them for so long will ever completely go away, like problems with memory and concentration; but it is possible that those could be an issue of malnutrition rather than an iatrogenic effect.

It was not my intent to give in to an irrational fear of medicine; but basically, my fear of medicine outweighs my fear of dying. Let me reiterate once again, the very nature of my disability is that I don’t do well under pressure and completely shut down when stressed. I have experienced this reaction since childhood with little to no control over it. I am overly sensitive to the point of non-functioning when I feel like my environment is threatened or I feel overwhelmed. Also, the original problem that sent me into therapy to begin with at the end of 1994 — anxiety — is still a major issue. I have experienced severe anxiety my entire life. It feels like all of my senses are in overload. While the depression comes and goes, the anxiety has worsened over the years. Given many of my life experiences in the past, I can honestly understand why. I do my best to not dwell on the past; but many of these experiences still affect me to this day. Processing the emotions and thoughts that go along with the memories of them is a constant battle.

Most weeks, I struggle to make myself leave the house just to do the shopping or go for a walk at the park. The latter I try to do with some regularity during warmer weather to challenge the anxiety and keep the joint pain to a minimum. In order to deal with a lot of the overwhelming emotions and sensations that I feel, I have many creative outlets that provide distraction. Distraction has been the single most useful tool in managing my mental illness because I am so easily distracted. Through music, art, photography, writing, and blogging, I’ve discovered that I can contribute something to society that helps me at the same time. However, there are times that my distractibility back-fires and works against me, causing a greater lack of concentration and focus. These are usually instances when I am feeling more stressed and overwhelmed; but the biggest problem I face with these creative outlets is motivation. Often, weeks go by with little to no motivation to accomplish anything.

I have no social life outside of the internet; and even on the internet, I find it difficult to carry on conversations with other people. Responding to a comment, writing a short blog post, or an email can take me hours to compose as I constantly second-guess every word I type. A lot of the time, I simply don’t respond at all. KR is the only person I interact with on a regular basis in “real” life. I haven’t really had any close friends for many, many years. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that I lose patience with people much more quickly than I used to. Being around even a small group of people for any length of time is incredibly exhausting for me. Occasionally, I speak with my son or my mother over the phone; but even those conversations lack any type of regularity.

I have found that it is imperative that my life be as simple as possible and that I must keep my stress level to a minimum in order to function with any type of normalcy. Normal for me looks very different from the expectations others seem to have of me. I’ve struggled my entire life to simply function and survive. It’s been over 9 years since I was last employed, held a “real” paying job. I have good days, and I have bad days; but I still have no consistency with which to give an employer a workable schedule. I really don’t know how to “work” with such fluctuations in my mood, let alone the recuperation time I feel I require when forced to be around other people. It was my hope and intent to support myself financially through my art; but the lack of motivation and inability to develop a consistent routine for myself interfered with my ability to focus on accomplishing career goals.

I’ve often thought the reason why I cannot place value on my artwork and photography is that I lack self-worth. More recently, I had several images published in a variety of different publications, from books, to magazines, to other websites asking permission to use certain images. I’ve never received monetary compensation for any of these uses. It makes me happy — no, thrilled — for someone to express interest in my work because this gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride; but I have to wonder if by not asking for payment, am I devaluing myself even more? The “business” aspects to having a creative career are lost to me. Unfortunately, I’ve never really considered myself a professional anything. I’m a “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of gal for the simple reason that there are too many possibilities, too many things I’m interested in to settle on one. And because I get bored easily, I’m constantly moving from one interest to the next.

This struggle became clear to me throughout 2012. For the entire year of 2012, I worked on a photography project using the small point-and-shoot camera that KR bought me for Christmas in 2011 — one photograph for every single day of the year. I had to put forth some serious effort to complete this project; yet it taught me, proved to me, that I could start something and actually finish it. It taught me to pay attention to small details. It gave me a goal and a purpose. It was a creative distraction from a lot of the stress I was feeling from our living situation and the financial insecurities that began early that year.

At the end of January 2012, I learned that my Social Security Disability case was being reviewed. This caused me more anxiety than I could put into words. I didn’t know what to expect and the possibility that I might lose my only source of income was more than I could handle; so I put it out of my mind, didn’t think about it or tried not to think about it as much as I could. I did everything they asked me to, but in October 2012 I found out I would be losing SSDI and Medicare at the end of the year. No tangible reason was given in that dreaded form letter. It only stated in matter-of-fact terms, “After reviewing all of the information carefully, we’ve decided that your health has improved since we last reviewed your case. And you’re now able to work.” I was devastated. I don’t know why I didn’t fight it, appeal the decision. I think I must have been frozen in fear, an all too familiar life theme.

Life went on.

