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.

No One Believes Me

The disability hearing last Tuesday was terrifying. From the moment I walked in the door to the waiting area, it was all I could do to keep myself from hyperventilating. KR took the entire week off of work last week. He needed a vacation from his job, so he took it. This also meant he was able to attend the hearing with me. My disability advocate decided to use KR as a witness for my case at the last-minute after speaking with him privately before the hearing. I was asked to leave the courtroom during his testimony, so I have no idea what was said other than a couple of brief comments KR shared with me. Feeling a full-blown panic attack coming on as I sat in the waiting area while KR was in the hearing room, I retreated to the restroom to calm myself in privacy.

My disability advocate did a good job in working with what he had as far as evidence of my condition, but I got the distinct impression from the judge that she didn’t believe anything I had to say. She seemed exasperated, as if I was wasting her time. I struggled to answer the questions asked of me, fumbling over words, stuttering, and feeling so “on guard” that I failed to articulate clearly and concisely exactly what I intended to say.

I had no good answer for why I left treatment back in 2008 while previously on SSDI. I don’t quite understand it myself. I agree. It was a stupid mistake. When asked, I stated that at that time I was struggling to leave my apartment at all, let alone get to therapy appointments. I should have said that I took the break from therapy that I felt I needed to regain my bearings, but I didn’t. I couldn’t think straight. I told the judge that it was never my intent to leave treatment altogether. It just happened that way.

The agoraphobia and severe anxiety I developed while living in Nashville didn’t completely, magically disappear when we moved to Cookeville, either. I still struggled with these issues greatly after the move. It took me until July 2013 to work up enough courage just to seek out treatment again. Even though I had asked around prior to that for help in finding a treatment center, it wasn’t until then that someone at DHS told me where I needed to go. I’m fairly certain that neither the judge nor my disability advocate believed me when I told them I began treatment at PMHC in July 2013 (specifically, July 17, 2013 was my intake appointment). The records the court received began in November 2013, a full 3 months later! The discrepancy in records made me look like a liar.

Also, the judge questioned why my counselor and I agreed to terminate therapy in January of this year if I was still struggling so much. I interrupted her at that point (not a good idea, but no such agreement took place, and I panicked) telling her, “NO! I did not agree to anything. My counselor simply dismissed me from therapy with no further contact.” I also told her that I tried for months to get another therapist through my case manager to no avail. No one was listening to me then, just as I felt no one was listening in that hearing room.

And THIS is probably the main reason why I left treatment to begin with in May 2008 — feeling re-victimized and unheard by a screwed up mental health system. The worst part is I don’t know what would make it any better.

The fact of the matter is that the most damning piece of evidence against me in my attempt to get back on SSDI is that I failed to remain in treatment, regardless of the reasons. It feels hopeless that this judge saw anything other than that. It feels hopeless that neither the judge nor my counselor nor KR recognize that I am seriously struggling right now to keep my head above water in the kiddie pool, let alone swim out in the ocean with everyone else! Even if I did get back on SSDI, there’s always the possibility that I could simply be rejected from treatment again like this past January, causing me to lose the SSDI yet again.

STOP!

My disability advocate made a few good observations in his closing statement. I don’t do well under pressure or with change. Feeling pressure causes me to shut down, retreat to my mind for solace. Change sends me into a panic, causes everything to feel out of control and overwhelming. He said that I have managed to create a home environment that feels safe and manageable, where I am able to do what I need to when I need to in order to manage the symptoms of my illness and to maintain, at least, some control over my mental health.

I was only able to do this by taking the time I needed while on disability to figure this out for myself — without the influence of constant pressure and feeling bombarded by outside sources. Receiving SSDI gave me the chance to catch my breath after years of chaos and constant overwhelm. I haven’t figured out how to do that in the “outside world” yet. I need more time to figure out exactly what will work for me so that I can use my talents and abilities to the best of my ability and provide an employer with a stable work flow. I’m just not there yet. I apologize for being so slow, but pressuring me to “hurry up and get better” sure as hell isn’t helping. The pressure I’m feeling from everyone around me is only making matters much worse!

Right now, my self-confidence is shot. I’m coping to the best of my ability, perhaps not in the most healthy manner, but coping nonetheless. I feel helpless, like my life is in the hands of people who couldn’t possibly give a rat’s ass about my well-being. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m overwhelmed. And as always, I don’t know what to do with any of it except block it out, distract myself, or self-soothe.

— C’est la vie. —

Where I’ve Been…

My last post was quite a bit darker than I would normally care to share. I thought about doing a little damage control by rewriting it or completely removing it, but that post is an accurate description of how I was feeling at the time. The following week of July 12th through 18th is difficult for me to describe. None of my usual distraction methods or self-soothing practices were making a difference. The panic/fear I felt escalated to a point of feeling so out of control that I didn’t think I could trust my judgment. I was suicidal and paranoid. I went back to the crisis stabilization unit (CSU) Thursday, July 16th, and allowed them to admit me for 5 days.

