W is for Websites (and Blogs)

letters-alphabet-cursive-wSo, I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping—translation, avoiding—lately. This is mostly because I’ve been overwhelmed with loneliness and worry (I’m unemployed, sick, etc). That said, I’m tired of thinking about myself. So I thought I’d take time to highlight my favorite websites, most of which I’ve linked to on this blog.

Cat Sites: I’m a big fan of cats. And, probably because I can’t have one in my current apartment, I’m obsessed with pictures of them. On Facebook, I like seven different pages that are cat or pet related (most of which I’ll won’t mention in this post). Here’s an overview of the sites I love:

  • The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee: This is a blog written by a cat foster family in Seattle. Originally written as a way to help get
    Wylla - image courtesy of theittybittykittycommittee.com

    Wylla – image courtesy of theittybittykittycommittee.com

    their kittens fostered, it is currently focused on one of their adopted kittens, Wylla, who has special needs. I love this site because the star is just too cute. This site is usually updated once a day, during the week.

  • Cats. Where they do not belongThis is a tumblr.com blog that features, as you’d expect, cats where they aren’t supposed to be. Enough said. The site is usually updated once a day, less often on the weekend.
  • William of Mass Destruction: This is a blog supposedly written by a black cat; mostly the cat complains about his siblings or makes sarcastic comments. The humor appeals to me, but mostly it’s a way to see pretty pictures of gorgeous cats.  Usually updated once a day, weekdays, but sometimes less often.
  • The PsychoKitty Speaks Out: Another blog supposedly written by a sarcastic cat and I like it for the same reason I like William of Mass Destruction, just not updated as often. However, this blog is special in that the writer makes up some cleaver “cat-speak”: “doods” for “dudes” and so forth. For some reason this makes me laugh.
  • Daisy the Curly Cat: Another blog written by a cat, this one a cutie with curly fur. This blog has daily themes: Mondays are comics featuring Daisy and her siblings, Tuesdays and Thursdays are general picture days, and Wednesdays are “wordless” (apparently there is some sort of agreement with many of the cat blogs to post some sort of uncaptioned picture then linking to other blogs). Only posts Monday through Thursday.
  • Housecat Confidential: Another cat written blog, this one written with the cats referring to each day as if the day itself was a reader. Posts daily (weekdays).
  • Love Meow: This is a website that finds cute cat stories and videos and posts them all to their site for your reading convenience. The stories usually focus on cat rescues but the videos are priceless.
  • Army Kitty: Similar to Love Meow, this site lists cat stories (but rarely videos). I actually like this site a bit better than Love Meow because the layout is clearer. However, the videos alone on Love Meow are worth checking it out. Both Love Meow and Army Kitty are updated daily, sometimes on the weekend as well.
  • Freekibble Kat: This is a charity website that allows you to donate food to animal shelters with or without a monetary donation. You can donate without emptying your wallet by answering a daily (all 7 days) trivia question. Regardless if you answer the question right or not, 10 pieces of kibble are donated to the shelters on their beneficiary list. This site is an off-shoot of Freekibble which does the same thing, but for dogs. There is a link for the dog site as well as a weekly email reminder. You can only “free” donate once per day per device.
  • The Animal Rescue Site: This is another charity website that allows you to donate with or without money. Instead of answering trivia questions, you just click on a button and the site’s advertisers donate. There are also links on the site to its sister sites where you can click to donate to a general charity (GreaterGood), for hunger, breast cancer, autism, veterans, diabetes, literacy and the rainforest. If you’ve got a few extra bucks, you can also give by shopping. You can click once per day, for the “free” donation, (all 7 days) per device.

Mental Health Sites: If you need a reminder, I have been diagnosed with Reoccurring Major Depressive Disorder (with suicidal ideation) and I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. So I try to keep myself educated on the trends in the industry, both for my own health and in case I ever decide to start a career in the industry.

  • Therese J. Borchard: This site/blog is written, obviously, by Therese J. Borchard, a prominent mental health blogger. Ms.
    image from HealthyPlace.com

    image from HealthyPlace.com

    Borchard has bipolar disorder and I find her writing style easy to read and comforting. I highly recommend her articles for both those with and those without a mental health issue. She’s not ashamed to say when she’s been having difficulty with her disease and she’s done a lot of research into the physical aspects of depression. Lots of great advice on how to handle symptoms and what it’s really like to have the disease. I also recommend her books.

