Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Case For Faith Part 2

The second question addressed in the film is the question of evil. How can there be a loving, all-powerful God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Again, I garnered two answers given in the film. The first was that evil is a result of humanity's moral free-will. We have the freedom to choose not to do the right thing, and when we choose the wrong thing, evil is created. I have no argument against this, I believe it makes perfect sense. That said, I don't need the problem of evil to remain unanswered to disbelieve. There are plenty of other reasons not to believe in God. If the film had ended there, it would have made a few less arguable points. The question was raised, why did God give us free will when he knew it would create evil. The answer given is that he wanted us to be able to love him, and this requires free will. Why is God in need of our love? Why does he think that us loving him makes having evil in the world worthwhile? Even the ability to love each other may not make up for the pain and suffering going on every second of every day. I don't know what the world would be like without free-will or the illusion of it. I'm just saying that the ability to love might not be as valuable as freedom from evil and suffering. Personally, I think I would give up my capacity for love to be free from my pain. Hell, love causes as much pain as it does joy, so it cancels itself out regardless of the multitude of other suffering going on in the world.

Another answer given to the question of suffering, is that, if there isn't God allowing suffering for a greater purpose, the only alternative is that life is meaningless and painful and horrible and there's no reason for any of it and none of it matters. Basically, there has to be a God, because the alternative is too distasteful. Turns out this is not a reason at all, just an expression of a desire for things to make sense. Just because we don't like something doesn't mean it's not true, for pete's sake. The documentary would have been better off if they had left this piece of opinion out. Besides, just because things might not be exactly the way the Christians want, doesn't necessarily mean life is horrible and pointless. There are other alternatives, like the perspectives of other religions, but all of a sudden the pundits have forgotten that in favour of their black and white stance. Furthermore, there are non-religious options that don't require things to be so bleak. My favourite one is that the universe itself is intelligent, conscious in a way, and that we are in fact part of a teleological unfolding of the universe becoming conscious of itself. I don't necessarily believe this, but it is a nice idea, and at least as likely as some supernatural being existing somewhere that we can't see or interact with in any real capacity. The point is, we may be living in a Godless universe, but that doesn't mean it's a kind of meaningless hell. At the very least, we make our own meaning. Man is a meaning-making creature. We get to choose how we see our lives in the context of the universe, and contrary to swallowing doctrine, the process of making our own meaning is itself an enlightening and extremely valuable experience. People have difficulty because it seems so arbitrary, like pulling a world-view out of a hat, but, having gone through the process myself (and continuing to cultivate it), I can say that it's more like creating a masterpiece of art, and it includes reconciling yourself with the possibility of arbitrariness. Instead of being stuck in a dogmatic version of life, those of us who question what we are told can experience massive freedom in the liberty to create our own reality. Ask yourself this: is the Mona Lisa arbitrary?

Pffft. I must be Neitzche reincarnated.

The Case For Faith Film

I am currently in the middle of this film. After having read The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and one of Christopher Hitchens books (but not the most relevant one to this disussion), I thought I should take a look at the rebuttals, just to be sort of fair. Of course, I had made my decision about the existence of God and the value of Christianity long before any of this, but the topic still intrigues me to a very large degree. It is probably on my top five interesting issues. Anyway. This film attempts to answer two questions posed by skeptics, specifically the Canadian Charles Templeton, who started out as a hugely successful evangelist in his youth, but had to quit because these questions 'disintegrated' his faith. Lee Strobel, the journalist who wrote the book and hosts the film, was an athiest until 1981, when after 21 months of research into whether or not Jesus actually existed, converted to Christianity.

The first of these two questions is "Why is Jesus the only way?" Technically, if you are asking why he's the only way to "God", you are presupposing the existence of God, and therefore changing the question quite radically. If you presuppose the existence of God, implying that 'getting' to Him is your ultimate purpose, then the answers given in this documentary are sufficient. However, those are all big presumptions. My interest is in the way the question was meant to be asked, and which is relevant to more people, including myself, which is "Why is Jesus the only way to reach the ultimate (that which I would call enlightenment). This is the real question, and the question the skeptics are asking. In this case, the answers given are completely insufficient. As far as I have reckoned after watching this part of the documentary, the answers are as follows: 1) There is no reason for God to create more than one path to Him; and 2) Jesus himself said that he was the only way to God, and he is, after Strobel's examination (we have to acknowledge that he did make an effort to prove it), a credible witness whom we can believe. In addition, another comment was made that Christianity is true, because it is the only religion that solves the problem of us being not good enough to be accepted by God - grace. Since we are sinners, we will never be able to earn God's love, so in grace he gives it freely. As far as I'm concerned, all three of these answers are ridiculous.

The way I see it, the Christian doctrine creates the problem that grace so perfectly solves, the idea of sin. Who decides what is a sin, or even that there is such thing as sin? I guess that would be God. So God makes up sin, and then makes up grace in order to nullify it. What is the point? And obviously, this is all hypothetically based on the unproved assumption of his existence. Since the man who gives this answer is using it to prove the truth of Christianity, and therefore the Christian God, it's all circular reasoning. You can't prove the existence of God by saying he must exist because he created a problem and then solved it. Absurd.

Secondly, the evidence that Jesus was a reliable source and that therefore we should believe what he says about him being the only way to God, is not as convincing to me as it obviously is to Strobel. Now, I have not had the priveledge of reading all of the scrolls and documents that he has, but he did not even mention the fact and/or possibility that the Bible, at least, has been edited and its 'books' selected for over however many hundreds of years have passed since it was first written. It was not even written for at least 100 years after Christ's death, so therefore no person alive at the time of Jesus had a hand in it's authorship. It was the church which decided which gospels should be included and which should not. There was that whole Nicene Creed debacle. I'm far from an expert on Christian history, or any other part of history for that matter, but I do remember enough from my university courses to know that the Bible and other "commentaries" are not written in stone by Jesus' own hand. Thus there is reason to doubt the validity of the evidence we now have. I don't deny the probability of the existence of the historical Jesus, but there is, as far as I know, no concrete evidence of his divinity or resurrection. All we have is thousand-hand testimony. It wouldn't hold up in court, so it won't hold up in the courts of the mind of reasonable humans.

I have to agree with the first argument. There is no reason God would need or want to create more than one path to him. But again, this presupposes he exists in the first place. And the whole nature of the argument presupposes he's worth getting to.

So far this film bothers me for another reason as well, maybe moreso. It reduces the human race to wretched, helpless individuals. One statement was made (I can't remember by who), that the emptiness and alienation we all feel is because we are isolated from God. This statement made in an off-hand way on the road to another point, which makes it even more arrogant. There's nothing to back it up whatsoever. The emptiness we feel is more likely isolation from each other. We don't, as the film asserts, need a purpose from God - we are each other's purpose. Humanity's individual and collective power is far greater than these pundits acknowledge, and I fully believe we have the capacity to be our own salvation. Whether it will happen is not guarenteed, of course, but this is the nature of free-will! By diverting our attention away from each other, towards God through Jesus, Christianity is sapping our collective power from us. It is stealing the potential for humanity to unite, and actually fostering people to think of themselves as individuals, for in a Christian view, one must develop a one-on-one relationship with Jesus in order to save only himself. Sure, this is remedied by the demand to spread the good news to others so that they may save themselves, but in our diversified society, most Christians know they will be met with hostility if they do this. Christianity divides people into self-absorbed individuals who feel secure in their own salvation, relieving them of feeling the need and responsibility to unite with their fellow man in order to save everyone. There are many fundamentalist Christians who are so certain Jesus will save them from global warming they refuse to change their earth-ravinging consumption. They truly believe the doctrine that the earth was given to them to 'use up'. Not only is this annoying, it is also dangerous and it has and will continue to have repercussions for everybody on earth. And yet, these people seem not to care about anyone else, contrary to what is supposed to be "Christian" behaviour. The only good thing about this particular situation is that most of them will live to see the consequences of their beliefs. Jesus is not going to swoop down and save them when the tidal waves and hurricanes and rising sea-levels and forest fires destroy their properties and those of their friends. Perhaps some of them will be reasonable enough to wake up to reality when these things occur. There is a slight chance that enough other people will start to do what is necessary to prevent major climate disaster, but I think the probability is very slim. And if this does happen, we will have to listen to these fundamentalists tell us that it was Jesus who prevented it, or that the scientists were wrong about global warming from the start, because us wretched helpless sinners could not possibly have been able to affect our own salvation. The blind always find a way to keep themselves blind.

My point is that, in general, seriously religious Christians are uncompassionate, ignorant, selfish, narrow-minded, materialistic, and short-sighted. By 'seriously religious' I mean those who truly believe everything they read in the bible and have been told by their priest or minister. I believe my anger towards the religion is justified, and by co-operating and identifying with the Church, these people have put themselves in the path of my anger. I'm not going to apologize for that. I know one person who identifies as a Christian, says she believes, but still cares for the earth and other people, but I don't think she believes Jesus is going to save her from global warming. It is hard to argue with individuals that they are bad merely because they believe in God. And indeed, I don't have a problem with someone who simply believes in God. I think it is very difficult to un-believe in something you've been led to believe is an undeniable part of reality since the moment you could believe in anything, but I don't understand these people's lack of interest in making sure what they believe is in fact true, or as close to true as one can get. It is a terrific irony, now that I think of it, that the collective power of the church (or the collective power of church-goers which is then bestowed on, say, a Pope), has been able to significantly disturb most if not all the cultures of the world, not to mention kill and torture enormous amounts of people, and yet each Christian is taught, and seems to believe, that humans are without means to take care of ourselves without the help of a supernatural deity. The power of their own institution should be enough to convince them that organized collective will can do amazing things. Of course, they probably believe the power of the church to be given to it by God, not by lowly church-goers.

I am quite defensive when anyone tries to compare Buddhism to a religion such as Christianity or Islam. It only serves to show their ignorance of Buddhism. The documentary, to make the point that Jesus' words are not the foundation of Christianity (instead it is his divinity and the reality of his resurrection), accuses Buddhism of having the fault: "without the Buddha, you still have the buddha's words". In other words, Christianity would not exist without the personage of Jesus, but buddhism could survive without reference to Siddhartha Gautama. I don't see how not being dependent on the fact of a historical individual can be considered a flaw! In fact, I think not only is it a positive attribute, it's one of the Buddha's major points. It is the knowledge and the path (the dharma, to be exact), that matters, not the historical person. You don't need Buddha to attain enlightenment, but you need Jesus to attain God. Furthermore, in buddhism you are not starting from a place of wretched, hopeless, inferiority that necessitates a gift of grace from above, you are starting from a place of your own unrealized Buddhahood. All you need is already within you. As a "solution" to the "problem" of being a sinner, buddhism annihalates the problem so there is no need for a solution. Isn't that even better than Christianity's perfect solution of grace? Buddhism is empowering, and positive. Christianity is degrading, negative and sets us up for even more misery than human life already entails. Why is it necessary to be forcefully reduced to indignity in order to acheive peace? I can't imagine a person can go through life without losing his dignity on his own at least once. He can surely do without the help of being constantly reminded of his inferiority in comparison with a perfect deity (an unfair comparison, if you ask me). My point is we don't need help from Jesus or God. What is the point of creating this unnecessary dependence if not for reasons of control? This then begs the question of why we are granted free will, if God's just going to find a backdoor way to control us anyway, through his church's generous administration of guilt and helplessness?