I’m glad I did. Regardless of anything I’ve said in the past, I do feel a certain amount of safety and trust in the facility where I chose to get treatment. Trust is not so easily secured in my mind, so even the slightest amount of trust is something for me to celebrate.

Thankfully, medication wasn’t forced. That’s a huge relief. An attempt at a bedtime anxiety med was made; but after only one night’s dose and an incredibly groggy day followed, I needed no other reminder of what “my medicated days” were like. Medication causes me more anxiety than it helps. Period.

Like last time, this visit to CSU was a chance to STOP, catch my breath, and calm down a bit — something I was struggling to accomplish (incapable of accomplishing) at home. As it was an impulsive decision to drive myself to CSU that day, I didn’t discuss it with KR first. I feared his reaction, knowing his disapproval of mental health services, let alone being hospitalized. I left him a note telling him where I had gone and called him from CSU the following Saturday to “gauge” his reaction. As I predicted, he was angry, telling me that this, me going to CSU, was the reason he couldn’t talk to me about anything because I choose to run away.

During that phone call, I found myself apologizing again and again. I couldn’t hold back the tears as he reprimanded me for not dealing with my problems. Me crying only seemed to infuriate him more. It didn’t take long for KR’s criticisms of mental health services and me, in general, to turn to the topic of sex and how his “needs” are not being met. As I sat listening to this all too familiar tirade, while on a telephone at a crisis stabilization unit, my only thoughts were, “It’s always about sex. It’s always about sex. IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT SEX!!” I couldn’t defend myself. All I could do was cry and apologize. After I finally managed to get off of the phone, using the excuse that we were limited to brief phone calls (he had already kept me on the phone for more than 15 minutes), I recounted as much of the conversation as I could remember to the med nurse who offered an ear and gently encouraged me to talk through my panicked sobbing. I kept repeating (keep repeating even now), “It’s always about sex,” like some kind of screwed up mantra, because honestly, I feel like sex is all KR cares about — whether or not he is getting laid.

Last week, July 19th through 25th, was tense. After I returned home on the 20th, I half expected KR to kick me out; but he simply ignored me for the most part. Other than casual conversation about the garden, work, the video game he’s playing, or the latest depressing factoid going around on Facebook, we didn’t have any “meaningful” conversations. He’s still sleeping on the couch, refusing to touch me or show any form of affection. Finally, yesterday morning after KR woke up, I asked him, “Are we ever going to talk?” He agreed that we needed to; so we discussed several of the issues we’ve been having for a little over an hour, prior to him leaving for work.

Other than the common theme of sex (seriously, he’s got a one-track mind and obsesses over it), we did manage to talk about a couple of other things. For the past month, I felt like I was being punished for no other reason than being who I am. I kept asking myself, “What did I do to deserve this silence, lack of affection, and coldness?” This treatment triggered a lot of the same emotions and reactions in me as so much of the childhood confusion I experienced from my family when they did the exact same thing. That same thought, “I must deserve this,” continually filtered through my mind and thoughts. How is it possible to feel so lonely, so alone, around someone you love, who says he loves you? I have cried more in the past month than I think I have in the past 10 years. The pain is excruciating.

I told KR that I felt like I was being punished for something, but I didn’t know what. His response was, “This past month I’ve been basically… you. This past month I have been you. Doing the bare minimum to keep going.” I broke down in tears, sobbing, apologizing profusely to him because I never meant to make KR feel the way I’ve felt for the past month. And the truth is, I don’t even realize I’m doing that; but he’s right. I get stuck on auto-pilot, coasting through life, hoping for a few moments of happiness along the way. Otherwise, I’m merely surviving because I don’t know how else to “be.”

Even though I think I’ve put forth every effort in my available resources to work through many of my fears and insecurities, nothing has helped, according to KR. He sees everything I do on a daily basis as trivial and insignificant. I clean the house. I take care of the cats. I take care of all the finances — writing out monthly checks, making sure all the bills are paid, keeping a budget, and keeping track of everything we spend money on. I do all of the shopping, sometimes having to go to as many as 3 to 5 different stores just to find everything he wants or needs. I run all of the household errands. I keep up with my appointments. I do all the laundry. I run the garbage off in the trunk of my car rather than bother him to take it off in his truck. I help out with the yard work. I’ve even been cooking more to try to lighten his load some.

All of this while still trying to run 2 blogs, practice my photography and drawing skills to keep them up to par, get a few minutes of piano time in, journal daily, research topics of interest and read, practice self-care whenever I’m feeling overly anxious and triggered, and if I’m lucky, go for a much-needed hike every once in a while.

Long story, short and what I told KR — I don’t feel appreciated. I don’t feel any appreciation for all of the efforts that I do put in. I don’t feel like anything I actually do makes a difference because I constantly feel criticized. After bringing up this issue and adding how much I crave even the smallest amount of appreciation, just a simple thank you, or a hug — right there, with the mention of a hug, he stopped me, interrupted me, saying, “I’m afraid to touch you anymore,” without so much as an acknowledgment of what I was telling him I needed.