  • Celebrity Psychings and PsychCentral: Celebrity Psychings is a blog, hosted by PsychCentral, that focuses on those in the entertainment industry who have spoken out about or who have some sort of mental health issue. The blog is occasionally superficial but I like it because it appeals to the tabloid part of me. There are other blogs on PsychCentral that are good as well.
  • Psychology Today: This is the website for the magazine of the same name. Lots of easily understood information on various mental health topics. I use this website when I need a reminder of some of the basics of psychology.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): This is an organization dedicated to providing support and information for those with depression and bipolar and their families. I also “like” them on Facebook. The site can get you information and connect you to support. On Facebook they keep you updated on news and events.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Like the DBSA, this is an organization that’ll provide you with information and support. But what it does a lot more of is advocate. The NAMI focuses on trying to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. Again, I “like” them on Facebook, where they keep you up to date on their efforts.
  • HealthyPlace: This site advertises itself as America’s Mental Health Channel and has lots of information, forums and blogs. I find their Facebook posts especially helpful; they ask good questions and link to great blog posts. If you had to choose only one of the above sites to “like” on Facebook, I’d pick this one. It’s helpful with the day to day of living with a mental illness.

Writing Sites: Something I don’t talk much about on this blog is my desire to become a novelist. It’s something I’ve dreamed about ever since I was in 3rd grade. The following sites are places I don’t go every day, usually because I can’t focus (due to my depression. The inability to focus is extremely frustrating) but they’re good sites nonetheless.

  • Writer’s Digest Magazine and The Writer Magazine: These are two of the prominent writing magazines in the United
    National Novel Writing Month - image courtesy of nanowrimo.org/

    National Novel Writing Month – image courtesy of nanowrimo.org

    States. Writer’s Digest leans a bit towards those who are first starting out while The Writer leans towards the veterans. Both are worthy of reading regardless of where you are in your writing journey. Another prominent writing magazine is Poets & Writers; it leans towards more academic writing but is still worth reading occasionally.

  • Absolute Write, Writer Unboxed, Live to Write – Write to Live, Novel Rocket, WOW! Women on Writing, Writing.com, and Funds for Writers: These are all sites for support, forums, advice and so forth for writers. There are plenty of other sites as well, but these are the ones I visit when I need some advice, to read a blog about writing, or just to lurk in the forums.
  • National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo): This is a fun site where you are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. There are many spinoffs of this concept (write a novel in a day, a week, a year; edit a novel in a day, week, year; etc), but this is the original. A great challenge if you can do it and many schools use the concept/website to promote writing. The forums are especially lively. I encourage everyone who is interested in writing to give it a try. It is especially helpful for those who have a problem with perfectionism in their writing since the focus is on getting words on the page, not on the quality of those words.

Other sites: Since no one is just about three things (in my case cats, depression and writing), I also look at other things online. Here’s a selection of them:

  • The Happy Logophile: A blog written by a mom and writer. She doesn’t post very often, but when she does,
    image courtesy of bbc.co.uk

    image courtesy of bbc.co.uk

    it’s invariably lovely and insightful.

  • , A writer who designs & a designer who writes: A blog mostly about design. Posts are added as she comes across things but they’re always really pretty and distinctly cool.
  • Whatever: This is the blog of science fiction writer John Scalzi, who usually posts daily (all 7 days). He has a regular post called “The Big Idea” where guest writers talk about their work, but almost all of his other posts are written by Mr. Scalzi himself. He writes about just about anything, from political issues to writing issues to the sunset behind his house. The tone of his posts is generally humorous and the comments for his posts can run in the thousands. Pure entertainment.
  • Catholic Cravings: This is a blog from an Australian writer and is currently under transition. I started reading this blog because of its catholic bent (I’m a convert) and it’s interesting to see her views on feminism, etc, from that angle. Right now she’s transitioning the blog into a self-hosted arena so it’ll be interesting to see what she does in the future.
  • Not a Punk Rocker: A blog from a mom with mental health issues and who has a kid with mental health issues. Her tone is generally funny and her posts can range from a musing about eating disorders or her kid’s problems to descriptions of her workplace to pictures (and descriptions) of her latest manicure. She generally posts once or twice a week. Often good for a laugh.
  • Relevant Radio: This is the website for a catholic talk radio station I used to listen to on my way to work, when I used to have a job. You can stream directly from the site or download recordings of their shows. Very informative for anyone who wants to know more about being catholic or who wants to keep in touch with their faith. It was instrumental in my conversion.
  • All About Romance: I’m a big reader of romance novels and hope to eventually write one. This site offers reviews of romance, chick-lit, LBGT lit, and women’s lit as well as recommendations and forums. I use it as a way to find new things to read as well as to see what others are saying about the kind of writing I hope to break into.