Well, I haven't even finished watching the video, and despite appearances, I have been trying to watch it with an open mind. By this I mean a mind of rationality, not influenced by what I have already absorbed from the books I mentioned at the beginning of this entry. I can't help that the people interviewed are using circular reasoning and creating imaginary problems that God can perfectly solve. This is the kind of propaganda that offends reason itself. And it worries me, because, though reason is not necessarily the standard by which we should judge all things, it is very important and should be applied in such decision-making, along with whatever intuitive or heartfelt senses we have. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who won't analyze these statements through this lense at all, either from bias, laziness, or inability, and they will be convinced by unconvincing arguments. The church seems to thrive and prey on irrational or slow-minded people. Is that the kind of group we should rely on to give us the real truth?

I know this post is going to be incredibly offensive to many people, but I also know there are others out there who share my - well call it what it is - hatred for Christianity, not only for its past injustices, but also its present hypocrisy. I try to be a very tolerant person, but is it really a virtue to tolerate something you deem to be dangerous, harmful and predatory? I think perhaps not. Perhaps in such a case, justice demands we put tolerance aside and take action against that which would perpetuate ignorance and suffering. At this time, expressing my opinion is all the action I know to take.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A thought

I spent my whole childhood trying to make life easier for my mother, but she still seemed perpetually exhausted and over-burdened. I worked very hard at being self-sufficient, staying out of the way, not asking for anything or any time, getting good grades, being, in essence, "the perfect child". In the end, my efforts did not seem to help relieve my mother's stress. Nothing changed. Perhaps this is where I got the idea that nothing I do is good enough, that working hard comes to nothing, that nothing I do matters. I couldn't make it better, I learned I was powerless.

I also never learned to live for myself. In adolescence, I probably made an effort to try, but then I started living for the boys I was dating. Now, so many years later, I remain single, in a semi-conscious effort to learn to live for myself. So far my efforts have been unsuccessful, yesterday being a prime example. I can't even motivate myself to do the things I want to do. I did not have much problem with motivation when I was a youth. I was constantly anxious about my grades, and pushed myself to be a good athlete. When I did work, I tried to be perfect too, even though I was in jobs that were completely contrary to my nature. This got so exhausting, I eventually ceased to be able to do it, after many starts and stops. When I went back to University full-time in 2003, I was able to regain that motivation to maintain excellent grades, but that is the only time in my adult life I was able to function consistently in any capacity. I had a severely reduced social life during this time, my life was school and nothing else, but that was okay. I enjoy learning, and learning is still a requirement for my mental health.

As a teen, I traded mother for boyfriend. As far as my mother went, I thought it was enough that I maintained my grades. I felt if I did that, and continued to stay out of her way, I was doing my job. I spent all my free time in my room or out of the house. This seemed to work for her, except on the one or two occasions I got myself in trouble with drugs (not including the times I used drugs or drank and didn't get in trouble). To this day I don't think my mom knows how much I used these substances. Of course, she didn't want to know, so maybe she just stuck her head in the sand when she caught a whiff. Our relationship since my parents' divorce has been all about avoidance. I avoided her to stay out of her way, and she avoided me period. I was probably a sore spot for her. Maybe whenever she saw me she was reminded that there was something wrong, and she notoriously disowns evidence of serious wrongness. Was it easier when I moved out? She's still able to not think about my suffering.

When I was home in adolescence, locked in my room, I would feverishly write pages and pages and pages in my journal, analyzing myself, my friends, life, everything, in a frenzied attempt to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Often I would cry. Not once did anyone ask me what was wrong. I don't know if they heard me or not (they being my mother, brother, and mother's partner, whose house we moved into when I was 16). Cry isn't really the word. Bawl, maybe? It was wretched, from the deepest place inside me that was utterly empty and alone. I had really good friends, yet they had no idea I did this either. They knew I hated my mother and her partner, but they didn't know how I felt about myself.

I guess the relevant insight today is that I still don't know how to live for myself. No matter how much brow-beating, pressure, shame, or guilt I laid upon myself, I could never get myself to do anything, at least consistently. Without an authority figure - parent, teacher, boss - there is nobody to try to get approval from, nobody to make happy, no fear of loss: loss of house and home, loss of job, loss of approval. I've recently stopped trying to motivate myself with negativity, since after so many years...well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. But I haven't found an alternative way to motivate myself. I do things either out of necessity or impulse. I can't decide between activities that are not neccessary. Even my motivation to read or watch a movie is most often motivated by library due dates. One might suggest I set myself deadlines for everything, but since I know they are arbitrary, I can always find an excuse not to meet them. Or, things that are meant to be enjoyable become tedious because they've become chores, "shoulds", and "have to's". In that case, there is no point in doing them because the only reason I want to do them in the first place is because they are enjoyable. Sometimes it is easier to do necessary things than to do something fun, like yesterday. I get a sense of accomplishment from cleaning and doing laundry and taking out the garbage etc. Also relief, and a sense of being 'good'. The past two weeks or so I've managed to do well at keeping up with chores, but there are periods that I have been unable to do dishes or laundry for a month or more. What is regulating these patterns? Now that I think about it, either I take care of my real necessities, or I am being productive creatively with my crafts. I never seem to strike a daily balance between the two and do both. It's an either-or proposition, and maybe this is why I had such a dismal weekend craft-wise. My apartment is looking pretty good though (for me - my standards are, because of physical limitations - low. There are certain things that get done maybe once or twice a year, or less, such as the bathtub and the floors. Cleaning the bathtub is next to unbearable except in very short spurts, and the floor...I sweep, but never wash. Sometimes I go around with a sponge or cloth and clean up specific messes, but that's about it.)

I really need help with motivation, living for myself. I need a place to start. Funnily enough, I've read and done a report on Maslow's "Motivation and Emotion" for school. I seem only to be motivated to maintain the first level of his heirarchy - food and shelter. The rest is a real struggle. I was doing very well with the social aspect from last winter until this fall, but now I've sunk back into relative isolation. The weather and money problems have much to do with this, but I am not making much of an effort either. There have also been some doubts about some of my friendships, and the friend I used to socialize with most often has first moved away, and then I had to sever contact with her because of how her illness was affecting her behaviour and demands on me. I think what has saved me has been the almost daily messaging with JK. Especially since she is the only person on earth besides my therapist who can stand to listen to what's really going on in my life and my mind. I'm grateful for that, to be sure. I think I would have gone really over the edge the past few weeks while my therapist was away if I hadn't been able to be honest with JK. I hope I have been a similar help to her, since she is also going through a lot of suffering, even more than me. It has helped me to be able to write out some positive things that have improved my life, in hopes that it would help her. Unlike R, she doesn't get defensive and think of it as 'advice'. She actually appreciates what I say. Contrasting my friendship with R (even when she wasn't as sick) with my friendship with JK has opened my eyes a bit more, realizing that R probably never had my best interest in mind. To be sure, I have never been the greatest friend to her either, though I tried, especially in the last two years. But I now see the huge extent that R resented my progress in recovery, and completely stopped listening to me altogether as I got better and she got worse. I did not realize how much she got from feeling 'better' than me until our positions switched, and she never was able to adjust. I spent years thinking she was such a great person, so nice and generous with her attention, so mature. There were a few moments over the years when I couldn't help but notice her saying a thing or two that didn't fit with this, but I was able to disregard them and go back to thinking the world of her. Lately I have realized to an extent that her maturity was an act, a very good act. She fooled everyone, including all of her doctors and therapists (which prevents them from helping her), too. Nowadays, she is so sick her behaviour has become blatantly infantile and she doesn't even try to hide it anymore. Well. I don't have that in my life anymore. There are many things we both probably wish we had gotten to say to each other but never did, and I'm trying to let go of it. The point is, she never was the terrific friend I thought she was. She was completely unsupportive. I didn't know, because I'd never had a truly supportive friend before. All my friendships have been marked by jealousy and competetiveness (a result of my low self-esteem, for one thing), but with JK there is just mutual admiration and care. If she is jealous, she doesn't let it affect how she treats me, she doesn't get resentful.

How did I get from not living for myself to talking about friendship? The nature of journal writing, I guess.

By the way, I was originally 'sparked' to write this entry (the first paragraph, anyway) while I was reading this article: Child Abuse and Neglect and the Brain.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

43 Things: Eating Disorder - the latest

I have been noticing the amount of food I eat during a binge has been getting smaller over the past, oh, 3 months. I feel full/sated/whatever with less. I don’t know why, really. Last week, I think on Wednesday, I decided I was going to binge, because I was feeling horribly miserable about my life, lower than I had for a very long time. I don’t beat myself up about my binges anymore, since there is a reason behind them, and I’m working on it, so there is no point. And, the harder I am on myself the more reason I have to binge. Anyway, on Wednesday I made myself eat a meal before I binged, so maybe I’d binge less, and that is exactly what happened. I ate a very small amount of binge-food before I felt sick to my stomach and full, and not like bingeing anymore. One side of my brain said, “Oh great, on top of everything, you can’t even binge properly anymore”, but mostly I was okay with it.

I have also, in the last day or two, been thinking that the more I force myself to eat foods I don’t want to for meals, the more I binge. Which is really expensive. Technically, if I’m going to eat the junk food anyway, I might as well not eat the ‘good’ food. On the other hand, if I make food that I like that is not exactly binge-food (like, say, grilled cheese sandwiches), I am less likely to binge because I don’t feel deprived of food I like. So, this month I am just going to eat food I like and see what happens, see if it saves me calories and money.

I have also been spending a bit more time on preparation, and I have been able to deal with eating soup and rice and beans without feeling too much like I’m just shovelling “hunger stoppers” into my mouth and not feeling satisfied. So that is good.

Anti-procrastination?

Today I notice I procrastinated about something that is not a chore, not "good for me", nothing I usually fight to get myself to do. It was just something I had planned on doing. So now I am rebelling against anything scheduled whatsoever, chores, errands, exercise, fun stuff, everything. The most ridiculous thing about this is some of what I did to put off the 'scheduled' activity - chores. Yup. I did the dishes, a load of laundry, re-organized some media, went through my stack of accumulated papers and tossed the non-keepers in the recycling bin, took out the garbage...Sure in between I played cards and downloaded music on my computer, but I have to take breaks between chores for my body's sake. WTF.

On Friday night I was sure this weekend would be full of crafts, very productive. I'd been inspired all week to make stuff, and forced myself to finish the dog sweater (which STILL doesn't work, I discovered). Come Saturday I didn't feel like making anything. All I managed to do was teach myself brick stitch and make a little diamond shaped thing with green seed beads. It is now 8:30 Sunday night, and that is all I have to show for the weekend. I am really frustrated with myself right now, really angry with me. And my incredible magnitude to shoot myself in the foot. My unbelievable gift to find creative ways to be less than I could be. I can find a way to outdo my lowest standard on any given day. I don't understand! I want to make crafts. I want to watch DVDs. Why don't I?