In the spring of 2013, one of KR’s nieces came to stay with us in an attempt to help her through a difficult period in her life. By the time she returned home to Michigan a few weeks later, I found myself emotionally triggered by the circumstances she was facing that were eerily similar to my life in ’98. I began having flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks again as my thoughts turned inward and darker, recalling past traumas that I thought I was over. Losing SSDI and depleting my savings account by summer triggered the financial insecurities that I struggled with for so many years. Mine and KR’s relationship began to suffer as we lost hope of moving from the shack we called home, away from neighbors who were causing us more and more stress. Physical problems (e.g. chronic fatigue, joint pain, occasional chest pain, my hair falling out in clumps, hormonal issues that put me into early menopause by the age of 44) worsened as much throughout 2013 as the depression and anxiety I was experiencing.

A bargain I made with myself when I was approved to begin receiving SSDI resurfaced — survive until I can no longer survive. The bargaining chip was my life. Part of me believed that I would follow through with the terms of this bargain, which I’m consciously choosing not to disclose here. I will only say that even though I was surprised by my resilience, my courage to defy, placate the darker side of myself, I feared for my life. Again, I felt like I was suffocating in darkness. By August 2013, not knowing what else to do, I began the Social Security Disability process all over again and reached out for help at a local mental health center. Seeking treatment again terrified me; but by this point, I was desperate.

To be continued…

My Story – Part 11

Continued from My Story – Part 10 (My Relationship with KR)

When I was around 2 years old, my family moved from the subdivision where we were living into an old 2-story farmhouse. This home is the home of my childhood memories, the home where I was raised, the only real “home” I remember. My family lived there up until the autumn after I graduated from high-school. I’m thankful to have experienced the stability and security of having grown up in one place, without the chaos of moving around so much as has been the case throughout my adult years. From the time I got married until present day, I received mail at a total of 27 different addresses. I lived in 4 different states over the years — Tennessee, Hawaii, California, and briefly Kentucky. I lived in 16 different cities over the course of my life, 12 of which were in Tennessee. I have been homeless a total of 5 times, 3 of which were in 1998, with the longest period of time spent homeless at an entire month.

As chaotic as my home-life became as an adult, my employment history was equally chaotic. From the time I began working at the age of 17 until July 2005, I had a variety of jobs. I worked as a cashier at a grocery store, a mail clerk on the campus of the university I was attending, a teacher’s aide, a ride attendant at Dollywood (probably my favorite job out of all of them), a preschool teacher, an American Red Cross Volunteer, a factory worker, a meat-wrapper at a grocery store, an inventory counter, a cashier at Wal-Mart, a Census Bureau enumerator, a framer at an art store, a telemarketer (I absolutely hated this one!), a bar-maid (by far my worst working experience), and finally, a graphic artist. And that’s just to name the most significant ones. Over a 15 year period, I had a total of 26 different periods of employment with 20 different employers. Seven of those different employers were in 1998 alone. The longest I ever worked full-time was 7 months. The longest I worked part-time was 1 year, 4 months.

And there were many periods of unemployment during those 15 years, too. The longest period of unemployment was 3 years and 7 months, during my pregnancy, son’s infancy, and his early childhood. I don’t really count this one as “unemployed,” though, because I felt I had the most important job of raising my son, even if my ex-husband and other family members didn’t see it that way. Call me old-fashioned, but I truly believe that young children need a parent at home during those formative years. I did, however, spend 5 months of that time period volunteering with the American Red Cross. I was able to bring my son along with me due to the nature of my volunteer position which was at a free child care facility designed for military families’ use while at medical appointments. After I finally went back to work after that, the periods of unemployment ranged from 3 to 7 months at a time (never with unemployment benefits), although many of the jobs I acquired were back to back or overlapping in some cases.

When I consider the original reasons for why I struggled so much to keep a job, the only conclusion I come to is that I simply become overwhelmed when trying to juggle too many things at once. Simplicity is paramount to my mental health and well-being. Part-time is better than full-time; but even part-time work left me exhausted and feeling smothered. After the rapes in 1998, I had the added anxiety — subconscious at the time — of associating work with being raped. This was further compounded by the stalker with whom I worked at Wal-Mart, and then finally, all of the sexual assaults I experienced at the beer bar where I worked a few years later.

Early on in 2004, I began the Social Security Disability process. In the state of Tennessee (maybe other states as well), this is a long, drawn out process where you are almost guaranteed to be denied at least the first two times. By the time you get to the hearing stage in front of a judge, I think the SSA is pretty much hoping that you kill yourself to save them the trouble. Several times during that 3 years it took me to finally be approved, I came very close to doing just that. Honestly, I’m surprised I survived it. Between the pressure PI (boyfriend at the time) put me under with his impatience for results from a system that prides itself in hurry-up-and-wait and my own despair in having to ask for help in this way — I only felt a hopelessness that life would never improve, that I didn’t deserve to live, let alone ask for help. It was really no surprise that the relationship with PI ended as a result.