There are, of course, other websites I like. Sites where I check on the news, shop and so forth.

Are there any websites I haven’t mentioned that you’d like my opinion on? I’d love to hear your opinion on the sites I mentioned above. Please comment!

S is for Squalor

abcalphabet_block_blue_sI never meant for it to happen. All I wanted to do was be happy. Instead I ended up living in squalor.

It was 1997 and I made the choice to move to the town where my abuser lived. At the time it seemed to be the right thing to do. Several family members lived in the same town and they all wanted me to move there so they could see me more. The price was right for the apartment and I wanted to see my family more so I didn’t really have a good reason to not move there. After all, only a few people knew about the abuse, and those who did thought I was “over” it. I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to admit it.

Shortly after I moved in, I adopted two kittens. As you may be aware, I’m a HUGE cat lover, so it seemed like a dream come true. Unfortunately, my disease (depression and anxiety) thought otherwise. The entire time I lived in that town I was living in a low level of anxiety that lead me to neglect myself and my surroundings. I rarely cleaned the cats’ litter box, so the cats took to using other parts of the apartment. However I would periodically get it together enough to clean things up so the apartment was presentable.

Then my mother died. Things got worse. Not only was I living in anxiety, but I was overwhelmed with guilt, shame and grief over my mother’s death. I had been unable to go to her deathbed (my parents lived in another state) because of my finances and my brother had to deal with it all alone. I was ashamed that I had not been able to help my brother and father during such a stressful time. The times where I was able to clean became rarer and rarer. Eventually my landlord investigated during a time when I hadn’t cleaned in a while and he asked me to leave.

I found a new apartment in another city, but I couldn’t bring my cats. So I gave them up to the local shelter and cried for days.

Three days after moving into my new apartment, I sat down in my easy chair, looked around at my half packed boxes, sighed and gave up. It was February of 2000. Those boxes never got unpacked. And for the next eight years anything I brought into the apartment stayed. Nothing left. By nothing, I mean nothing. Garbage of every type, papers, food, books, newspapers, mail, everything and anything remained.

At one point my toilet broke. But the mess was so bad that I didn’t dare ask my landlord to fix it. So I lived as much as possible without a working toilet. For six years. I wasn’t always successful, especially as I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS; more info on that here). You can imagine the stench. But I didn’t smell it. I was so used to it that it was normal for me.

During those eight years I never let anyone into the apartment (my landlord never inspected. I guess as long as I paid my rent and no one complained he was happy). I went about my days as if I was perfectly normal. But the fact was that I wasn’t normal. I lived in squalor. I couldn’t use the heat in the apartment because I was afraid I’d start a fire (I had baseboard heat). In the summer I felt like I was on fire because there was so much stuff in front of the windows I couldn’t open them (and I didn’t have air conditioning). Frankly, I’m surprised I never got frost bite or heat stroke; temperatures in the area I live in can run from -30° to +110° Fahrenheit. Somehow I survived.

What finally broke me and got me out of there was when my grandmother could no longer live alone. Up until that time I was her primary caregiver. It wasn’t difficult, I just called her daily, visited several times a week, took her shopping and so forth. But then she fell and broke her wrist. The family got together and let her know that it was time for her to move out. Being an extremely independent woman, this was hard on her, but she did it. She moved in with my brother (fortunately he made enough money to allow my sister-in-law to quit her job and stay home to take care of her) and my world changed.

No longer was I required to keep a constant eye on someone else. I still visited her at my brother’s house, but otherwise I had much more time on my hands. Without the need to take my grandmother to the store or doctor’s all the time, I began to look at what I had neglected in my life. Myself. And my life was not pretty. I was living in filth.

Living in filth

Living in filth

So what did I do? I did what I always do; I got even more depressed and suicidal. At the time I was seeing a counselor, but it wasn’t helping much. Mostly because I couldn’t see her as often as I would like (due to insurance reasons). So, with my counselor’s permission, I got a referral from my insurance company to another counselor. It was then that I was persuaded to “out” myself to my family and get help with the apartment.

How did we take care of it? At first, my brother, sister-in-law and I tried to clean up the apartment by ourselves. But it was too much, so my brother hired some day-laborers who literally took shovels to my apartment. After a day I had a construction-site size dumpster full of garbage removed from my two room apartment. I lost a lot in that dumpster: my high school yearbooks, childhood toys, family pictures, heirlooms, beloved books, my self-esteem.

Afterwards I moved to another apartment where I gradually got into the habit of cleaning and getting rid of stuff.

So what was it really about? My counselor at the time said that I was “manifesting an interior belief into an exterior reality.” This basically means that I believed I was garbage so I lived in garbage. But what I think is that when I moved into that apartment in 2000 I was so exhausted with the constant anxiety of living close to my abuser, my mother’s death, giving up my cats and just being unhappy that I metaphorically crumbled. I crumbled into myself and did the minimum I had to do to get by. I expended whatever energy I had to make sure I had the façade of “normalcy” up that I had no energy to do anything else.

Other counselors I’ve seen classified me as a Hoarder (go here for a definition of hoarding). I never agreed with this classification (and frankly hated it) as I wasn’t emotionally attached to the garbage in my apartment. The hardest part of getting rid of it was how overwhelming it was (as you can see from the above picture, there was quite a bit of it) and that there were people in my apartment seeing how “crazy” I was. The stuff itself was incidental. I prefer another classification: Squalor, or Diogenes, syndrome.

Squalor syndrome is not an officially recognized classification among the mental health community. I came across this phrase when I was trying to put a name to what I was doing. I found this article and finally had a name that fit. I also found a website (Squalor Survivors) that helped me feel less like I was a freak.

I outed myself as a person living in squalor in 2008. The only persons who knew about it or saw it (via a picture or live) were my brother, sister-in-law and mental health professionals. It took me until 2010 to get myself into a system of cleaning/throwing things away. At this point I consider myself “cured” of this syndrome. Of course I’m not a perfect housekeeper. Right now I’ve got two stacks of things that need to be put away and you can write a novel in the dust in my room. But I don’t live in squalor.

So why am I talking about it now? Because I told this story to someone for the first time since 2010, complete with showing them the above picture. And it threw me into vortex of avoidance. I started sleeping 12-20 hours a day, bingeing up a storm and wallowing in self-pity. Over and over I told myself that “no one cares” and that I was “stupid, stupid, stupid.” It’s taken me a week to get out of the vortex and realize that what I did was the right thing, that people do care, that I am not stupid.

I told my story to someone because they were struggling with their own version of squalor. It wasn’t as bad as mine, they were just messy, but they were overwhelmed with the mess. To the point of having an anxiety attack over it. I told them my story as a sort of “it could be worse” and a “if I got through this you can get through your mess” kind of thing. And it did help them. They realized that they could clean up their mess and get organized.

Was my week of avoidance worth it? Since my friend was helped by my opening myself up, I think it was. The trick now is to figure out how to open myself up to others without falling into a vortex.

Any suggestions?

B is for Bingeing

blue_alphabet_letter_bWarning: This post may be triggering for those with Eating Disorders.

What do I mean by triggering? Triggering is a term used in the Eating Disorder (ED) treatment community to indicate something that causes a person to think of or engage in an ED behavior. For me, commercials can be incredibly triggering. If I see one for say pizza, I’m more likely than not to think of pizza until I can eat some. I’m told this is common for those without ED but for me it’s more than just the desire to eat one piece, it’s the desire to eat two entire pizzas.

One of the things they (they meaning the ED treatment community) recommend that someone with an ED do is to tell people about their particular ED behaviors. The theory being that by making them less of a secret they will lessen. Another theory behind this is that if you can pinpoint why a behavior works for you, or where it started, it’ll be easier to eliminate said behavior. Since my ED is Binge Eating Disorder (BED), my behaviors are pretty simple. I eat a lot in a short period of time. I don’t make myself throw up, exercise excessively, or starve to compensate. Hence my circus-lady physique. So I thought I’d devote this post to a listing/discussion of my particular binge foods. Here goes, in no particular order:

White bread/flour tortillas: I can eat 12 flour tortillas or one whole loaf of bread in one sitting. Especially if the bread is fresh baked, not the kind you find in the sandwich bread aisle. There is something about the way the bread/tortilla feels in the mouth; it’s sweet without being sugary. The texture is light and it feels almost like a hug. And, like most of my binge food, white bread is “forbidden” (I’m a Type 2 Diabetic). Tortillas are a new thing for me. I started using them when the whole “low-carb” craze started up. I bought regular tortillas thinking them a low-carb substitute for bread and realized that they did the same thing for me as white bread. I know that white bread in particular is a binge food for me because when I was growing up white bread was a food that I was “allowed” to have. You see, my mother had Type 1 Diabetes and was told not to eat white bread. So, anytime we had white bread in the house I could eat as much of it as I wanted. If we had wheat, I had to ask permission to eat it. Then, sometime in my teens, one of our food pantry boxes included a (white) bread mix and I discovered that I liked to bake, and eat, freshly baked bread. I guess it almost feels as if I’m hugging myself with this “illicit” food.

Ice-cream: Especially the fully-fat kind with fun names two guys from Vermont make. The creamy, fatty, sweet, goodness freezes all my emotions. I’m often told that I seem mellow after binging on ice-cream. Depending on the flavor and additions to the ice-cream I can eat up to a gallon at a time. Or, if it’s an ice-cream based item (like ice-cream sandwiches or pops), a package of 10-12. Ice-cream was a treat in my childhood, generally eaten at my grandparent’s house; they lived two blocks away from a walk up ice-cream place and we would often walk there after a meal in the summer. In many ways, I think ice-cream for me is a way for me to comfort the child within who just wants to scream for someone to love her. Why? Because when I was a child at this particular grandparent’s house, that’s how I felt. I just wanted someone to love me, but these particular grandparents were not the demonstrative type and I didn’t realize that they loved me until I was almost an adult.

Chocolate: I probably don’t need to say much about this type of food. It falls under the “forbidden” food category but tastes so good. I can eat entire packages of those individually wrapped kinds that people buy for Halloween (not the “jumbo” packages that cost $8-10, but the medium sized ones that cost $4-6). When I was a kid, one of the things that we often got in our food pantry boxes was chocolate chips. We would keep them in the fridge and I would often grab handfuls of them at a time when I got home from school. We never had enough food at any one time to allow for a typical after school snack, so this was my version. If I don’t have chocolate available at all times I get very anxious. Even if I don’t eat any that day, just the availability of it makes me feel better. I suppose this is due to my growing up on welfare and with food scarcity, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to this than I’m aware of.

Fried Foods: Especially fried chicken and onion rings. I can eat a 10 piece bucket of fried chicken or a 12 piece box of chicken strips. Fried chicken/onion rings were something that I only got to eat when out with my grandparents. As you may have figured out, growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and they had much more money than my parents. My grandmother, who was a working mother long before it was considered normal, was often too tired to cook after work so we’d go out to eat. Fried food feels luxurious. As if I’m telling myself that I’m not poor because I can afford to eat it.

Fast Food: There was a time when I lived exclusively on fast food. After work or after a social activity, I’d swing through a drive through and order 4-6 sandwiches and a large fry. Growing up, fast food was like fried chicken, only something I got when people who weren’t on welfare were buying. My parents never took me to a fast food place, but my grandparents, or the parents of friends, would. Then, when I had a good paying job, I’d take myself. Almost like I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t my parents, I could afford to pay someone else to cook. And becoming my parents is for me, like for a lot of people, something I’m trying to prevent.

Pasta: I can eat an entire box of mac and cheese or half a box of pasta with canned spaghetti sauce. As a kid, pasta based dishes weren’t something I ate often. And if I did, it was at someone else’s house, a friend’s or my grandparents. But it wasn’t often enough to make it something special. So why is it a binge food? Because it’s one of the first foods I binged on when cooking for myself. Pasta is my go to “cooking for myself” meal. It’s relatively cheap and easy to make. I hate to cook so easy is the only way to go. At this point, I don’t cook pasta unless I have to (I have it in the house for when I’ve run out of money to purchase other foods), mostly because it makes me feel poor. You see, the minute I got a job that paid enough to allow me to eat out most of the time, I did. This caused me to associate cooking as being an “I’m out of money” activity. And being out of money reminded me of being on welfare as a kid.

Pizza/Italian Food: I mean the kind that someone makes for you, not the frozen kind you throw in the oven or that you make yourself. Because I hate to cook and because my parents are terrible cooks, I didn’t really grow up eating a lot of Italian food or pizza. I’d get an occasional frozen pizza when I was over at my grandparents, but this type of food wasn’t a big thing for me until I became a teenager. Then pizza was a go to food for hanging out with my friends. Now pizza and Italian foods, because of their high carb contents, are considered “forbidden.” I don’t binge on them a lot, but when I do I’ll eat 1-1 ½ large pizzas or enough lasagna, whatever parmigiana, or something linguine to serve two people. The thick, warm, textures of these foods feel as if I’ve spent a day laughing.

Chips/crackers/cookies: Anything with a dry, crispy, texture tends to be a rare binge item. I prefer my binges to be with softer foods. This might be because my father was fond of popcorn and would make some nearly every night so it didn’t seem as special as chocolate or ice-cream. Or it might be because I don’t have many anger issues (there is a theory that people who prefer to binge on crunchy things have anger issues). Whatever the case may be, I can still binge on these things. I’ll usually eat a whole package/bag of them (the kind meant for 4 people to eat, not 1 person). Crunchy foods take more effort to eat, so I usually only gravitate toward them if I’m running low on money and they are on sale. Or if I’m craving salt (which I think is a hormonal thing for me).

You’ll notice that none of my binge foods are fruits or vegetables. Not surprising, since the point of a binge is to feed my head/feelings and not my body. And, growing up, fruits and veggies were held aside for my mother. My brother and I were constantly told that my mother had to have this or that food because of her diabetes and we could have some after she did. Often there wasn’t enough left over to make much of a difference. I was even yelled at once for eating a banana. It wasn’t the last one in the house, but I had eaten it without asking first. My father’s point being that I may have taken a food that my mother had planned on eating. And we may not have had the funds to replace it.

Does this mean that all of my binge issues are related to growing up on welfare and with a Type 1 Diabetic? I don’t think so. I think it has more to do with how love was expressed in my family. My grandmother, the family member I had the most contact with outside of my parents and brother, expressed her love with food. She constantly was giving us food and telling us to “clean up” whatever leftovers were around so she wouldn’t have to package it up. Because my parents had so little money, and food was so important in the management of Type 1 Diabetes, food a central thing in our lives. How we got it, how much of it was there, how it was distributed, was more important than just about anything else. My parents still hugged me, told me they loved me, and so forth. They didn’t yell at me about anything other than food. And they were never abusive. But somehow food, everything about food, got caught up in our relationships.

Then, when I became an adult, food became a central part of how I related to myself. The question now is do I have the courage to take care of myself in a healthy way? In a way that nourishes my body without starving my feelings? Because ultimately my binges are about preventing feelings. I don’t want to feel them so I push them away with the food.

What my ED tries to tell me is that a binge will make the feelings go away. And it’s right, temporarily. But they always come back, often worse then before. And no food, no matter how it makes me feel, is ever going to permanently prevent a feeling. No matter how much I try.

But I just can’t stop trying.

D is for Dreams

letters-alphabet-cursive-dAfter that last few posts, I thought I’d write something a bit less negative: dreams. I, like everyone, have dreams of what I want my future to hold. Even though I’ve hit my middle years, today I have hope that I will still reach them (a few months ago, I would have said all my dreams were beyond me. What new meds, lots of work and a bit of time can do!)

Here’re my dreams, in no particular order:

  • A cottage by the sea. I’ve always wanted to live in a cottage, near the water and the older I get the more I want that water to be the ocean.
  • To see the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bering Straits, the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea. Have I mentioned I love water?
  • I want to see as much of the good ol’ U. S. of A. as I possibly can. I want to see what each and every state has to offer. So far, I’ve seen a lot of Illinois, a bit of Ohio, a little of Iowa, some of Colorado and Oklahoma, a smidge of Wisconsin, Virginia, and Massachusetts, quite a bit of Washington D.C. and drove through Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. I want to see historical sites, museums, parks, anything with water (with the exception of water parks) and whatever makes an area memorable. But I don’t want to do it in an RV.
  • At least one cat and one (service) dog. More cats if possible. And one of them will be named Abby.
  • I want to see every inch of Great Britain. Every island, every foggy inlet, loch, river, pasture and ruin there. I want to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, see the Globe Theatre in London (and everything else in London), anything related to Jane Austen (including where movies were filmed) and Stonehenge. I want to see dead kings’ and queens’ tombs and crumbling castles. I have an overwhelming need to visit the land of my ancestors (I’m an Anglophile mutt with a bit of French Canadian and Native American thrown in.) I want to see all the historical sites and some of the quirky ones. I want to smell sod burning and buy authentic English wool sweaters.
  • I want to write novels. And have them published. I don’t want to write the Great American Novel. Frankly, I think that’s already been written, several times (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, probably anything by Hemingway, we could go on forever here.) I want to write novels that people start to read before bed and stay up late to finish. I want to write the book that you pick up to make you forget your worries for a few hours. And I want to write/publish more than one.
  • I want to be a “normal” size. I don’t care if I never become skinny, or even thin, I just want to be average. And right now, in America, average is a size 14.
  • I’d like to be off diabetes meds and not have to take my blood sugar several times a day.
  • Healthy. I want to be healthy. To go weeks, or months, without having to check in with a shrink.
  • To own, outright, a home. No mortgage, no bank, no landlord. I want the right to paint walls whatever color I want and decorate however I want. If I want to convert the dining room into a library with rainbow colored bookshelves, I darn well want to be able to do so without having to ask a landlord. And I don’t want to worry that I’ll ever be underwater on my mortgage.
  • Money. I don’t necessarily have to be stinkin’ rich, but I do want to be in a place where I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or how I’m gonna keep from being evicted or have the lights shut off. And if I want to take a few days off of work, my financial world won’t come to an end.
  • Love. I want to fall in love at least once with a wonderful person. At this point, they don’t even have to be male. I’m willing to consider switch-hitting for the right person. I want hearts and flowers and the need to spend the rest of my live with someone. Yeah, I know that means I’ve got to open up to people and risk getting hurt. But I think it just might be worth it.
  • I want to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full and not think about it any other time. This is what I image people without an eating disorder do. I think I may crave this more than I crave chocolate (at least right now I do.)
  • Live to 60. My mother died at 53. I have the same disease she died from (although a different version). ‘Nuff said.
  • Go a whole year without a suicidal thought.
  • Dye my hair a crazy color. I’ve always wanted to do it but never had the guts.
  • Get a tattoo. Just where I, and a significant other, could see it.
  • Learn to forgive myself for not being the perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect friend, perfect anything.
  • Have the abuse of my childhood be an unfortunate thing in my past and not an influence on the present.
  • Forgive myself for letting my past influence my present.
  • Give myself permission to stop. Just to stop and sit and enjoy life. No thinking about all the people my vicinity, no thinking about how this or that could go wrong, no projecting what may or may not happen based on what decision I make about this or that. Just to stop. Stop and live.
  • I want a rich spiritual life. With prayer and worship and all that stuff.
  • To carry a parasol in public. Personal, portable shade, just for me. Bliss.
  • Act in plays and musicals (at the local community theatre) on a regular basis. I acted all through high school and was actually a theatre major in college for a bit. I miss the fun.
  • I want to walk down the street and not feel I have to apologize for being alive.
  • Finally, I want to love myself. Not the me I think I should be or the me I want others to think I am. I want to love the me I am.

T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Four of Four)

letters-alphabet-cursive-tOnce upon a time, there was a middle-aged gal who fell down the stairs and broke her arm. Unfortunately, this gal was not able to get right back up and go back to her life. She sank quickly and completely into a deep depression and came very close to killing herself. That gal was me in May of 2013.

On the day I admitted to my psychiatrist that I was no longer able to fight off the impulses to kill myself, my sister-in-law drove me to the nearest hospital with a psych ward. This was a different hospital than I was in the first time so things were the same but different.

Picture a rectangular hallway with hospital rooms on the left hand side and offices on the right. The offices were used for groups and for family meetings. At the midpoint of the hallway, instead of rooms and offices, there was an open area with a living room type area on the left and a nurse’s station on the right.

In this hospital, the rules were stricter. No toiletries were allowed in our rooms unless we were using them; they were locked up and we had to ask for them. Our rooms contained only beds and a bathroom. No other furniture. We were only allowed pencils, no pens, and only if we had a reason to use them. We also had to return the pencils as soon as we were done with them.

My ward, again, consisted mostly of Depressed and Bipolar patients along with people detoxing from various substances. The hospital, located in a lower-middle class city, had a lot more detoxing people than the other hospital I was in. But otherwise, the set up was the same: group and free time alternating with meals and visiting hours.

When I arrived, I was once again was strip searched. But this time, I was not allowed to put my own clothes on. Instead, I had to wear hospital scrubs until they could be sure my clothes were “okay” (not hiding anything). Unfortunately, they didn’t have scrubs in my size. I had to put on scrubs that were tight and barely made it over my fat stomach if someone helped me pull them up.

I went through the same kind of questions and exams that I had had at the previous hospital, then went to bed. In the two weeks I was there I had four roommates: one with Anxiety, two with Bipolar and one with Depression. One of my roommates rarely left the room.

When I got up in the morning, I went to the bathroom, then couldn’t get my pants back up. My broken arm was in the way and the pants were too tight to pull over my fat without that arm. I was too proud to ask for someone to help, so I wrapped a blanket (we weren’t allowed sheets) around myself until I was allowed my clothes. That took all day. For some reason that was the worst part of being there, I felt like I had lost all my dignity. I cried off and on all that first day, wanting nothing other than to have my dignity back. But I refused to tell anyone about it. When anyone asked why I was crying, I’d just shake my head. But that very loss of dignity was the thing I needed to make me open to the purpose of hospitalization, getting better. Would I have gotten better without it? Definitely, I was terrified at my loss of control over my own impulses. But I don’t think I would have been quite as open to making the changes that I needed to make to prevent going back to the hospital without that day of walking around without my dignity. Somehow, that loss forced me to realize that I wasn’t “special” (Depression-wise). I had to go through the same hard work that everyone else goes through to get better. Prior to that, there was some part of myself that believed that my Depression was different, I was different, and the normal ways of treating it wouldn’t work. Losing my dignity broke down a barrier within me that allowed me to see that I was just like everyone else who has Major Depressive Disorder. And I could get better the same way they did.

So I listened when I was in group. When the psychiatrist at the hospital asked how I felt, I told the truth, as bald and ugly as it was. And, unlike my last hospitalization where I spent the entire time angry and wanting to leave, I took time to think, to get to know my fellow patients, to heal.

Now, that’s not to say that I suddenly turned my back on my normal way of interacting with people. I still kept everyone at arm’s length, not really divulging much about myself. I still was more comfortable talking about the academic side of psychology, instead of going into depth about my own experiences. I also wasn’t assertive with my own needs. If a nurse was busy and I needed my meds, I’d wait until I couldn’t stand it anymore before asking for them. If the group wanted to watch one of those “ghost hunting” shows on TV that I hate because they trigger my anxiety, I didn’t say anything. I just read a magazine until it was over. But I was open to trying things differently from what I’d done before. And I avoided isolating myself.

And yes, it did take me two weeks to get discharged. Most hospitalizations are much shorter, three to seven days is the norm. But I didn’t want to leave until I was sure I had control over my impulses. Thankfully, the staff psychiatrist agreed with me. Neither of us wanted me to go back to my “real” life until we were sure that I could handle it.

Of course, many of the obstacles that I had before were gone during this hospitalization. I wasn’t angry. I was open to making changes to things other than my meds. I listened to what the staff had to say, even though I had already heard it in either my previous counseling or in college. I thought about what I needed to change, what I—not my meds—needed to do to prevent a relapse. And my family knew I was there. I didn’t hide the depth of my problem from them.

After a family session with my brother and sister-in-law, face-to-face this time since the hospital was closer, I was discharged with new meds and a different outlook. Not that I realized that my outlook was different. All I realized at the time was that I wasn’t angry, like the first hospitalization, and that I wasn’t scared, like I was when I got there. I knew that I was no longer in the same place I was in when I arrived and I knew that I was better. I wasn’t “cured” of course, I was still really depressed. But I wasn’t in danger of killing myself.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized that the seeds that are helping me survive unemployment and are helping me accept myself were sown there. Looking back, I think my second hospitalization may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. If it hadn’t been for that hospitalization, I may not have had the courage to make this type of post public. I may have started a blog, but not a blog where I have been this open and truthful. Before, I may have mentioned that I had Depression, but I definitely would not have described how bad.

If it wasn’t for my second hospitalization, I might still be in that hopeless and helpless place I was in after my first hospitalization. At that time, I may have said that I thought I was going to get a better job, feel better, improve myself, but I didn’t really believe it. I believe that I would have stayed in a place where I hated my job, my life, and myself. Eventually, I would have stopped going to counseling, stopped taking meds, and killed myself. Because at that time, no matter what I said, deep down I didn’t believe that my life could get any better.

Now I know I can get better, if I do what I have to do to get better. It’s not just about the meds. I have to take steps, sometimes baby steps, but steps that only I can take to improve my life. I received the knowledge, the bone deep knowledge, that my life is a multi-pronged thing. I have a disease that need meds, yes, but I am more than my disease. And I no longer want that disease to control my life.