4.29.2016

There Is No Ladder // The Sadness

I really hate consistently giving updates about my (lack of) mental health so I am just going to say something, and this will be a venomous rant aimed at nothing in particular, so there's no bullet points, sorry.  I recently found out that after Van Gogh (probably) shot himself, while he lay there dying, one of the last phrases he uttered was to his brother. 

"The sadness will last forever." 

The quote really struck me.....little did I know in a few weeks I would be reminded of that in the worst way.  I hate this disorder.  I absolutely despise it. It's a disease.  No grand epiphany or breakthrough, unless you count the one where I realized that I am never going to get better, never going to be "healthy".  It's not going to happen.


I had been "making progress" which is bullshit code for "I'm learning how to fake being better."  I never got back any desire to live after it went away, but through extensive guilt trips and feeling like a morbid asshole about my suicidal tendencies, I just accepted that people wanted me around and I should do some good before setting myself on fire or whatever.  Anyway, I had gotten pretty comfortable with "making progress" and I was actually doing...really well.  Stable.  I even made a few art pieces I liked (Mad Max themed, of course) I was toying with the idea of a barbeque, which is a huge deal for someone like me---aaaaaaand then, nope.

One triggering event and all the "progress" just totally crashed and burned.  I was so upset, because all of the good I had done over the past six months slid right out of my hands.   Once again I was incapable of doing anything but torrential crying, having flashbacks, being frozen for hours, put on suicide watch because when you're in that much pain you would gladly take a train to the everything.  The only contact I had was to explode viciously on someone that I care about and feel like even more of a shithead due to it.  The monstrous side of me takes on a whole new form when I'm in my Vietnam mode.


And at some point during this stage of looking and acting like someone possessed by the devil, I started thinking about a person who means a great deal to me.  He has type I diabetes.  It's something he will always have to live with and something he didn't deserve or ask for, but has to deal with nonetheless.  And it has its own shitty problems, namely thinking ahead of time about everything that goes into your body, and regardless of how good or bad you do at calculating, still having to jab yourself with needles on a regular basis.  What part of that is good? Where is the "it makes you a stronger person" bullshit that I have to hear? Why doesn't he hear those things? because diabetes is bullshit and PTSD is bullshit and they're both bullshit with no positive side. 

Robert can meticulously track carbs for days, eat nothing but the perfect diet, and still have his sugars look like something out of a joke book written by literal assholes.  He can get really, really sick despite doing whatever bullshit he has to do to keep his ill-functioning pancreas from destroying his body.  I'm not trying to compare the struggles of diabetes to PTSD.  What I am saying is that with both diseases, no matter what we do, we will never be rid of this condition, no matter how healthy we look or how much we seem to be smiling or how young we are.  And that's a damn shame and it pisses me off.  This "healing" and "recovery" is such a lie and I don't know why it's even called that.  It's a disability, it's a chronic disease, whatever you want to call it, there is no ladder up and out.  It's just balancing on a tightrope and waiting until the next time you fuck up and fall off and somebody has to scrape you up and put you back on. 


I hate faking it.  I hate smiling and I hate socializing and I hate not being able to say "I'm doing good" to the cute Starbucks barista when she asks without feeling like a scummy liar because I'm not "good" at all.  I hesitate and give a waning, tired smile and hope that she doesn't see through my LIEEEEEESSSSS.   I have moved away from wondering "when will I feel healed?" to "when can I successfully fake being healed?"  I don't know why I care, it must be some deep-seated biological urge to appear healthy in life.  But at this point it's the only option I have.

And now that I think about it, that's exactly what Robert does.  I always tend to call bullshit on the "it's fine" mentality that most adults filter out into the wilderness, but since he and I are close and he shares more with me than with others I always wondered, why does he bother with placating them with fake happiness?  Why does he bottle all that shit he's going through up?  Why does he say "I feel fine" or act like it's not a big deal that he's jabbing himself multiple times a day, like it doesn't hurt every damn time?  I still can't answer for him, I just observe it happening, but I might be starting to understand.  At least for me, it's so much easier on people in my life to just hear 'I'm fine.'  It takes the burden off them, and also, partly off me.  If I can fake a smile then I'm contributing to that much less worry.  As I said, I think it might be biological.  What sort of human is consistently out of spoons?  I think for so many of us that struggle with chronic illness, faking it is the first thing we learn.  Before therapy, before medicine, before we find god and remedy our heathen souls (just kidding) Too bad for me that at least right now, I suck at faking.

