Friday, February 28, 2014

What's Got Me Scared

I hate to use the word scared.  I hate admitting something frightens me.  It means a level of vulnerability that I try to deny I have.  I can admit when things make me nervous.  I can admit when I'm anxious.  But scared.  Scared is bigger.  Scared makes me feel like a little girl again.  A little girl in a big, mean world.

But I am scared.  I'm going to tell you why and it probably won't make sense to most of you.  But there will be a few who will totally get it.

I'm having intense pelvic pain again.  Last time it lasted almost two months.  So far this time, it's been a couple of weeks.  And it's been off and on in between those two major episodes.

Here's what I'm not afraid of.  I'm not afraid it's cancer.  It could be, but for some reason that's not really a fear I have.  I'm not afraid I'm going to die or anything.

I went to my doctor with this problem in October.  That's when I'd already been hurting for a month.  He did an exam, a pap smear, and ordered an ultrasound.  When nothing showed he suggested that I see a gynecologist.

I know it's possible that it's something non-female-problem related.  It could be intestinal.  Let me tell you why I don't think it is.  It feels like I have a rock in place of my uterus.

As a woman, I went years and years without being aware of my uterus or being able to feel it inside me unless I was cramping during my period.  I mean, how often are you aware of your pancreas or your liver?  Can you feel them?  Would you know if they hurt?  So I understand when my husband says, "How do you know it's your uterus?"  And, seriously, sometimes intestinal cramping and uterine cramping feel a lot alike.

But after going through labor, my awareness of my uterus increased quite a bit.  I remember when it tightened and felt like a boulder inside me.  And this feels kind of like that.  On a much smaller scale, of course.

And then there are the twinges in my ovaries.  Again, how can I know that's what's twinging?  Well, let me tell you.  If you've ever been to the doctor and said you think your ovaries are hurting this is what he/she will do.  He (because my doctor is a he) will have you lie down and will palpate (which means push around on) your abdomen.  And when he pushes in a certain spot and you practically jump off the table and he says, "Yep.  It's your ovary." then you remember that.  From then on, when it hurts, you know what's hurting.

And, yes, at my exam he palpated my abdomen and confirmed that it was my uterus and ovaries that were hurting.  (And let me just tell you, they hurt a lot worse for a while after someone pushes on them repeatedly.)

So I'm not completely ruling out something else, but I'm pretty sure it's my internal girl parts that are causing me so much pain.

My primary care physician thinks it's probably endometriosis.

Well, you know what happens when a doctor tells you they think you have such and such.  You start researching such and such until you see the specialist.

Endometriosis isn't something incredibly dangerous.  It won't kill me.  The worst side effects are pain and infertility.  And since I'm done using my fertility I don't mind if that goes away.  And I already have the pain.

So why am I scared?

I am scared because I read up on how they treat and diagnose it.  Often they use hormones to reduce the symptoms.  Well, I am incredibly sensitive to hormonal changes of any kind.  I've had PMS since my first menstrual cycle at fourteen.  I've been on birth control pills a few times in my life and had horrible results.  They either make me homicidal or suicidal or a bit of both.  Having just come through a nasty mental prison, I'm not anxious to go back there.  One of the treatments if they do find endometriosis and it's severe is a complete hysterectomy. 

Again, I'm done with those parts so I wouldn't mind giving them up.  Except for the whole hormone thing.  It's called surgical menopause because the surgery instantly does what is supposed to take a woman's body years to complete.  If small hormonal changes like my natural cycle and birth control pills can send me out of whack, just think about what surgical menopause could do.  And it's not like we can change our minds afterward and say, "This isn't working.  Let's put it all back."

So there are those issues.  But still those aren't my biggest fears.

My biggest fears are these:  sedation and no answers. 

The only way to confirm endometriosis is through surgery.  Laparoscopic these days, but still full sedation.  The surgery doesn't scare me.  Being put under terrifies me.  Not for the typical, "What if I don't wake up?" reason.  Sedation terrifies me because I will have no control over what is done to my body.  I have a history of sexual assault.  Things were done to my body without my permission.  At least once it happened when I was asleep.  This is when I became a light sleeper.  Being aware of and in control of what happens to my body is very important to me.  It's not that I don't trust the medical personnel.  They have no reason to hurt me.  But giving up that control just doesn't feel safe to me at all.  It terrifies me.