This reminds me of my habit of NOT reading the books that I buy, the ones that excite me the most. 90% of the books on my shelf are ones I anticipate to be extraordinary, but won't read. The only reason I can see that I might do this is because I don't want to be disappointed. Maybe they will turn out to suck. Could be I'm afraid that what crafts I make will suck too. That never used to stop me, but things change, I guess. I keep putting off doing the things I know will give me the most pleasure, including yoga and swimming. It used to be just these types of things, ones that fall into the category of "good for me", that I put off. Now it seems to be everything.

This is not to say I did not enjoy my day. I had a great time singing and dancing to the music I downloaded while I did the things I did. But still, I am disappointed with myself. In order to get myself in the right frame of mind - to get down to 'work' (maybe using that word has a lot to do with it) - I made myself shower after I finished my coffee this 'morning' (more like 3 in the afternoon), as a mental marker of readiness to do what I had been planning on doing. It worked the other day, and it works on days when I have to go out to do an errand or two, but not today. I seem to have this absurd phobia about anything that even remotely resembles 'work'. That is a very large, loaded issue for me, but it seems to be making itself cover even more of my life.

I want to discuss more, and I want to talk about the Evils of the Chair, but my back hurts like mad (an example of the evils of the chair). I am not sure if I should just give up on this day, or attempt to sit down at this late hour and craft. I also do not know if I am really hungry. Yesterday I felt constantly hungry, even a few minutes after eating, so I realized this is probably some weird PMS symptom. So I don't know whether to eat right now or not, whether to eat a meal or something small... I am having difficulty making certain types of decisions. What is this aimlessness about? All these near-misses of goal-directed behaviour. I don't want to say I hate myself, but I really hate this, whatever this is.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Synchronicity

A few days ago, I was ready to be depressed and hopeless for who knows how long. I was so overwhelmed from writing all those entries and really detailing all the things wrong in my life. Usually I live in the pressent, don't think about the big picture, and this allows me to get by day by day with a reasonably positive attitude, though I still procrastinate hugely and have some guilt about the things I do not therefore accomplish. I just pop another pill and keep going. I know the percocet has a lot to do with my feelings of ease, and I have to admit that occasionally I have taken one not because of pain, but because I'm in a crabby mood and don't want to stay there (usually because I am with someone else and want to have a good time). I don't do this very often, and I never take a percocet if I've had one within the previous 3 or 4 hours. And there have been occasions where I have felt a little pain and a little grumpy and take a percocet for both reasons. In any case, I cannot credit the percocet for the improvements I want to talk about today.

Yesterday I woke up thinking I may not stay really depressed. I wasn't sure at first, because I never know what the day will bring, but it turned out to be an average day for me, and so did today. This is starkly different from earlier in the week when I felt like I was going into a real crisis, going to give up for good. I was angry at the world for giving up on me, angry at anyone I know with money for not recognizing how horrible my life is on my meager income and for not helping me. I was angry at my doctors for ceasing to investigate my condition once I had a 'descriptive' diagnosis. Those things have not been resolved, but I don't feel the anger intensely anymore. I am back to living in the present, enjoying my small victories and third-world luxuries.

I was thinking about this today, because this is the first time I've ever gone so far into feeling really depressed and just walked right back out of it. All my life I had episodes similar to this and could never stop sinking even when I tried, and I tried everything to fight sliding into the dark hell. I had no control over my thoughts, no control over my mood. I would just keep sinking deeper, it was just like quicksand. I could feel it coming on and it scared me to death. This time I was so angry, I actually wanted to be depressed. I said to myself, that's it, I'm giving up. Why should I bother if no one else cares? I can't do this by myself, but no one will help me, so why keep fighting when it's a losing battle? and so on. But here I am, two days later, feeling back to my normal, feeling okay again. Nothing has changed since earlier in the week. So what stopped me from sinking into the quicksand?

Today I was thinking about it, and the difference is this: I am not beating myself up anymore. All this bad stuff is happening to me, but I'm no longer telling myself that it's my fault. Somewhere along the line, in the course of my therapy, I 'snapped out' of it. I snapped out of the blaming-myself mindset, and it has made all the difference in the world. It seems more than just a turning point for me. It's like I went from black and white to colour, or walked through a door and locked it behind me. All those years I was struggling to forgive myself for being imperfect, I was asking the wrong question. Now I can see that question made no sense, because there was nothing to forgive. Once my therapist and I had teased out the thread, identified and discussed the cause and effect of the situation, I let go of the hatred I had for myself - for myself as a little girl, and myself as an adult. Once I really saw that being unloved as a child created all these wounds and the wounds made me think wrong. It's like I had my legs broken and they were never put in a cast, and I just grew that way, and my walking was mangled and lurching and every step hurt. And all along thinking it was my fault for getting my legs broke, and trying to hide my lurching, because if people saw my real walk, they'd know I'd done something so bad. I was ashamed of my broken legs, and I thought I should be. But then, with my therapist's help, I realized that someone else was responsible - someone else broke my legs, and that same someone else failed to get them fixed. That person was responsible for this, because she was responsible for me - I was a child, and she was my parent. She neglected to do the right thing, day after day, as I hobbled on my warped legs. (Interestingly to this extended metaphor, I was actually born with bowed legs. They were put in casts when I was a newborn.)

How to explain how this changed everything? My mind, which had been spewing forth indictments and criticism my whole life, stopped doing those things. I no longer needed to punish myself, because I had done nothing wrong. For awhile I was very angry about all the years of unfair treatment, locked in a torture chamber for so many years when all along I was innocent. It was a huge loss. And I was angry that she let me go on believing I was to blame, even after I'd grown up and was trying to live my own life. I went through a period of greiving what might have been. Don't get me wrong, I'd been thinking about what might have been for a very long time, but because I'd done it to myself (so I thought), it had an element of determinism to it, an element of 'it couldn't have been otherwise'. When I learned I wasn't responsible, that determinism element changed. Philosophically, when I think about it now, it is still there, for could she really have done differently? But it is easier to believe someone else could have chosen a different course of action than to believe that about yourself, especially since I know what was going on in my head. I was told once by a psychic that all my suffering in this life was not my fault, that it was karma from a previous life. I think my mother may have been the embodiment of that karma, for she is who has set me on this unusual path. And most of the time I don't begrudge this path, and I can be very grateful for it at times, because I feel like I have a real chance in this life to spiritually evolve an enormous amount. Attain the stream maybe. But the days when I feel so overwhelmed by my obstacles I am angry that she took away my potential for a normal life. On those days I ask that some of my suffering be more unconscious, not so in my face, ignorable. Or however 'normal' people have it.

Back to the point. I want to say that I don't think it is possible for me to be depressed now that the demon of my inner critic has become so muted. I can almost see her becoming a friend, though I'm not there yet. I still need to have some check and balance going on in order to keep my place, but that can be a friendly voice, helping me to stay on the path. It doesn't have to be malicious, just a "yoohoo" now and then. No, in order to be depressed, I need to have those 'tapes', that endless string of self-recrimination, self-doubt, self-criticism going on. I have to be telling myself that I should have done better, that I'll never measure up, anything less than perfect should make you ashamed, unless you are the best you are worthless etc. And most of all, everything bad is your fault. That demon makes me paranoid - a friend's bad mood is my doing. And catastrophizes - your mistake ruined everything. If you screw up once they'll leave you. And mind-reads - everybody thinks you are annoying. And all those other cognitive distortions. They stopped at the same time, too. All that extra commentary that 'regular' people don't do, I stopped doing also. Now I can take things as they are and move on, without analyzing my part in it, unless it's appropriate. The contents of my mind have altered, like someone flipped a switch and 'depressive thinking' was gone. The switch may as well be called "It's not your fault." The scene in Good Will Hunting where the counsellor kept telling Will "It's not your fault, it's not your fault" made me laugh, though I thought I understood how it worked, in its simple, cinematic way. Now I really get it. Because realizing "it's not my fault" changed my life too.

There may still be some remnants, some stragglers of abusive self-criticism, maybe that's what creates the guilt I feel for procrastinating (but I think this guilt is mostly about some other issue I haven't worked on yet). Maybe I'm still "shoulding" myself too much. JK has told me that in her perspective I am doing a lot of activity, when I complain that I haven't done much. I don't know if I can believe her entirely, because I'm here, and she's in another city, and so she doesn't see the hours I spend playing cards on the computer and farting around on Facebook. But maybe I can give myself more of a break. In fact, my therapist has said something about this too, that maybe I'm not procrastinating, maybe I'm resting because I need to rest. Or something like that, it was quite a few months ago. I've been thinking about my rest/activity balance lately...but that is a topic for later.

So, unless I bring that demon critic back by somehow re-convincing myself that as a child I should've known what was wrong and what to do about it, should have known that I was being neglected and not getting enough love and attention and sought out a way to compensate so I wouldn't be damaged by it. If I could somehow take back the compassion I've come to have for her, and start hating her again (I see I hated her because that was what was modelled for me - mom hates me so I should hate myself, because she must be right), if I could re-convince myself that I am utterly worthless and should be ashamed of myself and my life, well then the demon critic could reassert itself and I could really get and stay depressed. I could re-create the quicksand, hypothetically. But of course that is absurd. I do not want to give up the measure of inner peace this revelation has given me. I do not want to be under the thumb and out of control again. I don't want to hear all that negative stuff in my head.

I was thinking about all this, and wondering how I could effect a similar insight in my depressed friends. How to make them see that none of what they are suffering is their fault? I wanted to suss out what it took for me to get there, to get to that point, what finally flipped the switch. In truth, I think it was not only understanding the thread of cause and effect and seeing that a) I was not the cause, so b) could not be blamed for the effects, but also the space that was created for me by my therapist. Her acceptance, understanding, and above all, validation, opened up a safe space, and also a safety net, for me to be able to explore my being, past and present, and to see what came up with enough clarity. There was no lightbulb, no *ding*, no overwhelming sense of insight at the time. As I've said, the first thing I felt when I grasped this fact was not relief but anger and then, grief. Nevertheless, I'm placing a monument in my personal history by that memory, as the day that it was made possible for me to love myself, the day that my demon inner critic started to disappear. Maybe it was also the beginning of healing.

I don't know how to recreate this situation for my depressed friends. I don't even know if this is what is driving their self-hatred, their negative self-talk, their depression, but I suspect it might be, at least for one. This one had a childhood full of abuse, and is still abusing herself in her parent's place, just like I was. She is very hard on herself, perfectionistic and does a lot of self-harming. She has very real inner critics. The other seems to be stuck in a place where she thinks she should have been better yesterday, preventing her from starting where she is. I don't really know who she blames for her illnesses, but she also has perfectionistic tendencies. I know we are all different, and what works for me may not apply to them. But recovery seems to be a process with steps (not necessarily the famous twelve), and I've already heard one friend echo the first step - true willingness to take responsibility for making recovery happen, because nobody else is going to do it for us. So is it really so far-fetched to think I might be able to help her gain this one? But it is one thing to know intellectually that "it's not your fault", and another to internalize it and really believe it. To let it replace the core belief that you are to blame. To get to a place where your mind shifts from self-hatred to self-compassion, from self-abusing to self-accepting, self-helping. To literally just stop beating yourself up, and instead think about what will do you good, what will make you feel good, and be better, happier, more peaceful. Because despite all my recent complaints and pain and ongoing suffering, I've never been so emotionally well, so accepting of who I am.