 
I've long since said 'screw you' to the mindset that mental illness is somehow inferior, or less than, a more "measurable" illness like diabetes.  I can't poke myself with a lancet and tell you how bad my brain is doing, but screaming and crying reliving years of forgotten memories and past traumas while curled in a ball on my bed in the dark is pretty measurable if you see it go down in person.  But the point is, the ship of "this is a real illness" has already sailed.  I know that shit, I've known it for years.

But what I didn't know until all of my "progress" flew out the window and I saw just how easy it is to slip and fall right back to where I was, or even a worse place! ...is that unlike a single traumatic event or some reversible condition-- obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc - I'm going to be stuck with this forever.  Learning to fake it, forever. It's actually kind of chilling to me how relaxed and happy I look in that above picture (to be fair, Derik can make me smile no matter what) even though the multitude of other attempts he got were far closer to how I actually feel.


At least I can now fully appreciate the bitter words of one of my favorite artists.  "The sadness will last forever."

Photos taken in Big Cottonwood Canyon and Solitude Resort in Utah.

4.23.2016

I Have Unpopular Opinions v.3

Well, this is long overdue.
Standby for crankyness.  At least to offset my sour disposition, I found a single full-body shot of myself!  LOOK AT THE THIGHS. I HAVE SOME JUICY THIGHS.


  
Link to Version 1
Link to Version 2

Body hair is not female empowerment.   Like....Since when?  I had no idea "activism" included LITERALLY doing nothing but letting your hair grow.  And there's all these cutesy photos of naked women with leg hair.  Listen if you don't want to shave, please don't.  But don't consider yourself some women's rights saint.  You're not funding education in the Middle East or busting up female circumcision rings, you're literally just not shaving your legs/pits/whatever.  Not inspirational.  Hell, I do it without even thinking (I looked at my legs the other day while they were next to a male friend's and he only had about 1/4'' on me....whoops) DO I GET AN ACTIVISM COOKIE TOO?

People need to leash their damn dogs.  Don't care.  This is non-negotiable.  It's not that I'm afraid of your dog.  I love dogs.  I love your dog more than you do, I bet. It's that your dog is a sentient being that you literally cannot control no matter how good he or she is "trained."  It's for your dog's safety as well as everyone else's.  And it's the DAMN LAW. STOP BREAKING THE LAW.  PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH.  I actually have a story about how I confronted someone with this the other day.  I'll make a periscope rant about it soon.  (ps yes I'm on periscope GO FOLLOW MEEEE)

Social media sucks now.  I remember when Pinterest was new! SO MANY FUN THINGS! Now it's like Buzzfeed "10 ways to slop up raw egg!"  "15 tricks to help put baking soda up your butt" "try this one weird trick to get your husband to stop cheating on you!" talk about disappointment..... and Facebook--dude I've been on Facebook since it opened and you had to have an. edu email to join.  It was totally different then!  Even in the last year or so, those damn algorithms and advertising....totally ruined it all.  (Except Myspace.  Know what ruined Myspace? Myspace did.  RIP in peace Myspace)  Some days I really just want to pull my hair out, eat it, and then smash my phone.  One reason I'm not a "successful" or monetizing blogger is because I can't be fucked to just post the same damn link on ten sites, hashtag it properly, keep up with my analytics, pay $5 here and there to Facebook to "boost" my post....goddamn corporations.  So now, whenever I see a "HUHUAREUADDICTED TO SOCIAL MEDIA!!!?!?!?" It's like ....no.  Not really.  Please give me back the days of 100 pop up ads, myspace, limewire, and rotten.com.  Things were simpler then.