In January 2007, a couple of months after I left PI and had been living with KR in Nashville, my Social Security Disability Income was finally approved. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could finally breathe. This didn’t solve all of my problems, but I had one less thing to worry about.

Around that time, I began seeing a psychiatrist and therapist again through Tennessee’s Safety Net Program since I still had no medical insurance. I had been medication free for about 14 months, but still experiencing severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. After the psychiatrist asked me all the usual intake questions, he diagnosed me as Bipolar, prescribing Lamictal. He also ordered blood-work to check my thyroid because it hadn’t been checked in so long. About a week later, he called to tell me that my thyroid was over-active, advising me to find a doctor and get a complete physical.

Again, without medical insurance, this proved to be quite difficult; but somehow (honestly, I can’t remember how I managed it), I finally saw a physician. This doctor sent me to an endocrinologist a couple of months later for further testing on my thyroid who began treatment for the thyroid problem. He also scheduled an appointment with a rheumatologist for the first time since high school. When their blood tests came back normal, the rheumatologist refused to do x-rays to determine if I actually had rheumatoid arthritis. Basically, I got the impression that I was wasting the rheumatologist’s time; so I was left to deal with the joint pain I was experiencing on my own.

On top of these other health issues, over a 3 year period, my teeth literally broke, shattered, and decayed at an alarming rate. Most had already broken to the gum line and others were missing all of the enamel by 2007. Many factors contributed to the sudden decline of my dental health; but more than anything, long-term malnutrition probably played the most significant role (starting in/around 1997 through the present time, I only eat one meal per day in order to save on food costs – usually, no snacks). My oral surgeon told me that even antidepressants contribute to dental problems. It’s difficult to explain the impact of dental issues on your self-esteem, confidence, emotional balance, lifestyle, and physical health. The detrimental effects of losing my smile were as devastating as the excruciating pain I constantly felt in my gums, jaw, and mouth, in general. The headaches and migraines that accompanied this were equally awful. Prior to receiving SSDI, I was financially destitute. I couldn’t always get antibiotics to treat the constant infections and abscesses I got. After 3 years of agonizing pain due to my teeth, I was finally able to get all of my teeth extracted with the help of a long-lost friend who showed me a great kindness. The oral surgeon was fantastic. Given the severe anxiety that dental procedures cause me, my oral surgeon put me completely under; so I didn’t feel a thing. I used a portion of the back-pay from SSDI to purchase dentures. I got my temporary set of dentures at the end of April 2007 and the permanent set about 6 months later.

From the time I began taking Lamictal in January 2007, I began having severe mood swings with bouts of anger that frightened me. The anxiety became so bad that I was having problems making it to appointments and leaving my apartment at all. For the first time since December of 2005, the obsessive thoughts of suicide and death increased to an alarming level. These issues could have been the result of the thyroid problem (or treatment of the thyroid problem) or it could have been the result of the Lamictal. Given my reaction to most, if not all, psychiatric medications in the past (and during times that I was not having the problems with my thyroid), I felt that the issues I was experiencing were a direct result of the Lamictal. I was also concerned that my “food issues” were causing a lot of my problems; but most, if not all, the doctors and mental health professionals I saw up to that point, with whom I did express these concerns, said I was a healthy weight. Therefore, the disordered eating habits were completely overlooked. Neither the psychiatrist nor the endocrinologist listened to my concerns even though I voiced these concerns regularly. As I experienced this type of negligence and apathy from medical providers for the majority of my adult life, I became increasingly suspicious of psychiatry, medicine, and medical treatment.

In March 2008, I quit taking the Lamictal due to these significant mood swings and emotional outbursts. I chose to stop taking medication for anxiety and depression because for the entire 13 years I was on them, none of those medications I was ever prescribed actually helped. When I very first started taking Prozac, the original medication I was prescribed back in June 1996, five weeks later I attempted suicide for the first time in my life. Every time the medications were changed or the dosage was raised or another one added, I fell deeper into a state of depression where I could not function at all or I became completely suicidal, ruminating constantly on thoughts of suicide and obsessing over methods to take my life.

I’ve often experienced my thoughts as loud voices, with or without medication. Prior to my adult years from as early as the age of 10 or 11 years old, these “loud thoughts” were mostly benign, more so creative expressions of my imagination; but as I grew older these voices became more sinister, often times screaming at me to kill myself. If (and that’s a BIG “if”) the medication quieted these voices slightly, the effect wouldn’t last long because I developed a compulsive tendency to obsess over certain thoughts, specifically death and suicide. While these thoughts do still occur (stress triggers this response and suicidal behavior in me) and I still feel the hopelessness that accompanies them, they happen no more or no less frequently than while I was medicated. The medications, however, made it easier to act on these thoughts as I had very little impulse control while on them. I also believe that the medication prolonged the periods of depression rather than improving the symptoms. The medication robbed me of life’s greatest treasures, my emotions and my creativity. Without those, life is not worth living, at least, not for me.

To be continued….