I decided tonight to treat myself to lemon chicken dinner from the Lotus Leaf. Guess what my fortune-cookie said? "Good thoughts make life better." I couldn't agree more.

The Neurobiology of Trauma and the Developing Brain in Childhood

By Louise Maxfield

During exposure to a stressor, the brain initiates a cascade of responses. Glucocorticoids are released to mobilize energy, increase cardiovascular activity, and slow down unnecessary physiological processes. Chronic exposure to extremely high levels of glucocorticoids can seriously damage neurons; this is most evident in the hippocampus which contains a high concentration of glucocorticoid receptors. Various animal studies have shown permanent loss of glucocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus as well as significant damage to the hippocampal neurons, with resulting hippocampal degeneration.

Studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) found reduced hippocampal volume in adults with PTSD. In their combat veteran research, Bremner et al. (1995) compared 26 Vietnam veterans with PTSD to 22 normal veterans, similar in age, sex, race, years of education, socioeconomic status, body size, and years of alcohol abuse. Combat veterans with PTSD had a statistically significant 8% smaller right hippocampal volume and a statistically insignificant 4% smaller left hippocampal volume.

In a similar study with adult survivors of childhood abuse, Bremner et al. (1996) found that those survivors with PTSD had a 12% smaller left hippocampal volume and a statistically insignificant 5% smaller right hippocampal volume. It is not known why persons traumatized as adults had smaller right hippocampal volume and those traumatized as children had smaller left hippocampal volume. The researchers suggest that larger sample sizes, with increased power, might find smaller volumes for both right and left hippocampal volumes. Another possibility is that there is a true difference in patients with early trauma, and that early trauma may interfere with brain development.

Diminished hippocampal size may be either a consequence of trauma exposure or a risk factor for the development of psychiatric complications following trauma exposure. Dysfunction of the hippocampus may be related to the fragmentation of memory that occurs with PTSD and to dissociation.

Similar findings were found by Stein, Koverola, Hanna, Torchia, & McClarty (1997) who measured hippocampal volume using the MRI in 21 women who reported being severely sexually abused in childhood. They compared these subjects to a control group of 21 socio-demographically similar women without abuse histories. A statistically significantly 5% smaller left hippocampal volume was found in the women who reported sexual victimization in childhood, as well as a statistically insignificant smaller right hippocampal volume. Left-sided hippocampal volume correlated highly (r = -0.73) with dissociative symptom severity. Stein et al. suggest that the relationship between symptom severity and hippocampal volume indicates that mesial temporal lobe dysfunction may directly mediate certain aspects of PTSD and dissociative disorder symptomatology.

Possible hippocampal degeneration is only one aspect of the complex picture. Studies on the physiological effects of trauma have found profound and substantial effects within multiple interconnected neurobiologic systems. Exposure to extreme or chronic trauma related stressors can result in abnormal patterns of neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, and in permanent changes in neuronal differentiation and organization. Neurobiological effects are evident in brain stem dysregulation, alterations within the central nervous system, irregularities in cortical function, alterations within catecholamine systems, and dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis.

Since these effects are pervasive, powerful, and occasionally permanent even for adults, it is apparent that childhood trauma can have a massive impact on the developing brain, with its high levels of plasticity. The child's brain is structured and neuronally organized by experience. There are substantial implications for all aspects of children's development, with potential deficits and impairment in emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social functioning.

end of article

I have heard before that people suffering from depression, chronic abuse, or stress have a smaller hippocampus. In some cases, antidepressants can reverse at least part of the damage. I did not know that chronic or severe abuse could affect all those other systems, as highlighted in the article above. It mentions the brainstem, which I have been researching, and the HPA axis, which regulates the stress response. If the latter is malfunctioning, it could mean it is not getting the feedback necessary to 'turn off'. I studied this axis in university, so I know how it works. If it is always on, you are under constant stress, constant 'fight or flight'. You will have high levels of cortisol and other chemicals that are meant for short, emergency use. They are damaging if they are in the body for too long. All this could lead to adrenal exhaustion. Of course, I'm purely speculating, but somebody has to if I'm ever going to figure out what is going on with my body, and nobody else seems to be interested in doing it. Anyway, pain and fatigue - my body breaking down - could certainly be associated with a chronic stress response. So could an exaggerated startle response.

Obviously, I have never been to war, nor was I physically or sexually abused as a child. I don't have an official diagnosis of PTSD, but I do experience almost all the symptoms. Doesn't a nervous breakdown or suicidal episode qualify as a traumatic experience? What about living chronically with the fears of 'losing it', being 'discovered', and subconsciously threatened with losing food and shelter? How about twenty odd years of feeling worthless, unwanted, abnormal, and ashamed? Twenty odd years of a voice in your head saying you have to be perfect or else, saying you are so horrible you have to pretend to be someone else, saying you are a burden and in the way, and that it is your fault? Aren't those years full of chronic abuse? I have re-lived intrusively my own "humiliations" over and over again without being able to control or stop it. I jump out of my skin at least once a day. I never feel safe, even behind my locked door in my one-room apartment. Experience shapes your brain, this is a proven fact. What mangled and warped gray matter lays beneath my skull?

43 Things: Sleep better: More complaints

In my previous entry on sleeping, I didn’t discuss how my chronic pain affects my sleep. Nor did I mention the noise factor. So I should mention these things, just to have the full picture.

My apartment is situated on the second-floor, above an often used alleyway. My bed is situated so that my head is directly beside the window, which I have to keep open a crack for air circulation. From early morning on, and sometimes all times of the day and night, there are trucks bombing down the alley. In the relative silence of ‘sleep time’, these trucks sound like 747s taking off a run way. My neighbour has also described the sound like this. In addition, there seem to always be loud drunk people walking and hanging out below my window. This is especially bad on weekends. This makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, and I often get woken up in fright of these noises. Often the drunks are screaming and swearing at each other, whether in conflict or rowdiness. I can’t move my bed – my apartment is so tiny, the current arrangement is the only one that gives me enough space. I can’t sleep with my head at the other end of the bed – my floor slopes downwards at enough of an angle that beads roll to the far wall if I drop them. I don’t want to be sleeping with all my blood rushing to my head.

The pain. My whole life I slept on my side. Since I have had the back pain, I have no choice but to sleep on my back. It is always more difficult to fall asleep on my back, and difficult to remain on my back while asleep. I have support pillows that I use under my knees. Last night while I was trying to fall asleep, I could feel pain in my back despite lying in the proper position. I don’t know what else I can do, I can’t afford a new mattress. Last night my legs were killing me as well, and I had to take extra pain medication, 2 melatonin, and a zyprexa in order to get to sleep. I woke up today at 7 a.m., worrying.

Then there is my feet. On a good day, the pressure from my heels on the mattress creates a burning pain. On a bad day, my feet are ice cold and extremely painful. That alone can keep me awake all night. Sometimes putting my moccasins on doesn’t even make them warm, because there seems to be absolutely no circulation, and massaging my feet doesn’t create any. I have to put an electric heating pad directly over my feet. So going to bed requires all sorts of props, drugs and rituals. And still I don’t get quality sleep.

Taken together, these two entries detailing the problems that affect my sleep are overwhelming. Enough to go to my doctor with. It is ridiculous, when I think that most people just get into bed and sleep. Writing out these entries earlier in the week made me feel very hopeless and depressed. I wanted to give up, but how can I? I can’t even lie in bed all day like a depressed person, it becomes so uncomfortable. It’s getting to the point that no position can relieve my pain, and that is a frightening place to be.

Other People's Egos

This is a bit of a tangent, relative to what I usually write about in my blog, but I feel compelled to share what I heard on the radio this morning. Every Friday on Kool FM, they play a game of Family Feud. The poll is from people who fill out the Kool Advisory Council Survey, to rate the music they play. The contestant, in this case a woman, has to give 3 of the top 5 answers in order to win the prize. Today's question was "What is your worst habit?". The contestant has to give the answers one at a time, and in between the radio hosts comment and repeat the question. This contestant made a point of saying, before each of her three answers (swearing, smoking, biting nails), "This is not my habit", "not my habit either", and "this drives me absolutely nuts". It annoyed the hell out of me that she had to protest, in front of each habit, that it was not HER habit. It was so self-righteous. The hosts even made a point of saying, after the second answer, that they would all assume that none of these habits belonged to her (so she would stop saying that). Afterwards, they asked her what her habit was. She didn't say anything at first, so they suggested that it was "denial". Then she said she drank a lot of coffee. Personally I think her worst habit is protesting too much. That or excessive impression management. I don't know why this got under my skin so much, but obviously since I'm still thinking about it and compelled to write about it, her attitude pisses me off. Maybe subconsciously I feel defensive because I do all three of the 'habits' she mentioned, but I don't consider swearing a bad habit, it is a vocabulary choice. I wish I could give this lady a wake up call, so she could be more self-aware. What motivated her to so strongly disidentify with bad habits? Does she think she's better than the rest of us? The hosts were nice about it, but made some comments subtly implying that even they noticed her superiority complex. So is it arrogance or insecurity? Who is she trying to impress? If any of her friends recognized her on the radio, they would already know she didn't swear, smoke, or bite her nails. The rest of us couldn't care less. As a matter of fact, I think less of her now then if she'd admitted to being human and having a bad habit. Her efforts back-fired if she was trying to be likeable. She's offended everyone who does one of these things, which is probably most of us. If her goal was to convince herself of her righteousness, well maybe she did succeed. Trouble is, she has to keep acting like this to keep convincing herself. It is much more likeable and relaxing to just admit you are human.

I may be calling the pot black here as I sit here analyzing some stranger in a somewhat public place. My own ego is asserting its superiority in a 'backdoor' kind of way. Is ignorance any less of a pet peeve for me as nail-biting is for this woman? At least I am not claiming to be a saint. Whatever. I may be making an ass out of myself and being intolerant by writing this, but so be it.

After re-reading this post, I can see there is a bit of projection going on. This woman was being very judgemental, and I hate how judgemental I can be. Am I trying to disown it? I don't know. I have done a lot of work to loosen up the critical voice inside me. It doesn't attack me anymore, but I don't know if it continues to attack others. I have this intuition that I'm not really judging this woman, just writing about something that bugs me. Maybe I'm judging the behaviour I see, maybe I am judging ignorance. That's probably just as unenlightened. It is still difficult for me to switch to a compassionate mind-set when dealing with this kind of thing. There's always the question of what this woman is suffering that makes her act this way. Then again, pitying someone because of their ignorance probably isn't really compassion either. I readily admit I need a whole lot more work on compassion. When it comes to getting the "nothingness/suchness", I'm there, but compassion is very difficult for me. Which makes sense, considering the way I was treated without compassion when I was a child. I think that's one thing my mother still doesn't have either. However 'nice lady-ish' she is, I have never heard her say anything truly compassionate. She doesn't give one thought to anything outside her little monkeysphere, not the environment, not the starving and wretched around the world, nothing. Hell she doesn't even care about the suffering of her own daughter. When it comes to suffering, her head is fully in the sand. *sigh* Why does everything always come back to her. Well I know the answer to that. When am I ever going to be free of the effects of Mother?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

43 Things: Social anxiety not such a worry.

Over the past six months, the frequency of me thinking about social anxiety has slowed down to a stop. Really, I don’t even consider myself to have that diagnosis anymore. I still have some problems, but I would say they are on the normal side of the spectrum. I went to a party last month, the guests were mostly people I knew – friends of a friend and her husband. I’d had intermittent contact with them for years, but never really got to know or like them. So, it wasn’t a room full of strangers, but somewhat a room full of people who were part of two groups of friends, and a few other guests who knew each other. So, I’m not good at mingling, I have nothing to say, don’t know what to ask. I had one real conversation, instigated by one of those people I’d known slightly for years. The rest of the time I tried to busy myself by taking pictures, going for cigarettes, fiddling with the video game system or the stereo. Finally, my meds petered out and I had to rest until the next dose kicked in. I found myself lying on the couch watching the goings-on, and though I felt like a weirdo, I was able to accept the fact that this was necessary. By the end of the night I had probably exchanged at least a few words with 75% of the guests, and hadn’t felt like crying or that I needed to go home. This I call a success. This is the only party I hadn’t been able to avoid for probably 10 years, but there have been a few other occasions, such as weddings, that required mingling or something, and I can’t say I had a blast at any of them. And that is fine for me, as long as I can avoid them in the future.

On the upside, I’m much better at making phone calls, asking strangers the time (or whatever), making small talk with random people. I don’t walk down the street feeling everybody’s distainful eyes on me. If I do feel some distain, I think, “what’s their problem?” I am much more able to just go about my business and i don’t think about social situations with apprehension (unless it is a social gathering of many people, not family).

This is only one aspect of my fears, but it was a huge obstacle, a problem that effected everything in my life, so it is a relief to be over it. Of course, I still think it is solely the Effexor, and I will never stop taking it.

43 Things: Sleep Better - Is it possible?

I have had sleeping difficulties my whole life, or as long as I can remember. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, as well as being plagued by intense, emotionally-negative dreams. I would not characterize them as nightmares exactly, because they are not usually about being chased or physically hurt or frightened. The majority of my dreams centre around themes of anxiety, such as being lost, late, or falling behind. I have talked about the dreams with counsellors, therapists, psychologists…and while I recognize what they are about, I can’t seem to get any relief from them.

In 2003, my body started ‘breaking down’, eventually leading to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The majority of people with this diagnosis have a sleep abnormality called alpha-EEG-anomaly, which is characterized by brief, awake-like brain patterns during periods of sleep. What this means is that we don’t get enough quality deep sleep, the restorative stage in which your body repairs the minor damages it receives from normal day to day living. The implication is that the body starts to accumulate more and more damage over time, leading to the condition. The first thing people with fibromyalgia need is enough good quality sleep to start the repair process. We are told to exercise, but this is only if we are getting proper sleep first. Otherwise, we are just damaging our bodies further.

So you can see my problem. I can’t make any progress healing my body because I never get enough of the right kind of sleep.

Recently I have used medications to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. They work for these purposes, however they do nothing to make sure I get the right kind of sleep, i.e. deep sleep. In fact there is evidence that the medications I am on interfere with deep sleep. I am in a Catch-22, because without the meds, I toss and turn for hours at night, and don’t sleep as long as I need to even just to feel “not exhausted” the next day. I know the ‘sleep hygiene’ protocol, but find it difficult to comply. I eat close to bedtime – if I don’t, I have more difficulty falling asleep and/or wake up early, starving. I also smoke, and I have been trying to quit…but that is another story, another goal perhaps. They say you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, but again, this is difficult. If I am not tired enough to go to sleep, I toss and turn for hours, and if I have not had enough sleep, waking up to an alarm is literally excruciating. My sleeping patterns are completely erratic. I may sleep 16 ti 20 hours if I haven’t had enough the previous 3-7 days. This throws the day/night cycle out of whack. I have always been a night owl too, so going to bed early is difficult for me, since I often have just started to feel good in the evening and want to pursue activities.

Recently, I have been able to use 3mg of melatonin, sublingual, to knock me out when I know I’m going to be tossing. Originally I was using Sleep MD, which contains melatonin as well as other natural ingredients. It may be I need those other ingredients as well, but plain melatonin is much cheaper and does the knock out job I need most. Some nights I don’t need it to fall asleep quickly, and this is a relief. I think I have finally taught myself how to fall asleep by taking the Sleep MD every night for a few months. Previous to this, I can’t think of even once when I fell asleep in less than 30 minutes.

A new complication has arisen in the past few weeks. Almost everybody occasionally has slight twitches as they fall asleep, but mine have become increasingly large and disturbing, and seem to occur much more frequently than they used to. Last night as I was in the process of falling asleep, my leg jerked a number of times, waking me up, so I had to start over. Then my entire arm flung itself out. I have had jerks that caused my entire body to startle violently. I have also noticed an increase in the morning of me talking out loud or gesturing with my hands while dreaming. This causes me to wake up at least to the point where I consciously notice what I’ve been doing, but I may be doing it all night without waking up.

This may have sounded like a whining testimony, but since I’m using this site and goal for my own purposes, I felt I needed to clarify where I was at. Now that I’ve written down everything I’m dealing with in regards to sleep (except for pain issues), I’m overwhelmed. I’ve been to a sleep clinic before, but it was a decidedly terrible experience. Not only was being hooked up to the machines utterly humiliating, but I am positive they got my results mixed with someone else’s but wouldn’t admit it. They told me I’d had at least 6.5 hours of sleep, but I remembered seeing the digital clock read somewhere after 1 a.m. and I hadn’t slept yet, and they woke me up at 7 a.m. That is less than 6 hours. In the end all they did was prescribe me clonazepam, which I’d had experience with before, and new it was addictive and only prescribed on a temporary basis. Needless to say I do not want to go back to the sleep clinic, but it may have become necessary considering all my problems. What else can I do? I don’t want my whole life to revolve around sleeping, but if I make it my priority (and if I want to do anything about my fibromyalgia, it has to be), that is exactly what will happen. I already spend 12 hours a night in bed, how much more of my life is this going to take away from me? I am on disability, but yes I actually do have better things to do than sleep or perform activities that should help me sleep.

If anyone reads this and feels like commenting, please do not respond with anything negative. I don’t think I could deal with that right now. Thanks.

43 Things: Eating Disorder - Update

I’ve signed up for two group courses, both of which I failed to make it to. I’m just no good in the mornings. However, my contact at the clinic keeps calling to find out if I want to try again, so I’ve signed up for the next group in January, in the afternoon. In the meantime, I have been bingeing less often, and extremely rarely do I eat large quantities when I do. Some of this has to do with my financial problems and not being able to afford it, some of it has to do with the progress I’ve made emotionally since working with my therapist. We rarely talk about my eating, but working through my emotional issues helps indirectly, because I most often binge when I have strong unpleasant emotions such as frustration and anger. Lately I don’t feel these as often, or as strongly, and on some occasions when I have felt them I’ve responded by not wanting to eat instead. I believe that with more therapy my eating will continue to improve, however, it can’t hurt to go to additional groups focussed specifically on eating. I am hoping to do the Skills group, which will give me ways to deal with my emotions besides eating. It may not be in the afternoon, however, so in that case I am planning to do the Symptom Interruption group, in which you make specific goals about eating and try to achieve them. Either group may be helpful.

One of those days

I'm having one of those days (or weeks, since it started yesterday) when it seems everything I try to do turns out badly. Yesterday I actually fell down in my own apartment - I stepped on the side of a pile of blankets and cushions I'm trying to use for a foot rest, turned my ankle, and fell against a chair. I was carrying a pile of materials to return to the library, which fell out of my hands, but not fast enough for me to break my fall. Thankfully I landed mostly on the cushions, and moderately hit my back rib on the chair. I have very flexible ankles from swimming, so I didn't sprain anything. Still, it was quite a shock to fall down. There were a few other minor things that happened yesterday, but nothing huge. Today I was planning to sit down, watch a DVD and finish knitting my dog's sweater, but my DVD player finally stopped working. It has been on the fritz for awhile, so it was not unexpected, but frustrating. I don't have any money to replace it, and my cable was shut off recently, so I have almost no viewing choices. My VCR is getting worn out, and I have very few videotapes. I also have unusable speakers on my computer. Well, this felt like the last straw in terms of keeping my mood on the positive side, which I'd been able to do so far. I felt so angry because my plans had been ruined, that I didn't know what to do with myself. I returned to playing cards on my computer in frustration, and finally attempted to listen to an audiobook called "Me to We". Turns out this book is about dedicating your life to helping others as a means to happiness. It was written by the young men who started Free the Children. They grew up in a family that consistently took action on any topic that interested them, and when the youngest brother read a story about child labour, he became motivated to help. This led eventually to his activism. From the start, listening to his story and how wonderful everything is for him, I feel extremely defensive and angry. It makes sense that he's this type of person, growing up the way he did, but he makes it seem like it's a no-brainer for everyone. Obviously they had no huge obstacles in their way, no mental illness, no poverty, no health problems. I had to turn it off. How can I be expected to dedicate myself to serving others when I'm so sick? I had just gotten over my own inner pressure to be some buddha-like saint. Now I feel it again as some accusation of selfishness from these authors. I know I am not in a position to help others, but there is still doubt. There is still the feeling that I should be doing something, that the work I have been doing towards my own recovery is not enough. This makes me feel guilty. Add to this now the guilt I feel for being angry about the implications in this book. Guilt is not a healthy emotion for me, it does nothing to help me, it does not motivate me, it only makes me want to crawl back into bed or find another way to disappear. It triggers all the beliefs I have been working on changing - beliefs about worthiness and deservedness. The voice of this author is joining the critical voice in my head that will always be saying "it's not enough" no matter what I do. I don't have the stamina to take care of myself properly, and it is pressuring me to pour myself into the service of others. Why don't these "others" feel this pressure? Why am I not identifying with them, since I clearly belong on their side in this hypothetical dyad? I am myself needy, a statistic. Maybe part of the reason I don't identify as this is that nobody treats me that way. Okay, there are people advocating for the disabled, there are Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia etc. 'societies', and I am not involved. Why am I not involved? Because I don't have the energy. If I can't even advocate for myself, how can I possibly do anything for anyone else? Perhaps I feel guilty for not helping others because of my personality. Despite the selfishness I might display (necessitated by my poverty), I am always wanting to give to others. My first impulse is to grab things I think my friends might like, and then reality sets in and I have to put these things back. How much more of my nature is being stymied like this?

