Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why I Asked for Support

A few days ago I wrote a post explaining that I was in a dark and difficult place and asking for prayers and happy thoughts in my behalf.  I am so grateful to everyone who responded and all those who offered prayers, happy thoughts, positive energy, and love.  I believe greatly in the power of all of these.  I have felt lifted in so many ways.  While I do not believe I am out of the woods just yet, I am improved.

It was a rough month.  Two back to back episodes of PTSD followed by a major depression, all while experiencing a new health struggle.  It was a seriously dark place I was in.  And, as is the nature of depression, it was a little too comfortable.

But there was a tickling in the back of my mind that said, "It doesn't have to be this way.  You can be happy.  You like being happy."  All of those things are difficult to remember when I'm in that dark place.

And asking for help was hard.  I grew up in a home where we were taught fierce independence.  We help others.  We don't need help.  We don't discuss our problems with others.  We don't complain.  We suck it up and get back to work.  We push through it.  I lived that way for many years.

That way is a lie!  I want to scream it from the rooftops.  That is not what this life is meant to be!  In our society, independence is praised and revered.  But independence is only a stepping stone.  True mental health is interdependence.  This needs to be said more.  This needs to be taught in our schools and homes and churches.  True mental health (and spiritual health) is interdependence.  Interdependence means we do everything for ourselves that we possibly can and ask for help when we need it.  It means we know enough to see when we're over our heads or in unfamiliar territory.  And we ask for help for those things we can't do for ourselves.

As a religious person, I believe that independence is a beautiful lie to keep us from relying on God and turning to each other.  A lie focused on the importance of self.  I believe we are meant to be interdependent with our fellow man AND with God, not just one or the other.

One strong person can do a lot.  Many strong people, interconnected, can change the world!  No wonder the powers of evil want to stop it.

Those are the underlying reasons I asked for help.  Mostly it was because I was in such a bad way and needed to feel the strength of others.  I needed to not feel so alone.  I needed to see the goodness of the incredible people in my life (including my cyber-life).

And it was because I want to practice what I preach.  I want to know when my friends and family are struggling.  I want to be a support to them.  I want to pray for them.  I want to reach out to them.  I want to tell them I love them when they need it the most.  I want to hurt with them.  I want to cry for them.  And I can't do any of those things if I don't know they are not okay.

It would be hypocritical of me to ask others to tell me when their world is dark if I am not willing to do the same.

My world is brighter today.  My burden is lighter.  Because of the light and strength offered freely by others.  Thank you so much for that.  And thank you to those who open their hearts and share with me when they aren't okay.  You are brave and strong and I am better for the time we have together.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Dark and Difficult Place

It can be tough to admit when I am not okay.  Right now I am not okay.  I am in a dark and difficult place and have been for quite some time.

So I am asking this from my heart.  If you read this and are a religious person, would you please offer a prayer in my behalf?  If you're not religious, maybe send some happy thoughts my way.  It would mean a lot to me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

PTSD and Me

I have a guest post up over at Real Intent about what my life is like with PTSD.  Please pop over and read it.  It's important.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When Your Heart Hurts

It's Valentine's Day, so I guess it's the right time to talk about my recent heart scare.  More frustrating than scary, but there's always an element of fear when you know you need to go to the emergency room.

It's safe to say that I've been in a period of high stress these last too weeks, primarily driven by a PTSD episode triggered by a book club discussion I shouldn't have attended.  Two weeks of fear, sobbing, pain, a desire to hide, a desire to hurt myself, an inability to care about or even notice obligations and people around me.  Walking through life like an automaton.  Going through the motions but often not being fully present.  Desperately waiting for my appointment with my therapist.

About a week into this, my chest started hurting.  Not terribly.  Not sharply.  But it hurt.  Being the pain foolish person I can sometimes be, I ignored it as best I could.  It didn't seem bad.  I didn't have time for this.  I was sure it was nothing.  But it was kind of always there.  Sometimes worse, sometimes better.