Basic bitch clothes are theeeeee best.  Know why yoga pants are so comfy?  Because they are made with a gusseted crotch...I'm not going to post a picture, but if you're curious, have a look (it made me giggle to link this, and shows that I'm an immature piece of shit) picture is a pants-crotch, so maybe NSFW? Anyway, the point is, they are actually tailored better than standard pants.  (Unless you buy fancy pants.  I don't.)  Yoga pants are the most wonderful thing on earth, both men and women agree, and know what's even better? Yoga pants, fluffy boots, scarf, cuppa, and a gigantic bun.  There yep I said it.  I'm a basic bitch.  Seriously though, when I'm not dressed up in an actual dress, you will find me looking like the POSTER CHILD of boring white girl.  I got my unique butterfly fashion phase out of the way along with my Wednesday Addams phase (just kidding I'm still there half the time) and unlike most hipster girls I know, I've never had an old bag lady/gypsy phase.  I spent too many years on a farm to have a rustic/cowgirl wannabe phase.  There are two modes of style for this lady---extravagant beautiful dresses, or yoga pants and a tank.   No in-between.  I have no shame.  I HAVE EMBRACED MY INNER BASIC BITCH.

I'm sick of winged liner.  While we're on personal style gripes, I hate winged liner.  It's so overly-exaggerated these days, never subtle, and you can't find a makeup tutorial without it.  It doesn't look good on me, or on MOST girls with hooded lids, and it's supposed to be a dress-up makeup, not an everyday look.  I only pull up a cateye when I'm dressed pin-up (and even then, most girls don't realize that the cat-eye is late 50's early 60's.  NOT 30s/40s goddammit!) I'm just flat out bored of it.  Yeah, yeah, it's "timeless."  So, some other trends have room to come in don't they? Shit.  For that matter, I'm just sick of the 2016 makeup period.  Big eagle winged eyebrows, winged liner, the same shitty butthole-colored lipstick, no blush but ten shades of grey contour...I'm over it.  Next. 


My hair is reflective of my personality.  Seems like every bitch who has a phone, camera, and instagram (all of us) has to write about dyeing/cutting their hair and how "it's just hair!"  "It'll grow back!" "so empowering!" Again, what is it with hair and some kind of radical effect these girls think it has? The people doing this are literally contradicting themselves.  If it was "just hair" they would buzz it with no comment or selfie and never mention it again.  Making it a feminist/social issue is so.....no.  Go distribute birth control to Indian women if you're bout that life.  Anywho, on the flipside of that, I COMPLETELY DISAGREE.  My hair DOES define me.  My hair is an extension of me.  My hair is the world to me!  It's everything I aspire to be.  Long, silky, feminine, it smells good, it's a beautiful color, it's a status symbol.  I grew up with very little, but the one thing everyone in my family--dad, mom, sister, and I--all had, was absolutely enviable and gorgeous, long, perfect hair.  I did the EMPOWURIN' thing yeaaaaaaars ago before #effyourbeautystandardsherpderp was even a thing, and when I saw my short hair I cried for days.  Never again.  Never.  Sue me.   Also, I feel that the whole "it's just hair" argument is pretty rude towards those who don't have a choice.  People who endure chemo or have medical conditions (thyroid, diabetes, lupus) that cause hair loss probably don't appreciate those snotty little disdainful comments of why hair is supposedly so unimportant. 

Making milk isn't a super power.  I saw a woman with this ridiculous shirt awhile back at a park and it took a lot of willpower to not drown her in the duck pond.  Few points to this.  Firstly, milk coming out of tits is not a new thing.  That's literally been the case since homo erectus (1.3 million years) and even before that.  It's not new.  It's not groundbreaking.  My mother breastfed four children and somehow did it without parading it around on shirts.  It's just a thing!  Why must every single tiny thing that we first world people do, matter in some huge way?  Are we that hard up for feeling relevant?  Secondly, it's not even unique to humans.  Like you know, complex algebra, or music....it's something that horses and pigs and mice do.  Mammary glands..you know...like...mammals.  And even if it is pretty cool, which personally--sure! Making milk is pretty cool! Good job evolution----guess who else can make milk? Men.  Babies.  When babies lactate, called "witch's milk", it's for the same reason that women (and men!) do.  Hormones.  That's all you need, folks.  Hormones.  Sometimes they come from pregnancy, or from drinking breastmilk (in the case of babies) or from endocrine issues, or because some guy wants to lactate so let 'em. Basically it's not limited to females so again, cut the empowerment crap.  And same with the hair thing--what about those women who can't breastfeed for whatever reason?  It's like the skinny/curves argument.  For some reason everything has to be an either/or.  You're not "better" than a skinny girl because you have curves, you're not "better" than a long haired girl because you had the gonads to cut your damn hair, you're not "better" than us pre-pubescent looking dames with shaved body parts, you're not "better" because you breastfeed.
LAY OFF