This morning I did some research on the internet regarding the increasing incidence of muscle twitching I'm experiencing. During the day, it is infrequent and minimal, to the point where I don't know if an observer could even detect it, but at night as I'm falling asleep, I'm twitching like crazy, and in increasingly bigger movements. The technical term for this is myoclonus, or possibly ballism(us) for the larger jerks. My legs and arms are flinging themselves around, and waking me up so i have to start the falling asleep process all over again. I can remember once a leg jerk scared me so much I had a full-body startle response. Sometimes there is a sensation of falling. My internet searching led me to the brain stem, and one article said that the area of the brain associated with the spasms is next to the area responsible for the startle response. I have had an exaggerated startle response for at least the past 4 years. Is it unreasonable to suspect that there may be a growing problem in my brain stem that is responsible for these two symptoms, and possibly others? Functions of the brain stem include autonomic regulation and movement. It is responsible for incoming messages from the spinal cord. Is it possible that messed up messages is causing my chronic pain? I am debating asking my doctor to refer me to a neurologist and requesting an MRI. I am afraid of being brushed off, of my doctor seeing this as a ridiculous idea and not worth the cost of an MRI. But I've never had my brain looked at, and it seems to me this is an oversight considering my plethora of symptoms and lack of any physical explanations. Maybe I am a hypochondriac, maybe this is a hunch, maybe I'm grasping at straws. But I would like to know definitively if there is or isn't something going on in my brain. What is there to lose? Don't I deserve every chance, however small, of overcoming my suffering and being able to live the best life I can? Truth is, I am not satisfied by my diagnosis. "Localized fibromyalgia" and/or myofascial pain syndrome are just descriptions, not diagnoses. There has to be some reason my back hurts in those specific spots. An article I read today said that it is reasonable that the brain stem could become damaged by accident or trauma. This all started when I was sick with Norwalk and throwing up so violently I could feel my lungs squeezed completely out of air. I've never been completely convinced that there isn't some other explanation other than fibro. Now that doubt is grasping onto this brain stem idea, for better or worse. I have achieved a lot of acceptance over the last year or so, about my emotional condtion as well as my physical capacities, but I still can't accept that I will spend the rest of my life with this, nor that there is nothing to be done besides pain management. I need an advocate. I need help, and belief and strength. Why do I have to fight so hard and push doctors so hard to get anywhere? I'm so frustrated, I need someone to take the reins and do these things for me, because I don't have enough energy to cope with the daily stressors of my life in even the most non-eventful periods. I'm sick of being sick. I'm sick of working so hard to do things that normal people take for granted, and I'm sick of all the obstacles created by my illness. Illness creates poverty,creates mountains of barricades, creates isolation and helplessness, creates more blockages, creates a life without meaning, joy, hope.

I take things minute by minute in order to avoid seeing the bigger pictures in life, because they look like that, what I've described above. I've learned how to celebrate small victories and enjoy tiny pleasures as if they are luxurious. I don't think about the future, I don't plan for tomorrow. I only ask of myself the things that MUST get done in order to maintain ODSP and housing. I don't make concrete plans, I say, "call me that day and we'll see where we're at". I don't make promises. I don't commit. I don't expect much from life, only that things don't get worse. I call long-term goals "dreams" because they probably won't happen. I pretend my poor memory and brain lapses are funny. I don't ask for sympathy or special treatment, even when I need it. I tell myself I chose this, that I want this way of life. Truth is, I don't know what I want anymore, and I don't know if I ever did.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deprivation - a no go

A lot of my remaining "problems" seem to revolve around the deprivation issue, and the voice in my head telling me I should be able to live happily while deprived. That I shouldn't want or ask for more of anything that I'm deprived of. Things I am or have been deprived of include love, health and money, and everything that money can buy - comfort, novelty, excitement, a social life. Not to mention treatment, a healthy diet. Having money would mean having much better health, or so I believe. But I am stuck in the Catch 22 - my illness keeps me poor, my poverty keeps me unhealthy. I rarely go out with friends, and a big reason for this is because I don't have money to spend shopping, eating out, going to movies, even for taking the bus. I am and always have been living in a state of deprivation, on the edge of financial panic. Even when I was a child I was consistently made aware of lack of money, having to fight for extra clothes, feeling guilty because my father was often out of work and still trying to pay child support. My mother worked so much I felt we were very poor. I've been told by my father that wasn't the case, but, even if he's right, it doesn't change the perception I had when I was a child. Despite this, money was the only thing my parents gave me at all. My dad has always given me cash for birthdays and Christmas, and my mother gave me food and shelter. It is a proven fact that a person needs more than this to thrive. I've written before about the lack of love I got in my childhood. This core deprivation adds to the anxiety I have about money and material things, including food. I was once asked why I couldn't just stop when I had had enough, and I reacted immediately with defensive anger. To someone with my eating disorder, this question is akin to asking the depressed why they don't just get up and do something, or why can't they just be happy? Thinking about this incident later, I realized the truth is, there IS no enough. I can't leave a plate with food on it, nor can I stop eating during a binge until I feel sick or run out of food. I don't know how to explain the link between feeling deprived and not being able to stop, but seems an intuitive link that anyone could grasp. Fear of not having enough makes you take everything you can get your hands on. I am somewhat of a pack-rat too. I keep clothes that are ruined or don't fit, planning to use them for crafts. I have an entire wardrobe of clothes that are 3 sizes too small, because I keep thinking I'm going to lose weight. Throwing those clothes away feels like giving up. People on TV say that you should never keep clothes that are too small, because it damages your self esteem, and if you do manage to lose weight, you deserve to buy new clothes that fit. I don't have that luxury. If I lost a bunch of weight and didn't have those clothes, I would be stuck wearing things that were too big, or trying to alter them. The world is not made for people like me, poor people, sick people, single people. And I originally got sick and stayed single because I felt I didn't belong anyway, and pushed myself too hard for too long to be someone I wasn't. But, the topic is supposed to be deprivation. I really want to work on how it is affecting me, but I don't even know where to start, as evidenced by the fact that I went off on a tangent. I can't seem to even begin to dig into this issue, can't find any words to...there is almost a physcial resistance to asking myself questions about deprivation. My mind gets fuzzy, and I start feeling anxious. But I know I have to deal with this, and I want to, so it is frustrating that I am not getting anything to work with. I thought if I started writing, it would come. It hasn't. I guess I will have to wait to have a real entry about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Another email to my cousin

My therapist suggested I do something like you are doing, having a foot in both worlds (spiritual and secular). It's hard not to be able to share my spiritual and emotional experiences with people, I don't know how you do it (i.e. keep it to yourself). Those are the things I am passionate about, you know? So it's like if I don't share that, people don't know me at all. They don't know what matters to me the most, so what they're getting is a shell. Of course it is never that black and white, some people know more of me than others, and sometimes I just talk to my friends like you talk to K, without them really understanding but being supportive. That used to be so hard for me with my depression, my friend J just has no clue what it's like, and couldn't offer a single thing when I talked about it. The most she ever said was "ohhhhh". I gave up sharing that stuff with her VERY quickly. But it prevented us from being emotionally close, you know? It is better now that I am having more "normal" feelings about life. A couple weeks ago, she off-handedly called me her "best-friend", which made me feel really good. She's never called me that before, in all of our 14 years of friendship. R is the same way, just doesn't want to single one person out as being "best", which I understand...but now that I think about it, it kind of seems like a reaction from the adolescent way girls try to possess each other. Maybe it's not so totally emotionally mature to deny the category altogether just because you don't want to be singularly attached to one friend, or hurt somebody's feelings. I've always called both of them my "best friend". R just uses the phrase "close friend". Anyway, I'm just rambling.

I've been thinking about my therapy and the way I've progressed, and I just realized I'm feeling kind of scared and frustrated because even though my self-image and self-talk are better, my physical pain isn't. I've been operating under the assumption that my back pain was psychological, the physical manifestation of my rage at my childhood. But now that I've discovered the reason for it, brought it into consciousness, and been able to release some of the emotional traps it caused, shouldn't the physical aspect be released too? I'm seeing my therapist tomorrow, and I'm going to bring it up with her. I'm wondering if I actually have to confront my mother with all of this in order to get it out of my body. I really don't want to. I don't want to hurt her, you know? I mean my "inner child" is still very angry with who she was back then, and wants revenge, but my adult self doesn't want to put this on her now. It can't be undone. I don't even know if she'd understand it. It doesn't seem ethical to confront her with something she can't do anything about. But maybe that's what I have to do for me, I don't know yet. I'd definitely have to do it in a session with my therapist so it didn't get muddled up, but then she might feel like we are ganging up on her. Well we'll see what my therapist thinks about the whole thing.

I've been reading a book that talks about how helpful it is to have an "enlightened witness" when you are talking out your traumas, rather than an objective, non-partial therapist. An enlightened witness can validate that you in fact did go through something horrible, that what happened to you was wrong. This is exactly what my therapist does for me - and what her therapist did for her - and that is what makes this time different from all the other therapy I've had. She's allowed me to be angry with my parents. She's never made excuses for them. And everyone else I've ever talked to about my childhood has always made excuses for my parents, which is so hurtful and invalidating. People who've done that probably think they are helping me forgive my parents but forgiveness is not a rational thing, I can't be talked into it, I don't think anyone can. When someone gives me an excuse, they're saying that it's acceptable that my parents neglected me. It's not. I don't care what the reasons are, it's never acceptable, it's never going to be right. It's not okay that I was brought to the point of suicide countless times because my mother had it rough for a few years. Again I'm rambling.

I know you aren't the one I have to convince of this, but right now you are the only one I'm brave enough to say this to. There is such a stigma around being angry with your parents. People get really defensive when you bring it up, even if you're just talking about your own situation and not theirs. I've (idiotically, in retrospect) had separate conversations with both R and her mother about my issues regarding my neglect and they both jumped down my throat, which makes me think that they are in denial about their own feelings. R refuses to lay any responsibility for her depression on her parents (even though it started when she was still living at home and they tried to ignore it - which brought her to do things like drink cleaning fluid), and her mother is probably repressing her own guilt about how she neglected to help R.

K, the more I grow emotionally and spiritually, the fewer people I can talk to! How can I talk to people about my truths when they are living in denial of their own? All I end up doing is dialoguing with their defense mechanisms. You know I do all this work to alleviate myself of the hang-ups I presume are keeping me from connecting with people, but now their hang-ups are getting in the way. I don't mean to sound superior, I'm just so frustrated. Sometimes it seems to me that "hang-ups" are the only thing connecting "regular" people, I mean, workaholics talk shop with other workaholics, crisis junkies talk crazy relationships with other crisis junkies...I somehow had hangups others couldn't relate to (or, that were by nature isolating), and I thought by getting over them I'd be able to connect with other people who didn't have my same hang ups. But now I am realizing everybody has them, and I can't relate with theirs. I am looking for people who are overcoming theirs, who are starting to see clearly, or at least trying, and I've found exceedingly few. Am I being too picky? No, no, I'm still indimidated by the people I most want to know. Perhaps that will change with more time and more work.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Email to my cousin, that became a journal entry!

I was writing an email reply to my cousin, K, and started rambling. I do this frequently with her, as I feel comfortable sharing with her, but at some point the email went beyond a letter and became like an entry in my journal. So I decided to send her the first part and then post it here (deleting the more mundane bits) and continue writing until I was done. It's a good thing too, I'm not sure how receptive anyone would be to the length and content and style in an email-type format.

Hi K,

I know what you are saying about being connected in the bigger picture, but I don't think you quite get the extremeness of my aloneness. You have had Kn, you have had jobs that put you around people, even when you didn't seem to have many friends. For me, it is different. My few friends here and my mom are really my only lifeline. It is hard to explain exactly how much one loses without any physical proximity to familiar people. It is a negative concept, and has negative effects. Physical contact has healing properties, but usually all I get is snuggling with my dog and the occasional (like, on average, less than one time a week) hug from my mom or a friend. To lose even one friend at this time for me could really knock me out. Especially now that I'm re-discovering my natural extroversion, it is so much more difficult to just be alone. All I want is company I can relax around. Spending time beading with N has been perfect. Unfortunately that hasn't happened in awhile.