Until last Saturday.  The day started out well.  No big plans.  It was a relaxing day and my stress levels were pretty good.  I knew I would be seeing my therapist Monday; that was a relief.  My annual physical was also scheduled for Monday so I'd talk to the doctor about the chest pains then.

But no.  My body decided otherwise.  By the afternoon my chest was hurting so badly I could hardly do anything.  My hands were shaking so badly I couldn't write.  I looked up the symptoms of a heart attack and found several that kind of fit.  Plus, there's that whole scare factor of knowing my cousin had a major heart attack a couple years ago at age 55.  I'm 43 and not in the best of health.

So after getting several things prepped for my kids for the next few days in case I was in the hospital, I went to my husband and told him I needed to go to the ER.  I didn't think it was anything serious, but felt like it needed to be checked out.  He blinked a couple times, he'd been napping, and tried to process what I was telling him.  A few minutes later we headed out, telling the kids (ages 14-22) that we were running errands (yeah, we got in trouble with them for that later).

The ER was slow that day so I felt a bit too well attended.  (One of the reasons I didn't want to go to the ER is because I hate being the center of attention.)  As they questioned me and took my vitals, my husband checked me in.  My heart rate was 115 (usually in the 70s) and my blood pressure was 158/80 (usually about 110/60).  The blood pressure number scared me.  It's never even been close to that.

They get me back to a room.  Lots of people in and out asking questions.  Me feeling stupid, knowing it's going to turn out to be nothing.

They draw blood and start an IV (in my hand because they couldn't get the vein in my arm).  They put on a blood pressure cuff that runs automatically every so often.  They do an EKG.  They take a chest x-ray.  They think it's an anxiety attack (especially after noticing that I'm on anti-anxiety meds and seeing the scars on my arms).  They ask if I've been diagnosed with anxiety.  I haven't, but I have been diagnosed with PTSD, which I tell them.

But just in case, they give me four baby aspirin to chew and some nitroglycerin under my tongue.  Shortly thereafter I feel like my head is going to explode (a side effect of the nitro) and I'm going to throw up (possibly also a side effect of the nitro).  They give me something in my IV for the nausea.  By this point my heart rate had calmed down to a nice 76ish range and my blood pressure was back down to the 110/60 range.  The labs and x-ray are back and they look good.  They are getting ready to send me home.

And then I get cold and start shaking.  Bad.  One blanket.  Then my coat over me.  Then another blanket.  Then my husband's coat.  I'm still shaking uncontrollably.  Soon I'm roasting but still shaking.  We start peeling the coats and blankets off.  The shaking won't stop.  The nurse checks in.  My husband points out that I'm shaking.  I tell the nurse I'm not cold but can't stop shaking.  My heart rate has gone back up to the 112 range and my blood pressure is back up.  He says, "Hm" and goes to talk to the doctor.  I've now been shaking uncontrollably for about twenty minutes for no discernible reason (my muscles are hurting from all the shaking).  The nurse comes in and gives me a shot of Ativan through my IV (it's like Valium).  He waits a minute.  Still shaking.  He gives me another.  Still shaking.  He goes to talk to the doctor again.  About ten minutes later they come back, find me still shaking, and give me two more shots of Ativan (4 mgs. total now).  Boy, am I getting sleepy at this point.  Finally the shaking stops. 

All the test results are good. My heart rate and blood pressure are back down.  So it's time to send me home (although it's tough to walk now after all that Ativan).  The doctor still thinks it's anxiety.  Just in case, he sends me home with a prescription for Prilosec (in case it's acid reflux), an order for a stress test, and instructions to take an aspirin every day.

The PTSD got better after my extra-long therapy session.  Everything went well at my physical.  I did the stress test yesterday (the EKG looked good, but a cardiologist has to look at it and the images they took of the blood flow in my heart before we really know anything).

And my chest still hurts.  I should be relieved that they didn't find anything wrong with my heart.  I guess I am a bit.  But mostly I am frustrated and depressed.  I see all these expensive tests and still no answers or relief.  One more thing that hurts with no explanation.  Like I needed another one of those.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Any Man of Mine

For the first thirty-five years or so of my life I let other people do most of the choosing for me.  They dictated the kind of person I should be.  They told me the things I should like.  They told me what behavior was appropriate and what wasn't.  And I fell into line. 

The reasons why are numerous.  I wish I'd realized earlier that I had choices.

It was around age 35 that I first went to therapy.  Again, the reasons why are numerous.  It was a life saver in a very real sense.  And it was there that I learned I can choose.  If I don't like something about my life I can choose to change it.  I can choose things that make me happy even if the people around me don't like it.  It was a rebirth.  I was deciding who I was for the first time.

It was an incredibly empowering time.  But there were still difficulties.  I had to learn and develop ways to get through those difficult times.  Those people who'd had control over me for so long didn't give that up easily.  My tendency to surrender to their will and be bullied into submission didn't go away after one session -- not even after many sessions. 

New habits and thinking patterns are hard.  It takes time and a lot of work to change who you are, whether you like who you were or not.  And, unfortunately, I couldn't convince my therapist to travel everywhere with me and give me the little nudges I needed in the tough moments.  The moments in between sessions were killers.

That was kind of the long way to tell you about my Power Songs.  I found various things that kept me empowered between sessions, and my Power Songs were some of the best.  Three cds of very personal songs that helped me remember what I wanted and why I was working so hard and that it would all be worth it.

One of those songs was Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine."  It felt very empowering.  It felt full of self-determination.  It was all about teaching people how you want to be treated, which is a big deal in therapy.

My husband mostly loved my Power Songs.  He (eventually) supported the changes I wanted to make and the new person I was becoming.  He would sing with me when I played my Power Songs.  Except that song.  He hated it.

I assumed it was because it was country.  I'm a fan; he's not.  But when I asked him why he said something along the lines of, "Have you listened to how it talks about men?"

I'm gonna tell you all the truth.  How it talked about men hadn't ever crossed my mind.  Those first stages of therapy were incredibly selfish times.  They had to be.  But it meant that I was so worried about how I was treated that I didn't consider how he was treated.

The song basically says a woman can behave any way she wants and the man better shut up and love it and behave the way she wants.  He better tow the line.

It's often what our society teaches.  It's what my mother modeled.  I believe it's a leftover from the feminist movement of the seventies.  It's the old story of the oppressed rising up and oppressing their oppressors.

But it's not healthy.  It's not good for us as women either.  It's just bullying in a different form.

Learning to treat each other with respect has been a steep, uphill climb for both of us.  Neither of us was taught this growing up.  It wasn't modeled in our homes.  Sarcasm and emotional manipulation and bullying are the languages we learned.  Teaching him how I wanted to be treated was only half of the solution.  Learning how he wanted to be treated was equally important. 

Over time I've learned that the most empowering relationship, the most healthy relationship, is one of mutual respect.  One that makes each person feel valued.  One that's not all about me or all about him but about us.  As a unit and individually.  We matter.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Just kind of BLAH

I'd love to write something deep today.  Something that will be life altering for you or for me.  But it's not going to happen.

I've got lots of incredibly wise topics to discuss.  I'm sure I'd have brilliant insights too.  But not now.

Today is BLAH.  Just there.  Today is.

My head hurts.  I've got blurry vision.  I'm dizzy.  I'm cranky.  And I'm still dealing with a rather severe PTSD episode.  Next time I'll listen when I'm told not to attend something I know could be dangerous for me.  At least I hope I will.

But for now I'll get out of bed.  Maybe even get dressed.  Try to find something I can stomach to eat.  Referee my teenagers who really need to get out and do something instead of sitting next to each other on the couch and arguing about who took who's spot and whose turn it is on the wii and why they don't have to share a pizza.

And then kick them all off and watch Groundhog Day.  Maybe twice.  Because it's Groundhog Day.