okay phew that was a fantastic rant bye i love you guyes







4.21.2016

PTSD and Eye Contact

I remember vividly the first time it was brought to my attention that I didn't make eye contact.  A well-meaning foster mother told me after dinner one night that I seemed nervous and never looked anyone in the eyes.  She correctly guessed that this was due to my upbringing and urged me to try making eye contact with her.  "You can't go through life not looking at people," she said.  "They'll think you can't be trusted."

I agreed with this and yet when I attempted to look her in the eyes, I got extremely uncomfortable.  I couldn't do it.  I nearly started crying after half a minute of this.  I didn't understand what was wrong with me, I only knew that I felt as though I were naked and someone was pointing a gun at my forehead.  After years of frustration I not only learned why I have problems with eye contact, but what to do about it, and how to fake "trustworthiness" as it were. 


ABUSED CHILDREN AND EYE CONTACT

Caregivers and professionals are taught that children avoiding eye contact is a sign of trauma as early as 1 year old.  Think about it...eye contact is one of the first things humans learn, long before walking and talking.  It's one of the oldest and most subconscious forms of communication.  It's also one of the best--we humans can read faces amazingly well.  Children who deal with abuse are taught that avoiding eye contact gives them a better chance at avoiding attacks by their abuser.

After I learned this I thought about it.  Had I knowingly, ever, averted my eyes?  Not really.  It wasn't as though my parents said "stop looking at me" when they were screaming at me or hitting me. However, as I got older and started fighting back, what I do remember was forcing myself to maintain eye contact, with both parents but my dad in particular.  When I stared back at him during a fight, it was immediately viewed as a challenge, by both of us.  He knew what I meant when I stared in his face and oftentimes his berserk behavior would escalate seconds after I made eye contact.  I was always aware at the time that I was "making it worse on myself" by doing this, but I was so angry I didn't care.  I wanted to stand up to him.  And I didn't even have to do anything, just simply meet his eyes. 

So, while I as a child didn't connect the dots that avoiding eye contact=avoiding provocation, I certainly had learned, as a teenager, that eye contact=provocation.  After I left home I simply kept up the same habits and only stared at people once it became clear that their motive was to fight and I was going to be attacked and stand up for myself.

Haha....28 years and going strong with my side-eye. 

PTSD AND EYE CONTACT

Here is an immensely informative and thorough study I'm going to quote for this entry--since the whole thing reads worse than Tolkien while sober, (Oxford, amirite heh) I will break down the bones of the study.  Essentially, while eye contact in "normal" individuals starts a "processing" mechanism in the brain, in subjects with childhood-trauma-related PTSD, the mechanism that is activated is the "alarm" system.  Yup.  That's what I experienced when my foster mom told me to stare at her in the eyes.  That's why I felt like a gun was put to my head.  I was transitioning into hypervigilance, waiting for the attack.

Eye contact obviously shows us whether the person in front of us is happy, sad, and so on.  Like everything we do it is an evolutionary tactic to determine threat or non-threat.  But humans do so much more with visual processing, and can pull a lot of data from a few seconds look at another face.   However, the study notes that in their PTSD patients, discerning "threat" from "non-threat" happened less quickly, if at all, during eye contact. What's worse, even "positive" feedback (smiling, soothing looks, non-aggressive facial expressions) are not interpreted correctly.  Even when someone is trying to look at me reassuringly, my response is still to withdraw.  I had a coworker do this once; she didn't understand the damage it did and took me by the shoulders and said "look at me" very lovingly, but when I forced myself to stare without dissociating, my heart rate went through the roof and I started panicking immediately.

HOW I COPE

So how does someone with such an aversion to such a common communication tool adapt? I can only speak for myself since I have no clue what others with PTSD do in this circumstance (though I'd love to hear your experience if you have any.)  I've gotten so good at hiding my distaste for eye contact that I would say most people would never consider me untrustworthy or 'off'.  If there is a distinction, it would probably be that I'm "shy" instead of nervous or jumpy or weird.