My point was that the isolation I'm afraid of is more or less total isolation, not just the possibility of losing a few friends, but my whole, thin, fragile support system here. I barely survive on the amount of contact I am getting now. When you are used to having someone around all the time, you sometimes don't realize how much it matters just to have another human being in the room with you. I'm facing losing that altogether. And when I have a spiritual life, I feel the need to share my experiences with someone even more. The thought of having such experiences and having no one to share them with is almost more than I can bear. I know what it is like, I have been through it before, during other periods when I was concentrating a lot on my spirituality. I felt connected to the universe, but disconnected from anything or anyone in particular. You need both to really be healthy and happy. Well, I need both, anyway.

But, this is a really big deal that I've uncovered the real reason for my procrastination and self-defeating behaviours, and I can take hope that at least I've brought it into consciousness now. I just have to be careful. My therapist suggested I work on balancing spirituality with the things that make it possible for me to connect with my friends. That is good advice. It's hard for me, I've always been and all-or-nothing person, always doing things in the extreme.

I know that in order to change yourself in a big way, you have to deconstruct yourself, or get blown apart. One way or another, you need your identity to be much looser and open in order to create a new structure. In therapy, that can happen gradually, as an unpeeling (the "onion" metaphor); it can happen in fits and starts; or occaisionally you can get blown open. Life itself seems more likely to blow you apart than to unravel you slowly. You know, crises and trauma. Unless you make a concerted effort everyday, it's difficult to control these things on your own. I'm so thankful for my therapist, because even though I've been ripped open a couple of times, she's always been there to mediate it. And weekly I'm still unpeeling. Though there was a lull there in June, in this past week's session I seemed to get back on track. Well, it was more what I did in the previous week - actually think about the issues and the reasons behind what's been going on with me. For most of June I seemed to just stop doing that, and I started to feel like the therapy wasn't working anymore, that I wasn't getting anywhere. I felt like all I was doing in our sessions was complaining about my fatigue and pain. Of course, my therapist said it wasn't complaining, it was expressing my current situation, which is true, but I still felt like talking about that stuff wasn't helping. And worse, it felt like I wasn't connecting with her anymore, like I was talking to a machine. Usually we have quite a nice, thought-provoking discussion, but when I was talking about my difficulties with day to day life, there wasn't much she could say except things like "that sounds so difficult" etc. But I brought it up, that I wasn't feeling connected or heard and we discussed that, which re-connected us.

As time goes by I realize the most valuable part of our talks is the way she validates me. It's a concept you don't think about. I didn't even know what it meant until I met my therapist. I know what being invalidated was like - I've had plenty of experiences of that, especially from my dad - but since I was never validated at all, ever, by either of my parents, I didn't know what it felt like, how essential it is to any kind of self-trust and self-belief, and thus I didn't know just how much I'd lost by not having it. I've also read lately that the most important thing a parent can do for their child is to validate their experience - to accept their emotions and thoughts and give them the sense that they are understood. It's as easy as saying, "you're angry about this; you're sad, aren't you? Me too" etc. It gives the child so much: the sense that what they are feeling is okay, is normal, acceptable. It gives them confidence in their own experience. When a child's emotions are NOT validated, they learn that the way they see themselves is different from the way the parent sees them, and that makes them very alone, insecure, self-doubting. Children's brains can actually forget how to feel certain feelings - the neural pathways for that experience decay to the point they don't exist, and they literally can not feel, say, anger. I think this is why I have such difficulty with anger. The neural pathways in my brain are just not developed and connected enough for me to make mature sense of the feeling. I mean, I feel it, but it is always highly mixed up with other emotions - this is not the same as having multiple emotions about the same thing. I really think my brain tries to use the pathways for other emotions to identify anger. I can't explain it any other way.

Anyway, my therapist is practically re-parenting me right now. The most important thing she does is validate me, reflect back that she understands and cares. Often it is difficult for me to believe that she really does care, but mostly I think she does. It is so hard for me to receive real care from anyone. I think the neural pathways for that really aren't there at all, and I'm starting from scratch. So maybe one day they will be developed enough that if I get into a close relationship with a man, I can actually feel loved, without feeling like I have to earn it or prove my worthiness for it or manipulate the situation so it/he won't go away. There's a tiny tiny bit hope where I was completely confounded before - I've avoided relationships for years because I've known on some level that nothing there had changed, it was going to suffer the same fate as all my previous ones.

I have made a little effort to enjoy the weather occasionally. My mom and I have been geocaching a little bit, so far it has been frustrating, we have difficulty finding the caches, and the terrain, though supposedly quite "easy" according to the cache listings, has been hard for me with my extra fatigue. Walking in the woods on uneven ground and up hills is very tiring for me. We are looking for more urban-types of caches that don't require as much of a hike. Last week my mom invited me over for a swim, and then we sat on her porch for a bit in her new lounge chairs - they are multi-level recliners, well-cushioned and so comfortable! Unfortunately I can't go over there much anymore because of the whole B thing. Apparently T thinks I have a problem with her because I don't come to the family functions, even though she knows it's about B. I told my mom to tell her again it's not her. She's invited us all to her house to celebrate birthdays - mine, mom's, B's and S's are all in the same 3 days. T even offered to make me a birthday cake in any design I chose, which I'd love, but I'm not going. When I was talking to my mom about this, she thought it was just that I wouldn't come to her house when he was there, and I had to re-iterate that I wasn't going to be around him AT ALL, it didn't matter where we were. The only exception is our extended family gathering because I want to see my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and its MY family. If anything, HE's the one who shouldn't come to those. But whatever. I don't even notice him being there most of the time because there is enough other people to talk to that often enough I don't hear him being his immature, attention-grabbing self. Once I move to Toronto, I won't even have to suck it up to get rides from them to Grandma's house. Right? I can come with you? or K and N :) Anyway what I meant to say was that when I was talking to my mom about it I felt like I was just being stubborn and that I didn't really have strong enough reasons for avoiding him like the plague. But I have to remind myself that, actually, my reasons are the same as they ever were, nothing has changed, HE hasn't changed.

[This is where I cut the email off and referred my cousin to this blog entry]

And the truth is, my brother and his family, and to a lesser extent, T and her kids, always make me feel bad about myself. I can't fully explain why. They're just so normal. Also, sometimes I think my mother doesn't need me, she's got a new daughter - T calls her to talk about her problems, asks her for favours...T's kids might as well be blood-relatives. She's proud of her son, delighted with her grandchildren...I can't help thinking I must be a glaring sore-spot on her perfect, perfectly normal life. It's weird how okay I can be with myself and my situation until I think about how she might see me; how I compare to her other "kids". I know it's immature and selfish but sometimes I resent T for her relationship with my mother. She has her own mother, why is she stealing time from mine, time she could be spending with me? I have to settle for the scraps of her left-over free time. Spending time with me seems to be the lowest on her list of priorities. That hurts me more than it should, because it is constantly pouring salt into the wound of growing up that way. She never had time. She never made time. She never took pleasure in spending time with her kids. Isn't that WHY you have a family? Why else would you have a family? That is not a rhetorical question.

I'm still not able to let this go, my childhood, the emotional neglect. I was watching the US Track and Field Olympic Trials and they profiled this runner who said that in grade four he started telling his mom he was going to be in the Olympics, and that she always said, "Of course you are!" He said she never doubted it, she never told him, no you can't do that, that's not for our type of people (he's black too, which makes this even more nice, since she must have grown up feeling the limits of racism herself). When I heard that I just got so sad. I told my therapist about it too. I said, "I know what's inside me, imagine what I could have been if I'd only had some validation and encouragement." I'm not saying I wouldn't have had problems or anything, I mean, who knows. But self-belief is SUCH a huge deal. I would have been able to GO for the things I wanted, to see them through, to have faith that I could do it, if I had had support. If I had had someone behind me. That book I've been reading says that children who aren't validated enough don't have the ability to figure out what THEY want because they are so busy trying to live up to the image they think their parent(s) have of them. They are too busy trying to figure out what is expected of them, who they are expected to be, and to live up to those expectations. This so applies to me. It took me thirty-odd years to figure out even vaguely what I want, but I still don't have the courage to go after it. I'm still looking to find out what's expected, even though now I am too sick to come close to living up to it, even though I know that's what made me sick in the first place - the effort and stress of continuing to completely squash my real self the way my parents taught me to. Even now I have an obsession with needing to know what's expected, what's "acceptable" in a life, according to my mother/superego/society; I need to know this in order to feel safe, because even though I can't and won't live up to it, I have to know how far I'm deviating from it in order not to stray too far. All this diverts my energy from accomplishing what I want. As I've often said to my therapist, I'm afraid if I lose track of this "standard", I'll go over the edge completely and no one will be able to relate to/understand me. I'll become eccentric and totally alone. Which returns us full-circle to the fear I spoke of earlier. This is more or less an elaborated analysis of that situation.

You are so lucky, K, to have Kn standing behind you, supporting you in whatever you decide you want, encouraging you to really be YOU. I know you know how lucky you are. I'm so envious that you have that. I SO need that in my life. My therapist is great, and an hour a week gives me courage to stick my toe in the water every so often, but not enough courage to jump in, or even walk in (in the interest of balance...). I hope this metaphor makes sense! I just mean I have enough courage, with her help, to overcome the fear-based procrastination just a little now and then - to take a tiny risk by starting a jewelry project that I'm not sure will turn out; make a doctor's appointment even though I feel like he's too busy to see me -

[On that note, a tangent - I actually had an anxiety attack when I went to see my family doctor last week - so unexpected and unusual these days. I could barely breathe, barely kept myself sitting in the waiting room. Everything was getting to me, the loud breathing of the man a couple of chairs away from me, the "aura" of the pharmaceutical salesman as he came in and waited to speak to the secretary - I actually got up and moved to a chair far away from him because I couldn't stand him hovering near me, he gave off such a self-important air, it was stifling. On top of that, my back pain worsened ten-fold as soon as I arrived, and sitting up straight in my chair made me so nauseous, I couldn't even read the magazine or play the sudoku game I had to try to distract myself from the room. So I sat there, trying to ground myself with my feet flat on the floor, breathing deliberately. I asked myself what the increase in pain in my back was about. I'm not sure if I've told you before, but when I first started therapy with my therapist I made contact with it and discovered it was rage - the rage I now know I have no brain circuitry to experience it with - and there, in the doctor's office, it seemed to me that rage was being triggered by being there. [this is about where I stopped writing to my cousin and started writing "journal style"] Was I so enraged with my doctor's inability to help me? Or the fact that in that office that I'd been going to my whole life, I always felt rushed, like my doctor was in a hurry to get rid of me, that I was unwanted, uncared for...My old doctor certainly rushed through everything, he even talked really fast. Dr. K, who took over the old doctor's patients and practice when he retired, is decidedly different when you are in the room with him - he listens, respects my opinion and knowledge, shows that he's human and has a sense of humour. He took the time to help me immensely with my disability appeals, and I am grateful for that. I do like him as a person. That said, the same secretary works there as always, and she always has at least 3 lines going on the phone, and always seems in a rush. She is friendly enough and amiable and efficient. But I hate calling her to schedule appointments and renew prescriptions because I know she's itching to get to the next call. There are signs posted in every exam room that ask that you only discuss one health issue at a time with the doctor - to make seperate appointments for each problem. The doctor's office is busy busy busy. The doctor himself is not dismissive, but everything else about the place is, including all of my memories of my previous doctor. I am always reluctant to make an appointment, because I feel like I am causing a problem. That I'm contributing to the doctor's hurriedness and stress. Even that I don't deserve his time. All of which is ridiculous, because I have legitimate health issues and that is his job, his chosen profession. That kind of reasoning does little to allay my anxieties. It's as if when I'm there, I'm primed to be rejected, waiting for the straw that will break my back. Like I've provoked an abusive person, but didn't have a choice because I needed something from him. Actually this is the same feeling I sometimes get (used to get a lot more often) when I speak to my father without knowing what kind of mood he is in. I'm terrified he's in a bad mood and is going to verbally slam me down. I have the image of my eyes blinking in anticipation of something flying into my face, of wincing and bracing, waiting for the blow. There's never been an actual physical blow, but it is the same feeling, the same reaction, the same result. But bruises in the mind last a lot longer than bruises on the body, or even a broken bone, sometimes. So, I'm in the doctor's office, the waiting room, trying hard just to breathe because I feel like I'm suffocating; even though I'm breathing, I feel like the cells of my lungs aren't absorbing any oxygen, which is nauseating like motion-sickness. Sitting up in a hard, straight-backed chair, which is the most uncomfortable position for me when my back hurts, it makes me weak, sweaty, nauseous, fidgety, unbearable. And I'm realizing the rage. It's about the way this office makes me feel, how dare they make me feel like I don't deserve medical care? And it's also about the futility I feel in asking for medical care. The doctors don't know anything I haven't already found on the internet, about fibromyalgia or any other health problem I ponder. The rage is in knowing there is no real help here, here in this place we are taught to rely on for our lives. We are supposed to hold this place high, to respect it, to trust it, to defer to it, to go to it for answers. But this places doesn't have any answers for me. All it has is a prescription pad, and I dictate the medications I want. I am grateful this doctor doesn't question or deny the medications I ask for. He doesn't make me feel defensive or stupid. It's like he acknowledges I know as much as he does, that all I'm lacking is that degree on the wall that gives him the authority to approve or deny what chemicals I can put in my own body. All of this is what my rage is about, here, in this place. I left with a fistful of prescriptions and the impression that we both knew he might as well give me a pre-signed prescription pad so I could fill out my own and not have to "bother" him. Forgetting about however much money he makes for having me actually come to the office.

My rage at home is also about futility, and my wasted life. All the time wasted being squashed, and then squashing myself until the squashing was most of who I am. And all the time I'm wasting now undoing the damage, unfolding and inflating, ironing and restructuring. And the damn poignancy of "what could have been", because it DOES matter in my life. It's not something I've whiled away by my own folly, it's been stolen from me.]

- even to turn of the television and deal with the silence, pick up a book instead, takes courage. In the silence, I have to face myself, and I'm never quite sure what I'm going to find. Will I find myself devastatingly lonely? Or succumbing to a barrage of self-criticism for not turning the t.v. off earlier and attending to taking care of myself (apartment, errands, chores, getting outside etc.) Sometimes I find I am at peace with the silence, without the preparation that is usually necessary. Transitions from mindlessness to mindfulness are often difficult for me. There's usually a surge of guilt and remorse.

Well, I guess a toe in the water is a first step. I'm starting to feel I may soon have the courage to put a foot in - get out the knitting machine, start sewing, meditating, swimming, doing yoga, cooking. There is so much fear about these things. Can it all be the fear of being alone? On the surface, it doesn't make much sense, when I look at the list of activities I've just made. Where is the risk, I should be asking, a take on the "Where's the fear?" question that is sometimes helpful in therapy. Ruining something. No, becoming obsessed and going extreme. Forgetting to balance, letting the novelty take over. It can happen to me, has happened to me repeatedly - my first computer, learning how to make webpages, Kingdom Hearts, even knitting at times. These dips into obsession last weeks, two at least, where I stop eating, sleeping, stop everything, really, not wanting to take breaks, not wanting to come up for air, look around, go outside to see the sky. It always has negative consequences - I made myself so weak I fainted after one episode. I sometimes think it's hypomania. That most extreme time it probably was. Luckily, with Kingdom Hearts, having a social life saved me by forcing enjoyable breaks on me. But even lately, I've been going there with beading.

That, and the whole sleeping/not sleeping thing I've been doing the past couple weeks. It's like I'm on 36 hour days. I'll stay up far too long, then sleep over 15 hours to catch up. I discussed this with my therapist - when I'm awake, I don't want to go to sleep, when I'm asleep I don't want to wake up. My dream-world is like another life to me when I sleep so long. It is difficult to make the transition from one to the other, lately it's been impossible to do it every 12-16 hours. When you got to sleep, it's like you die to your waking life. There's an uncertainty that when you wake up it's going to be the same life, that it's going to be there at all, that you're even going to wake up at all. To go to sleep, I almost have to be ready to die, to let go of my life forever. So I stay awake until I'm so tired I can't care so much about the possibility of not waking up. And when I'm asleep, though my dreams are sometimes stressful, they are more exciting and hold more opportunities than my regular life. I gave my therapist the example of the dream I had on Tuesday night - I was already part-way into a new relationship. I was able to have the experience of feeling liked if not loved, feeling the excitement and happiness of becoming close to someone. In my dreams I'm always with people, usually three or more for at least part of the dream - in my waking life I am usually alone. In dreams I'm able to have a houseful of animals - in waking life I am crowded by and limited to two. The possibilities in dreams are endless, sometimes I can fly, and I am never disabled, or overweight. Not that I dream that I am thin (with a few exceptions), but my body is never an issue. I am capable of doing anything a healthy person can do. Then I wake up, and my limitations hit me before I even open my eyes. The pain, the heaviness, the enormous amount of energy it takes to get me to the end of the loft bed and down the ladder. And these days I seem to be bumping into and noting more limitations, more incapabilities than I've noticed since I became ill.

The progression of my illness might help explain this. I first noticed the pain starting in February 2003, and by July and August I could not even sit in a chair. Somedays I couldn't walk my dog - it took everything I had to get her out for a pee, and I was in great pain. I spent my days lying inclined on the couch knitting and watching television. My doctor wouldn't prescribe anything stronger than Tylenol 3's with codeine. Physiotherapy offered very very short-lived relief - by the time I got home from the clinic I was excruciating again. In September I started to see a chiropracter, and that gave me the ability to manage university while still on the T3's. Since then, up until this spring, my pain levels have pretty much been constant, but I'm now taking much much stronger medicine. This spring I've been overcome with fatigue - a symptom I never had too much difficulty with. The fatigue is complicated by my use of dexedrine - I was taking it too often, and once I stopped, I was incredibly exhausted - rebound effect? Burn out that was masked by the drug? I use it very infrequently, and am much more careful to do less physically in a day than I used to. The pain started to increase at this point in time as well. Am I just getting habituated to the amount of pain-killers I'm taking? Is my body needing exercise, or is it already too stressed? That last is not a question most people ever need to ask themselves, they just feel one way or the other. It's a paradoxical question. How can the answer be unclear? That is fibromyalgia/CMS for you. You are supposed to exercise, but only if you are getting good quality sleep. I never get good quality sleep, for even if I sleep more hours than anyone I know, the extra hours, and most of the other ones, are spent dreaming intensely, sweating, with my body rigid and straining, not in the deep sleep I need to repair my body from daily stresses, let alone exercise. And that is how exercise works - it causes microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, and at night your body optimally repairs them stronger than they were before. As far as I can tell from my experience and the research I've done, I don't stay in deep sleep consistently enough for my body to repair my muscles. I don't think I'm even reaching an equilibrium in repairing the stresses my body goes through during a day without exercise. I'm always holding, tensing, bracing. For someone who doesn't exercise, I have very strong muscles, because they are almost always working. I only relax when I make a conscious, sustained, fully-attentive effort. So, I mean, I am embarking on a year of yoga and meditation, mindfulness and invoking the relaxation response in my 35th year, a little over a month away. Hopefully eventually I will have trained my body how to relax without having to think about it all the time. Until then, it may sound like an excuse, and maybe I should get my sleeping habits in better order, but I don't think any intensity of exercise (by that I mean anything strenuous) is the way to go. (Here I am defending myself against the voices others have planted in my head - no I'm not schizophrenic, I've internalized "doctor's orders" and the lists of fibromyalgia "helpers" that always push exercise - that make me feel like I'm doing something wrong by listening to my intuition and my body insted of the "expert" advice - how can someone else be an expert on a different individual's bodily experience of an illness that has no physiological markers, an illness that nobody knows the cause of, the cure for, which is basically a bundle of varying symptoms under a label - especially when the doctors who have diagnosed me can't even agree on that label - is it fibromyalgia? or chronic myofascial pain syndrome, what Dr. Saul calls "localized fibromyalgia", probably just to make me feel better.) I will still walk. I will continue stretching. I will do gentle yoga, and stop the moment it becomes strenuous. I would like to swim, but no matter how easy I go in the pool, the result is always more or less complete energy completion for at least the next 36 hours.

And the pain is spreading. My legs are often in pain now, and for some reason, that pain is far worse than my back pain. Mostly because it can't be relieved by shifting positions, lying down, propping with pillows, not with anything except sometimes sitting in a hot bath. But I can't spend entire days in the tub. Ironically, lying in there winds up hurting my back. The leg pain is different, it's not searing or burning like the back pain. It's not stabbing or spiking either. It's gnawing, cold. It's like having restless leg syndrome or constant heebie jeebies, with bone-deep ache. Thankfully it is not everyday. I get this kind of pain, more intense and less "heebie jeebie", during my period, but now it seems to be lingering and showing up in between. Now that I have ponstan, which helps with the leg pain during menstruation, maybe I have something to quell it with. I haven't had it since I finished my period a couple days ago, so I haven't had a chance to test that theory.

Oh. And then there are the migraines. I don't want to talk about this anymore, I feel like a hypochondraic and a whiner. I guess I just felt the need to document what is happening, to put it down for posterity, to refer to it later, to have a reference point for future comparisons. It's different seeing my symptoms in black and white than just telling them to my therapist. Describing the pain kind of makes it seem more "real", as in objective. If I can describe it, distinguish it, it proves it exists. Because nobody can see it, nobody else can feel it, sometimes I know people forget that I'm feeling it, I think they probably want to forget and I don't blame them. These details solidify the pain's existence. It's out there in the world now, if only in the abstract. It's there in words if people want to see, if they want to know, if they need proof. This is the only proof I have, other than the state of my body. If you really looked at me, you could see it too, but nobody really looks at anybody anymore. Nobody looks to see what's there, only what they need to categorize you. But that is a whole other issue, and let me just say, not entirely true (nothing is entirely true anyway), and very cynical of me to say.

Signing off finally.
Feeling like if I wanted to I could write a book, a very weird, static, heady book.
Hoping I can come back and get into another writing groove soon, because I feel this has been therapeutic and has given me a stronger sense of myself today.

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Disclaimer

I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.