It’s the last 5 or so minutes of this conversation — which I’m choosing not to write out — that has me most upset, triggered, and wondering if perhaps, it is time to let this relationship go, not only for my own sanity but for KR’s as well. I’m not sure if two emotionally unhealthy people can have a healthy relationship. I’m not convinced that KR even wants to work any of this out. Maybe it’s too late. Maybe too much damage has been done. Or maybe these are echoes of my past that I’m projecting onto this relationship. The fact is, I don’t know; and I don’t know what else to do. Neither KR nor I know how to fix this.


 

In an attempt to figure out exactly when all of this began, the obvious answer is KR’s meltdown a month ago triggered the current wave of panic, anxiety, helplessness, and despair. But this has been going on for years. Losing SSDI most certainly threw me for a loop. Reapplying for SSDI is literally reliving that experience all over again — all of the uncertainties, the insecurities, the stress of having no financial means to support myself, feeling like a burden, not only to KR but to society as a whole, and the pressure to get over the traumas I lived through yet struggle every single day to process and recover from. The upcoming hearing date precisely one week prior to the anniversary of one of those traumas is just icing on the cake.

Excuse me while I have a complete nervous break down!


A few helpful links about PTSD:

Until this last visit to CSU, I don’t think I quite understood the impact that PTSD has had on my life or in my relationships. Prior to now, I thought, “I’ve already talked about that, dealt with it.” I had no idea that this shit would continue to affect my life so adversely, possibly for the rest of my life. Yeah, I’m becoming a bit bitter. If I ever get in touch with my anger, I’m going to ask her, “Where in the hell have you been?!

Rape. The gift that just keeps on giving!

 

 

 

 

Post-trip Processing

I’ve been back home from my trip to East Tennessee for 10 days. I spent 8 full days there with my family. It was actually a pretty great trip. I was such an anxious, neurotic mess before I left; but I feel this trip was the best trip back to my hometown I’ve had in years, maybe even since I left my childhood home 22 and a half years ago. My son, daughter-in-law, and I spent some quality time together. We were even able to do a lot of those touristy type things I’ve missed so much over the years. Dollywood has changed a lot since I was last there 17 years ago, so has Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. I’m thrilled with joy and contentment to have had that time with my son and daughter-in-law.

While there, I was also able to help my mom out by giving her house a good spring cleaning, something that really needed to be done. Of course, I had to wait until she was out of the house at dialysis to accomplish most of this because I didn’t want her to feel bad about needing the help. It worked out well. She seemed genuinely appreciative and thankful for my efforts. I’m grateful I was able to help even in a small way by cleaning and running errands for her. The look of joy on my mom’s face when I arrived a day early, to her surprise, was priceless.

I’m also thankful for getting to spend an evening with my sister and her family at their house for a cook-out. I think that was the first time since my dad’s death, 11 years ago, that I’ve been to their house. It was a pretty special evening. We had some good laughs and caught up and the food was pretty great, too. My sister’s sweet tea recipe rocks! The perfect sweetness. Her kids are growing up so fast. I feel bad for not being involved in their lives.

These past 10 days have been an attempt to hold onto that fleeting optimism — an optimism that results from such experiences of connection and feeling loved. I want to hold it tightly, begging my heart, mind, and soul to savor the “good” times while acknowledging life need not always be so frightening and full of despair. I’ve spent this time processing the positive. It’s true, you know. Without suffering and pain, we wouldn’t recognize the good in life.

All those things I hide away, that I consciously or subconsciously avoid and distance from myself, I lock away in a far off, dark, shadowy place in my mind. I liken this place to an attic in an old decrepit house, something of a nightmare. This is a place where negativity, suffering, despair, anger, rage, deep sadness, loneliness, shame, etc. dwell. These are the darkest aspects of human nature — necessary to life, most of the time understandable when given to introspection, but often times very frightening. Yin.

The beautiful side of life includes those things that awe and inspire hope within me — nature, music, art, kindness, joy, love, gentleness, creativity, curiosity — the goodness of humanity. I need to spend more time there than I have these past couple of years. Yang.

“Seek balance between the two,” my higher self reminds me. Balance is key.

Yin and Yang

 


 

In other news, today I received a call from my disability advocate. My disability hearing is scheduled for August. I’m nervous about that. All the “what ifs” are rolling around in my brain, making me all kinds of distracted. For the last 2 and half years, I’ve lived without an income. I’m so thankful for KR’s support through all of this because without him, I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know what to expect from this disability hearing — the reason for my anxiety about it. I feel like my life, my choices, are on trial — not a particularly good feeling.

Also, I have a new case manager. I’ve met with her a couple of times, now. She’s nice, a bit more knowledgeable about her job than my previous case manager, yet I still have no therapist. I’m still not sure therapy would help that much anyway given past experiences, but I am willing to give it another try should the option become available to me. I guess that’s saying a lot considering a few months ago I was completely fed up with it.

 

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 My Story (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. 

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 such as joint pain, occasional chest pain, my hair falling out in clumps, and hormonal issues that, to put it as politely as I possibly can, caused my lady parts to no longer work properly (See: The Joys of Being a Woman) 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….