-Not Setting a Standard
I think with close friends I set the standard that I don't make eye contact. I don't mention it, I just don't do it if I'm comfortable with someone.  The only time this ever backfires might be if the person is attempting to comfort me, when I just come clean and say I don't like eye contact--problem solved.  In situations where I am 100% present, like a therapy session, or an intense talk with a friend, I will not meet the other person's eyes at all.  This is what feels natural to me.  I am thankful for places like car rides or video game nights, or dinners where it is acceptable to be looking away a lot of the time.

-Selecting When To Make Eye Contact
But when I do need to make eye contact?  First I have to discern if the situation calls for it.  Job interviews are the first thing that come to mind, but also certain patients require eye contact.  I had an old supervisor who was very aggressive and animated, jumping around and yelling and giving orders--if I wanted him to take me seriously I had to prepare for a lot of eye contact.  Luckily I enjoyed his aggressiveness and always accepted those challenges with less hesitation than other people.  Meetings are another example of a bad time to not ever look at another person.

-Dissociation.
So, I get really good at learning what, and who, requires that I make eye contact.   The second step is dissociation.  I have already talked in length about this on this entry, but as other trauma survivors will relate, it simply means to step outside.  I can, on command, blank out of myself and become "stupid".  It's like another person takes over and I, Alex, watch as this controller sits in my body and moves my eyes toward the people I need to look at.  I fade in and out, sometimes more aware than others, and if I find myself becoming "too aware" of where I'm at, I step back.

Some people are "inexperienced" at dissociating and stare at the wall and can't function, and this scares them into thinking they're brain-dead.  Others like me who have done it for years, can talk and walk and interact just fine while being "not there."  Inwardly I feel very dumb, it's almost like being drunk, but if you can imagine what it's like to be drunk and fake your way through a job interview, you have what it's like to dissociate and function at the same time.

-Other Tricks
If I absolutely can't dissociate the way I need to, which is rare but does happen, I have a few tricks.  Firstly, I only maintain eye contact when listening.  People expect you to look at them when listening.  When I'm speaking, I have a bit more ability to move my hands and eyes and still seem like a genuine person.  While listening, I will either count (5 seconds looking, then look away) or simply stare at the different parts of a person's face for a few seconds at a time.  When someone is farther than a few feet away they can't discern if you're staring at their nose or mouth instead of their eyes (but don't do this when up close, unless you want to send the message you're thinking of kissing them...haha!)  If I find myself looking away, I pull the demure female/shy card and bat my eyelashes and rub my neck.  This sends "I'm shy and girly" not "I'm a tweaker who can't look at you because I'm lying."

And that's a bit about that!  I'm happy to hear any thoughts.  I always hope people like to read my long-winded ramblings.  Writing about PTSD is one of the only positive aspects it has on my life; I find the disorder to be fascinating scientifically and to keep myself from eating toilet paper or some other strange coping mechanism, I write it all out.

And always, please let me know if you have questions; I'll answer the best I can!

4.16.2016

Currently in April

I was chugging along at my usual snail's pace this morning, and noticed I hadn't posted since April 9...what? (I did guest post for Mariko though! Go read it!) But then, I realized that it was April 15 and my literal reaction was:

 

I should probably be thankful that life is hurrying along because I don't exactly love the spot in life I'm in right now--it's not terrible, but as you'll read, better things are hopefully on their way...but I mean, I hadn't even given my taxes a thought and had to file them, bleary-eyed and nodding off to a cup of coffee at 10am today (after working a graveyard shift from 0000-0800.) Yikes.  But, earlier I had gotten caught up on Angie's latest check-in and wanted to write my own, because apparently April is half over and I (and Utah) still think it's February.  SNOW AGAIN UTAH WHY

currently playing I recently ended another round of DA:I and thought I was going to merrily re-play Skyrim, but I picked up Mad Max and it has been AWESOME.  I did go ahead and make a new Skyrim character and now I've made that terrible gamer mistake of not knowing which to play when.  Mad Max is so perfect for just zoning out, on your own, with your car, in the vast and unforgiving wastes.  It is one of the most gorgeous games I've ever played.  That's pretty hard to do when your palette is "post-apocalyptic waste." But have a look: