Monday, September 28, 2015

those little moments that break your heart, and the ones that give you hope

When someone says thank you for the work you did, and means it.

When you spend six hours polishing silver for free, and someone who got paid to set up the church slips it in with the list of other things they did.

When getting to be in charge means giving yourself the worst job and relinquishing control over the order of service you created for your team.

When getting to be in charge means finding little ways to make sure everyone on your team has a chance to do something special.

When the most important thing is that you did your best.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Big Shiny New Year: how a party about new beginnings set the tone for a spectacular collapse into depression

The last few months of 2013 were a horrible, terrifying slide into Major Depression. I tried all the tricks, followed my treatment plan, and still nothing. I wasn't eating, I wasn't smiling, I wasn't even able to laugh. It was pretty darn bad. So imagine my surprise when my friend P from church invited me to a dinner party on New Year's Day. He said no one would pressure me and I could hide in a corner if I wanted to, but that we would play games, and I would have fun. So, for the first time in my life, I went to a New Year's party. I was really looking forward to it!

We played a super hilarious game called Braggart (I think that was it, anyway) with cards where we made up stories and then stole the good bits of other people's stories. Everyone was so entertaining, and I had fun. I felt like I hadn't had the chance to even pretend to be happy in so long.

It was a very cold day, thirty below freezing or so, but the condo was toasty from cooking and company. While I was doubtless the boringest, wort guest ever (hello crippling depression), I was happy to be there. It was especially nice to be out of the house and away from my parents on the first day of the new year. New starts and all that.

As a thirty-year-old paying rent, I knew I had every right to go and and do whatever I wanted to do, even if I was still living with my parents. But, in some sort of bizarre quest not to be a total bitch, I did try to be considerate of them. So I told my mother that if I didn't call by the 9:00 train I'd be taking the last one of the night. I'd also arranged with a friend that if something went horribly wrong I could stay at his place. I had this shit under control.

Because I think it's rude to have telephone conversations while you're at a dinner party, I turned my phone off and left it in my bag by the door. To be honest, I also didn't want to risk having everyone find out that my mother still checks up on me - that my own family doesn't think I'm capable of running my own life, that my mother still treats me like a child. Even though I was sick, it's not like I didn't have my shit together on this one.

But I hadn't counted on my mother waking up at 10:00 pm and deciding it was too cold for me to walk home, and single-handedly scrapping my entire plan. She texted me a couple of times, and of course when I didn't answer because my phone was off, she started calling and leaving messages. Not one to be put off by the fact that I was obviously still having fun with my friends, and was an adult fully capable of taking care of myself, my mother put her detective skills to good use and somehow located the phone number of the place I'd gone. She then proceeded to call them and ask for me. The second I heard their phone ringing, I had this cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, and started feeling lightheaded and disconnected, like a deer caught in the headlights. I knew - I just knew - what was happening. And I so wasn't prepared to deal with it.

Once our host figured out that the person on the phone wanted to talk to me, he handed over the phone. It was obvious that he was as taken aback and embarrassed as I was. Since there was nowhere for anyone to go, everyone got to listen to my half of the conversation.

Like talking to a two-year-old, I kept my voice calm and level, speaking clearly and simply. I told my mother that everything was fine, and reminded her that I'd already told her about my plans and there was no need to be calling. But it was no use. My mother was already in a full-throttle fit, yelling at me that I should have answered my phone, and insisting that I had to take the metro home immediately so my father could pick me up in Laval and drive me home - it was absolutely too cold out for me to walk home from the train the way I'd planned. Never mind that I've spent my whole life weathering cold winters, or that I was capable of making my own decisions, or even that being a renter in my parents' home didn't give them the right to control my life. She'd made a decision and wasn't about to be mollified or dissuaded or derailed.

So I gave in. I 'okayed' and 'fined' until I finally got her off the damn phone. Then, of course, I had to explain to my hosts that I was leaving because if I didn't give in to my mother's irrational demands she'd be having a fit for hours - maybe even days - before I'd finally be able to calm her down. That I'd spent my whole life hostage to her moods and didn't know how to stop giving her what she wanted, even though I knew that just made things worse in the long run.

Everyone was incredibly nice about the situation, telling me that it was alright, but for me it absolutely wasn't.

I felt completely humiliated. My mother had embarrassed my in front of everyone by treating me like a child in public.  I felt ashamed that people knew that this is my family, this is my life, that I wasn't allowed to be a grown-up. I felt deeply ashamed at having allowed this to happen, at not having kept my phone on because I know how my mother is. As I bundled myself up and left I felt so small, and so hurt, knowing that my mother would do that to me just to make herself feel better, that she'd cost me a chance at friendship and that I'd probably never be invited over again (and, of course, I haven't been).

As I rode the metro, the shame started to fade and be replaced by anger. Rage, even. How could she do this to me? It was completely inappropriate! I felt so, so angry! By the time I got to Laval, this too had faded, and I just felt weary. Weary of the life I was living, of the way people treated me, of being depressed. When I got to the car, my brother was there, too, and it turned out that everyone in my family thought I was wrong and should have had my phone on, and needed to do what my mother said. I felt so betrayed: I felt like no one in my family ever protected me from anyone else in my family, and I was all alone. I wanted to cry.

The next day, I went to work and realized that someone had to make the first step in repairing this mess, since my mother had decided she was still pissed off and not speaking to me. On my way out of the office, I texted her to say that, while I understood her perspective, what she did was unacceptable and I wouldn't tolerate it, and that she was never to do that to me again. She totally flipped out, telling me that I  was the wrong one, and everyone knew it, but that I'd find a way to save face with my friends, probably by lying to them and saying that she had a serious mental illness.

I couldn't take it. I just couldn't. It was such a hurtful and personal attack. I saw that she didn't understand how I was feeling at all, and didn't want to. She didn't see that there were boundaries, and I apparently wasn't able to enforce them. I was so unhappy, and so sad, and I didn't want to go on struggling so hard against my pain for nothing, just to be shot down. So I went straight to the store and bought my favorite cutting knife. I hadn't owned a serious knife like this in years, intended only for this, to hurt myself, to open my skin, to cut myself wide, to end my life with precise incisions. I felt like, even in this, I was giving my control over to someone else, and I didn't know how to get it back. I just knew that this was one straw too many - one weight too much - and I couldn't stand against the tide anymore.

When I told a shorter version of this story in my DBT therapy group as an example of an invalidating environment, there was an audible intake of breath and one 'eiiigh' when I got to the part about my mother phoning the party host to make me come home. In the back of my mind I'd always been thinking that I'd overreacted, that the situation wasn't that bad and that, really, I was the one in the wrong; since I'd made a mistake, I deserved to be punished by being humiliated. Sharing this story, I felt for the first time that maybe the way my family treats me, and has treated me, is not okay. It's really not okay. And maybe it's not my fault. And maybe that makes it okay to stand up for myself.

Monday, December 29, 2014

O Tannenbaum: My First Christmas Morning Without Gifts

This is my first Christmas in my own home, and a few factors (like being broke and spending most of my time in treatment, work, or volunteering) meant that I didn't adorn my abode with very much festive cheer. Back in September when I had all the time in the world I dreamed about lights on the balcony and in the windows, an Advent wreathe on the table, tinsel, an evergreen wreathe with berries and a bow on it, and maybe even my first (small) real tree.

In the end, I put out my collection of snowmen and realized that between working overtime to cover all my hospital treatments without getting paid for it, and travelling to my brother's wedding in November, I was too wrung out to actually do a Christmas for myself.

I also decided not to go to my family's this year. I'd just spent six days trapped in a foreign country with them sharing a hotel room, and I didn't think I could bear any more of the old familiar patterns. I've also been doing a lot of difficult work in group and in therapy, and right before leaving for the holidays my psychologist decided to spring the phrase "your abusers" on me for the first time. Needless to say, this just wasn't going to be the year where I could sit around comfortably and pretend everything was normal, and happy, and that I have forgiven the hurts I've barely begun to acknowledge. 

Anyway, I realized about a month ago that the immediate impact of this decision would be that I wouldn't be able to have the traditional Christmas morning of everyone sitting around in their pajamas opening gifts. There wouldn't be a tree hung with ornaments I'd spent hours hanging, there wouldn't be stockings, or brightly colored ribbons, or arguing over how to fold the tissue paper. Most emotionally, I wouldn't have any presents on Christmas day.  At first I thought about buying myself some stuff and wrapping it up, but I decided that was stupid. I'm a big girl: I don't need gifts on Christmas morning. I'll just suck it up until whenever I end up seeing my parents. And anyway, I was going to church, and it wasn't like I'd be seeing other people receiving gifts to remind me that I wasn't.


To add to what my friend said when yet someone else gave him a gift: when you don't have a family, everyone gives you things, but if you choose not to see your family to try and protect yourself, nobody gives you anything. 

I had that sad, small, crushed feeling inside like a kid who finds out all their friends have been invited to a birthday party and they haven't. I've never been the most lovable person. I've never been the type to elicit unsolicited gestures of love. In my own family, I'm the one that everyone ignores, while my brother is the bright shining star. It's like that in every group I join -- some people help share the last of the Communion wine and I wash the dishes; I do the un-glamorous jobs without waiting to be asked and no one says thank you; I prepare the stuff for s'mores while other girls lead the campfire; I compose the prayer services and someone else leads them. I am the invisible girl, and I don't usually bring out the grand gestures in people without asking for them.

I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, but I went home and cried like a small child. This dovetailed nicely with the fact that I cry every time I come home from church now because I'm having some kind of crisis of faith. Only this time, it was all about Santa Claus forgetting to bring me anything. I know I brought it on myself by deciding not to go home this year, but I still couldn't help feeling sorry for myself.

At any rate, I thought I'd give you all a small gift this holiday season. I know it isn't much, but I'm going to share a little story about Christmas. When this happened I was about four years old, and this is one of my earliest memories.

My uncle R had come over to our house to celebrate Christmas, and he'd brought us presents. I unwrapped mine and saw that he'd given me a pair of brightly-colored Fisher Price roller skates that attach to your regular shoes. They were really cool, obviously. I said thank you while struggling not to cry, and then crawled behind the orange rocking chair to hide and sob. Since I was inconsolable, my uncle asked my mother what was the matter, and she had to tell him that they'd already given me the same pair of skates. My uncle apologized to me and said he didn't know. He promised to take me shopping at Toys R Us the next day and get me something else. Once I realized that he really understood that I was sad and wasn't angry about it, but wanted to make it better, I calmed down and stopped crying.

And he really meant it. The next day he took me to the store, and I made a beeline for the doll aisle. Faced with a dazzling array of Barbies, I picked the one with the long ponytail of hair that you could make even longer. Her hair was mesmerizing. It was one of my first Barbies and I was quite pleased with it. My uncle kept trying to convince me to get something else to go with it, but I was perfectly fine with my prize. They did eventually convince me to get her some accessories (sets of extra clothes and shoes), and I was really happy with her. I was excited that I got to pick my own toy, and I was happy that my uncle wasn't upset with me for being sad, and that he didn't think it was funny.

It was one of the best Christmases ever. And man, did I love that doll!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

But I Get Up Again: Being Willing to Start Over (and over, and over, and over...)

In the face of disaster I tend to be pretty resilient: I stay calm, I do what needs to be done, and I get through it. Car accident? Okay: give a report, talk to the firemen, call the people who need to be called. Lose your job? Alright: get your paperwork together, visit the relevant government agencies, fill out all the forms, take advantage of every available service, and work out a job-seeking strategy. These things aren't disasters in the sense that a volcano or genocide are, but they did derail my life in some significant way. I somehow managed to cope with them, mostly because I knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and couldn't afford to let myself go to pieces.

Having said that, I have a remarkable capacity to catastrophize my failures, setbacks, and lapses as if they spell the end of the universe. Felt really down and ate too many muffins? I am going to be fat and disgusting forever. Sliced your arm up with a box-cutter? I will never be able to stop hurting myself and I don't deserve to live. Perform poorly on your monthly production report? I am terrible at my job and am going to get fired because I always fail at everything.

This is a truly spectacular skill because I know in my logical mind that these are not insurmountable obstacles. Bad stats this month? Lots of people get bad stats and so far no one has actually been fired. Eat all the muffins? Being fat isn't the worst thing in the world, and maybe right now you need the distraction more than being thin. My failures are also not necessarily as real as I think they are: actually, you only missed one of your targets, and although you've gained weight you're not really obese yet. 


My emotional mind is completely haywire with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of despair, disappointment, and the nagging conviction that I am bad. I feel like this is the end of the world because these are things that have gone wrong because of me, because of what I've done and haven't done, and I know I'm at fault. I know I'm failing myself and my own values. And I tell my history to myself in a narrative that flows from one personal failure to the next, weaving a story of falling, and falling, and falling again. Is it any wonder that I take every mistake as a sign of the inevitable apocalypse when I carry around an autobiography of my own ruin that I reference at every wrong turn?

Somewhere in between emotion and logic lies the mystical country of the wise mind where the two come together and create a space of integrity, self-awareness, and personal growth. 

All the muffins in the universe ended up in your stomach? Okay, so you did something you aren't proud of because you were trying to make yourself forget how bad you feel. Maybe you chose this particular thing because you watched your mother do it all your life. And yes, you're feeling like you've given up on your values because you behaved in a way that doesn't belong to you, that doesn't fit with who you are, and that is really just a new way of hurting yourself, of punishing yourself for having needs, vulnerabilities, and desires. 

Tomorrow, you can act differently.

You didn't get the greatest results in your production this month? Okay, so you're disappointed because you didn't perform as well as you have in the past. But you've been doing a different job more often and aren't getting as much practice as you used to. Most of your results are still above target, and you haven't suddenly become a slacker. You always do your best. Just because you grew up being told that only excellence is good enough doesn't mean this is actually true. Maybe you feel uncomfortable because your standards are unrealistic and prevent you from having to acknowledge that you're actually doing well.

Tomorrow, you can learn to value yourself based on something other than the worth which authority figures convey on you.

The truth is that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone messes up, and everyone behaves in ways that make them wish they could have a do-over (or some sort of time-travelling car). But not everyone thinks their slip-ups are the end of the world. And not everyone falls down and thinks to themselves there is no point in getting up off the floor because I will never, ever be able to do better than this. Not everyone says to themselves that they might as well keep going the way they're going or doing what they're doing because they're obviously trapped by it and can't get out. I do. But maybe I don't have to. 

I think there might be steps involved with this. Also, I just like using the bullet list button in my blog text box :)

  • Acknowledge that you're having feelings about what went sideways (I am feeling disappointed because I got blood all over the floor again)
  • Look at what happened and put it into a realistic perspective (I did cut myself. But that doesn't make me a failure, and that doesn't make me irredeemable, and that doesn't mean I don't deserve to live. It means I am in pain, and I made a mistake)
  • Don't use your mistake as an excuse to make more mistakes (I soaked through a bunch of paper towels with my blood, but that doesn't mean I can keep going until the whole roll is gone. Just because I chose this one minute ago doesn't mean that I have to choose it again now)
  • Have realistic expectations about your behavior (I started doing this a long time ago, and that means it will be a difficult habit to break. There will be setbacks. But that doesn't change my goals or my values or the fact that I am moving forward)
  • Understand that the powerful dialectic between what you feel and what you know is offering you a precious opportunity to discover what you value (I really, really want to tear myself apart with my bare hands because I hate myself so much that I want my insides to be on my outsides so the pain will finally stop. But this isn't how people should be treated, and I am a person. I want to learn to love myself and take care of myself, so I can live a life worth living. The discomfort I feel as I'm trying creates a space where I can find a new way, and opens the path to change, and growth, and newness of life)
  • Accept that the way you want to live may never be easy for you. It may never come naturally to you. It may never be automatic for me not to fantasize about knives when I'm hurting so badly that I can't find the words to express how much I feel like I'm dying inside. And yes, that sucks. And yes, that might be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life. It might not be fair. But it is the reality. 

It might never be easy. But that doesn't mean it's not worth choosing to get back up and start again, every day, even the days after I've messed up. It is still, always, no matter what has come before or what might come after, worth choosing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Music Man: Prescription Amphetamines and the Worst Date Ever *trigger warning*

In the Fall of 2009 I was beginning my second year in Graduate school (thesis writing year) and my depression was still getting worse. I'd taken one seminar final paper deferral the Fall before, and three in Winter semester -- yes, that would be all of my courses. I didn't get as much research done over the summer as I'd hoped, even though I worked at it every day. I felt like I was sliding, falling, slowly suffocating. Everything was getting a little too difficult, a little too beyond my capability. Although I begged him to let me try ECT, my psychiatrist was unwilling to consider it as as option for me. I was maxed out on Wellbutrin XL and feeling like there was nowhere to go when my psychiatrist and I made the decision to try augmenting it with Ritalin.

On the face of it, Ritalin was actually the best antidepressant I've ever taken, at least for the first few days. I'd had consistent problems with tiredness, low energy levels, and an inability to concentrate, and Ritalin fixed that right away. I was able to focus on my research, to cut through the fog enveloping my brain and put ideas together, to understand what I was reading. I felt alert and awake, and had the energy to walk from one side of campus to the other, to get through my daily activities of worship and study. I took two doses of Ritalin a day, once in the morning and once in early afternoon, and suddenly I was feeling the way I'd felt when Wellbutrin SR had worked: I was feeling like myself. While I didn't really feel any better mood-wise, I could be productive; I felt I had a shot at maybe living my life the way I wanted to, the way that mattered to me. I believed that my mood would stabilize over time back to baseline if I could keep from destroying my life and my goals and my dreams in the meantime by being able to string words together into sentences.

The Ritalin crash was brutal, though, and ultimately an unmitigated disaster. For some reason I was taking regular Ritalin rather than the sustained-release kind, so it was all dumped into my body at once rather than evenly over time. I was fine while the drug was in there, but when it would wear off at the end of the day with no third dose to take its place, I found myself completely immobilized by exhaustion. I couldn't get up if I wanted to. After thirty to forty-five minutes the effect would be gone, but the initial come-down was crushing. In retrospect, I regret never agreeing to try Adderall, which does come in sustained release-form and has less overall drug interactions, but the times it was offered I still overwhelmingly blamed Ritalin for what had happened to me.

At the same time as my depression was worsening, I was coming to the conclusion that my relationship with MM had run its course, if I was being honest about what I wanted my life to look like long-term. I also, perhaps out of pride, had no desire for someone who hadn't committed to me to see me at my mood-worst, crying all over the place and unable to smile or laugh or take pleasure in my life. Sure, Ritalin promised me I could go on with my daily activities, but it wasn't going to make me into the person I was without Major Depression. It offered me a way to maintain a normal level of activity, but in terms of the depressive low, it seemed like the only way out would be through. So I decided to end it, even though I knew I'd miss him and wasn't sure that we'd still have a friendship after this second time around.

MM picked me up and brought me to his place for our usual date during my first few days on Ritalin. In his car on the way there I told him about what had been happening when it wore off and he remarked that, when he'd taken the drug, he'd experienced the same thing. I felt relieved knowing that someone understood what I was going through.

When we got up to his bedroom, I told him that I didn't want to have sex because I wasn't feeling well, and he said he understood. I'd intended to go home pretty much right away, but he suggested we take a nap, and since the Ritalin was wearing off I thought this might be a good idea anyway. And besides, I'd always liked napping with him because he was a good cuddler.

I got into bed and lay down on my side and he lay down beside me. My limbs were already so heavy that I knew I'd never have made it home anyway: if I hadn't stayed, I'd be sitting on the floor somewhere waiting for the near-paralysis to be over. I'd miscalculated my timing, I suppose. Falling asleep with someone snuggled warmly against my back and wrapped in someone's arms isn't the worst way to spend an early evening, after all.

I was confused at first when he started stroking my belly, but he knew I liked it, and I appreciated that he knew I was feeling bad and wanted me to feel better. I was confused when he pulled down my pants and underwear because I couldn't figure out what he was doing that for. But when I heard him taking off his underwear and realized he'd removed his pants even before getting into bed with me, after I'd said I didn't want to have sex, I felt a cold stab of fear deep in my belly, and I understood.

As much as I tried to move, to kick at him, even to open my mouth and scream, my body didn't do any of those things. I looked at my hand and couldn't will it to move. I felt so violated, and so ashamed. I didn't understand why he was doing what he did, knowing exactly that this isn't how I behave, that this isn't how I act. I couldn't understand why he would destroy our friendship over something as stupid as sex. 

I knew that I would never see him again, and I was so, so sad. I knew that I could never tell people that this had happened, because they would look at me and wonder why I didn't do anything to stop him, how this could happen to me again, what it was that I was doing to bring this on myself. I knew that no one would believe me, and that it wouldn't seem important, when we'd already had sex countless times. I wondered if I'd ever be able to forgive myself for climbing into the bed beside him, for going to his house knowing my drug would be wearing off, for not just telling him we were done over the phone, or over coffee, or any other day of my life but this one.

When he was finished and I was alone, I looked at the ceiling for what seemed like hours, and lost myself. I left knowing we'd never speak again, and it was the worst date ever. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

I Dreamed A Dream (And Remembered It!!!!)

I've always been jealous of people who have amazingly vivid dreams and then remember them, especially since I've been taking Effexor: it's one of those medications that can cause wild dreams, and I was kind of hoping that would happen to me. I don't doubt that I dream every night -- dreaming is something your brain does during certain phases of the sleep cycle. On occasion, I've even known that I've woken up from dreaming, or been awakened by a dream. But it's pretty rare for me to remember a dream even moments after I've just woken up, and I've always wished that wasn't true. So imagine my delight when I remembered this beauty that I woke up from the other day!

In my dream, we were all still living at my parents' house, and were in the process of getting ready to go somewhere. It was morning, and I must have been finished whatever I needed to do, because everyone else was doing stuff and I wasn't. I was looking out the window in my old room.

I could feel the earth rumbling beneath me, and hear sounds like explosions, like the earth shattering. I looked out the window, and in the distance I could see volcanoes exploding. The sky was filling with smoke, and I could see the fire pouring to earth. I felt a dull sense of dread and panic in my belly, and I was telling my family that we needed to hurry, that we needed to get out of there, but no one else was in a rush. I felt like no one was listening to me, that no one saw how dangerous the situation was, how we were all on the cusp of being consumed.

I went downstairs and put my hand on one of the external walls, and it was warm. I was totally convinced one of the volcanoes was close by and ready to explode. I kept pushing, telling everyone "let's go," until finally we were ready to head out to the car.

As soon as I stood outside, I saw a patch of dried lava in the front yard near the side of the house, near our neighbor's retaining wall, so right near the property line. The lava was oddly grey, and the patch was small, but I knew that I had been right. "You see," I told them, "there is it. I was right." I remember they were like "Where?" and I was like "Right there," and pointing right at it, but it was like they couldn't see it. My father was walking around the lawn, looking and looking, until he was practically right on top of it. And finally he was like, "Oh yeah, I see what you're talking about." So finally there was an acknowledgement that I wasn't delusional or seeing things that weren't there, but everyone was still acting like it wasn't a big deal.

I was telling them that we needed to leave, to get out now, that it was going to blow any minute, but my family was unconcerned. Finally we were getting in the car when my brother realized he'd forgotten some sort of important document. My father gave one of those long-suffering sighs he gives and told us to start heading down the hill away from the house while we went back for it, and that he'd meet up with us with the car. So we started walking quickly away, until suddenly we were at the bottom of the hill.

We were looking up toward the house, wondering when he was going to show up, when our house suddenly exploded, blowing violently outward and apart. I knew right away that my father was gone, but I didn't feel anything about it, not sad, or relieved, or anything. In that moment, everyone started to panic, and we all started to run. Objects and bits of things were flying through the air -- more like a movie about a tornado, really -- and my brother and I were dodging. I knew my mother can't run if her life depended on it (she just physically can't), but I wasn't looking back for her or thinking about her. I was just sticking by my brother, trying to make sure he got out of this alive.

Something was flying through the air toward us, and I knew it was the car from our house. It was coming toward us, too hard and too fast. We dodged, we ran, our lungs burned from the smoke in the air, and our eyes streamed from the fire breaking out of the earth in the distance. The car just missed me and hit my brother square in the back, and he was gone instantly.

And then I woke up.

I was like, holy shit I had a dream and I remembered it! Now what do I do? I felt sort of like the dog that finally catches the car.

Being me, I couldn't just leave it alone: dreams can be a treasure-trove of information, yes? I'm not saying that, like Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition, that dreams are a direct product of the unconscious mind shedding insight into repressed desires (dreams, and techniques like free-association, are particularly important tools for the analyst who proves to be terrible at hypnotism). But I am saying that the mind/brain is particularly adapted for finding patterns that make sense out of even random stimuli, so much so that we can perceive patterns where none exist as the brain tries to process dispirate and disjointed pieces of information. Even if neurons in the pons (a part of the brainstem) are firing randomly, that doesn't mean that the patterns the cerebral cortex uses to synthesize the information doesn't tell us anything about ourselves. It stands to reason that the brain is going to use patterns that are accessible, that fit into previous schemas and belief constructs, or that reinforce concepts we've already accepted.

Our mind can also challenge us, revealing ideas and patterns that we know are there but haven't consciously accepted. Sometimes, I find I really do have two ideas or two constructs that fundamentally contradict each other, or that I know on some level to be true, and I'm sure that's the case for lots of people: sometimes we don't notice the non-dominant one, or fail to pay attention to evidence that supports it, simply because our mind is using that as a strategy to reduce or avoid cognitive dissonance. It helps us go about the daily business of functioning. But it can be really unhelpful if the schema you're running around with is one that needs to change.

To make a long story short, I think dreams can be interesting and informative regardless of where we think they come from. And so: onwards with analyzing the crap out of it!

I think it's interesting that the events involved in the dream were events about explosion. That's often how I felt living in that house: that we were on top of something that was constantly simmering, constantly threatening to blow-up in some irreparable way. It was there beneath and behind everything we did. Obviously, that fear of explosion, of one thing too many or one day too much, causing a kind of violent destruction, is something I still think about, and also in some way know is inevitable. In the dream, I try to warn my family to escape, but already know there is nothing I can do to stop the volcano from happening because we are past the point of no return.

I think it's interesting that I was trying to tell my family something was wrong but no one was listening to me: there was no sense of alarm, no sense of having understood or believed what I said. Of course this reflects the reality of what it's like to live with my family. I keep saying over and over that things are not normal, not the way they're supposed to be, and my family either ignores me or tells me I'm basically delusional because everything is perfectly fine. In the end, everyone goes calmly about their routine while I stand alone, looking out the window watching the shape of our destruction.

I think it's interesting that, in the dream, everyone dies in the exploding volcano but me. On the face of it: this is the opposite of what actually happened: my family members are managing their lives pretty normally, whereas I am the one who has self-destructed with sudden and explosive violence. But in other ways that's not true. There are ways that they've been consumed by these patterns as something that just is true while I've had no choice but to try and desperately escape them. In the end, the net effect is the same: I am standing alone and the family I should have been able to rely on to weather the storm is absent.

I think it's interesting that the volcano I see on our front lawn is located on the property line, the boundary or limit that defines what belongs to whom, and beyond which you aren't supposed to go. There are major boundary issues in my family. I've spent most of my life confused about who and what I am to at least some extent, and as I think more about it I'm realizing that, given the circumstances of my life, maybe that's not such a surprise. My family has laid claim over my emotional and psychological life by telling me that my beliefs are stupid, that my emotions are wrong, that my memories are incorrect. I am porous, open to manipulation, the playground for other people's needs and perceptions. My boundaries have been violated by the people closest to me telling me my reality isn't real. My family has used their emotions and ideas inappropriately as well, using a lack of their own boundaries to try and blend the line between us and to create unhealthy relationships.

My family has laid claim over my space, time, and possessions, to the point that I could never be guaranteed privacy in my own room, or even in the bathroom. Nothing ever really belonged only to me, or was really mine -- not even my activities or decisions -- in a way that just wasn't true for the rest of my family members.

My family has laid claim over my body, saying things about my body and treating my body in ways that disregard any sense that I should have control over my own body, or even that my body belongs to me. My family has used their bodies to encroach on my space, to impose themselves on me, to make what should have been private to them into something public that pierces through my space. Suffice it to say, it doesn't come out of left field that the focal point of our destruction lies at the boundary of things.

I think it's interesting that the house is destroyed, and that I'm uncomfortable in it even before it blows up, because I don't have an archetypal image of "home" as a place that is comfortable, or stable, or safe. I think it's interesting that my father is the focal point of the explosion even though my mother is the more daily problem. I think it's interesting that she is the one telling us to take our time getting ready, to stick around, to be comfortable in a place that's about to kill us. I think it's interesting that I feel the heat from the outer wall in the basement, which I was always afraid of growing up.

I think it's interesting that I stay in the house as everyone takes their time instead of just running for it and saving myself. Because that's exactly what I did in real life, isn't it?

I think it's interesting that, when we finally do get out, I don't try to help my mother when it's time to run away. Over the years, I've had various dreams of having to save family members from our house as it burns, but I've never abandoned any of them before. But in this dream I absolutely know my mother can't help herself, but I easily turn my back on her and save myself instead. During the years I was in therapy with my original psychiatrist, we talked a few times about how I felt obligated to take care of my mother and needed to find a way to let go of that burden.

I think it's interesting that was trying to protect my brother, because that's something that was discussed, too. In the dream, I felt like I was trying to save us both. But I wasn't really, was I? We were just running side by side. In the end, I didn't throw myself in front of him, or push him out of the way, and take the blow of the projectile car myself. I dodged and lived.

I think maybe that's what I need to learn to do: to protect myself, really protect myself, without guilt or remorse. The reality is it all blew up and was consumed by fire. It happened. And I'm standing here, shaped and surrounded by those old patterns that tell me to go back into the flames, to keep standing still, to try and preserve everything the way it was. But being stuck in a house that's about to be consumed, constantly on edge, is no way to live.

I don't know exactly how to recover from barely escaping from an exploding volcano that swallowed my entire family. But I'm pretty sure it'll be a long and messy journey with scalding steam-vents along the way. And I'm certain that it will be a long time before I've gotten far enough away not to see the fire in the distance or smell the smoke clinging to my hair.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

This Halloween wasn't all about my costume (although my costume was pretty awesome because I basically dressed up as  health insurance processing joke). It wasn't about the cool prizes I put into a draw for my colleagues (although those candy bars were pretty nifty). It wasn't even about the teensy chocolate bars (although I did learn that waiting until the last minute means all the best minis will be sold out by the time you get to the store).

This year, Halloween was about my younger brother getting on an airplane and flying to the United States of America for true love. He's moved down there to live, in wedded bliss, forever.

I'm so, so happy for him. They truly are very well-matched.

People keep asking me if I'll miss him. And the thing is, we're not really that close. Oh sure, we have inside jokes, and the intimacy that comes with growing up in the same home with the same people, and being able to blackmail one another should the need ever arise. But my brother and I grew up to be very, very different people. The truth is, if we weren't related, I doubt we'd want to be friends.

He can be quite cruel, abusive even, in ridiculing people whose beliefs are different than his -- and that, of course, includes me. He has a way of keeping on going when he's clearly gone too far. He makes rape jokes in front of me all the time, as if it will ever be funny, or I'll ever want to hear it. He has said some of the cruelest things I've ever heard from anyone in my life: he has a way of figuring out people's vulnerabilities and cutting right to the quick. He's not really that interested in people who aren't directly relevant to him -- even people he's known for years. The outcome of other people's lives is largely a matter of indifference. Things roll off him in a way I can't imagine, and he seems to have a lot more inner-peace than I do because of it. Or maybe it's emptiness. Sometimes I really envy him, but the truth is I wouldn't want to be that person if it came down to making a choice about it.

Will I miss him? I will and I won't, if that makes any sense. I do know that I spent the week in between his goodbye dinner and his Halloween departure eating every piece of food in sight. This is unusual for me because, prior to the recovery period from this major depression, I've never done anything like that. The whole binge-eating thing has always been kind of a mystery, because I don't like eating that much to begin with. Yet here I am, eating (terrifyingly) large amounts of food to comfort myself, feeling out-of-control, So there must be something going on here, something more powerful than I realized.

At first I thought it must be that I was feeling bad because I was going to miss him a lot and I didn't know how to express that kind of emotion. But I thought about it a lot, and I think I was wrong. I think I'm feeling jealous that he gets to escape our family and I don't. I'm still here, and he's left me alone to be responsible for my parents. It won't be easy to ever miss a holiday if I'm their only option. I've seen them go to my father's parents every year because they're all alone otherwise, and I'm afraid of that happening to me. I feel like he's dropped all the responsibility for them onto me, and I'm not the kind of person who easily says no, even when it means protecting myself. I guess I've always felt he was selfish for making me be responsible for my mother but then never protecting me from her, and that now he's done it again, but on a much larger scale.

I guess my next life-lesson project should be working on convincing myself that I'm not responsible for anyone else but me! And that maybe -- maybe -- this is the time in my life to put myself first even if that means letting people down, and feeling less-than-perfect, less-than-enough, and learning to be okay with that.