And I fear that after all of the tests and possible surgery, they won't find evidence of anything wrong with me.  It will be another time that we've spent lots of money and caused lots of worry for nothing.  Another time that the people around me wonder if I'm faking it.  If I'm just a big baby.  Another time when I doubt myself and wonder if everything really is all in my head.  Another time I hurt so badly but can't say why.  Another time of feeling embarrassed because I'm such an idiot who can't handle a few of the twinges that are normal in life.

But I can't just not get it checked.  Because it could be something else.  It could be something serious.  I can't take that chance.

I see the gynecologist on Monday.  Your prayers and happy thoughts are welcome.  Again.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Few Recent ZIA Pieces

In order for something to be called a Zentangle, it has to stick to the basic formula.  On a 3.5" tile, black and white only, true Zentangle patterns (not intended to look like anything or really have a right side up).

Most of what I do (and much of what shows up in a Zentangle search) is actually Zentangle Inspired Art (ZIA).

I haven't felt up to writing, but I've been drawing some.  Here are a few of my recent ZIA pieces, all on 8.5" x 11" linen paper.

I asked my son (17) to tag this wall and then cleaned it up a bit and added details.  It was fun to include him on my project and he did an awesome job!

I was going for a stained glass feel with this one.  I really like the way it turned out.  Unfortunately, now I'm having trouble deciding what to do with the sections.  I like it so much the way it is; I don't want to mess it up.  Some day inspiration will strike and I will finish it.  Inspiration always strikes eventually.
One of my favorite patterns is Widgets.  I've used it a lot.  It's usually small and used to fill a space.  For this piece I used the Widgets shapes as the design to fill.  It was fun to work with them on a larger scale.
I sometimes struggle to leave edges open, without solid borders drawn in pen.  This was an exercise for that.  I used pencil to lightly draw outlines for the petal shapes (just the sides, I left the tops open).  I used different grid-based patterns because I've found myself steering away from them and felt like I needed to practice.  I tried to let the grid hit the edge in such a way that when I removed the pencil line it would just feel like the shape ended naturally instead of being contained with a border.  I like the difference.  I'll have to try this more often.
This one was by far the most time consuming (I just might have stayed up until three in the morning with an obsessive need to finish it), but was also super fun.  The globe idea was inspired by a piece by Erin at The Bright Owl.  I saw it months ago and have wanted to try it ever since.  Again, I tried the no-actual-border-line thing.  The shading creates the border and helps the circle become a sphere.  My daughter said it reminds her of art from people on drugs, like The Yellow Submarine movie.  Art that looks like I was stoned?  Hm. Not sure if that's a compliment, but she captured the feel of the craziness of the background.  I'm kind of picturing it in psychedelic colors now in my head.  Far out, man.
And that's what I've been doing lately.  I'm feeling much better.  Oh, so much better.  I'm still having some anxiety moments and hurting a lot, but I feel like myself again.  Everything is easier when my brain and I get along.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Husband's Zentangle Inspired Art -- and a Valentine!

When I first started doing Zentangle art I was surprised at how simple it could be.  I remember thinking, "Anyone could do this.  Well, anyone except Bill because he can't draw a straight line."  I love him and he's very good at many things, just not anything that has to do with pen and paper.

Imagine my surprise when he came home from work one day and told me that he'd found himself doodling while waiting for something to process at work and wondered if I could teach him to tangle.  What?  Really?

I tried not to let my skepticism show about his chances of success.  "It doesn't matter if it's any good,"  I thought.  "As long as he enjoys it."  Did I believe that?  Kind of.  But I'm a bit of a perfectionist and knew I might be very judgmental of his efforts.  And, honestly, at first I was.

It wasn't simple for him.  His lines were shaky.  He made up weird patterns.  And if you compared it to mine it looked kind of childish.  But that's not what art is.  It's not about everything being the same.  It's not about things being straight and exact.  It's about expressing yourself.

His style is very different from mine.  He isn't as precise (which I know sometimes bothers him).  But he is willing to take chances and jump right in -- yes, like a child.  He enjoys it.  He is proud of it.  And so am I.

I am surprised at how much happiness it brings him.  I am surprised he's stuck with it.  And I am impressed with the progress he's made.

And today, Valentine's Day, he impressed me again.

I am a minimalist.  I don't like things.  I don't want to receive stuff.  Holidays are tough for me because people always want to give me things and I have to pretend to be glad they did when I'm really just thinking, "Oh, great.  More stuff."  (Except for cookies or homemade bread or something like that; those are always welcome -- yum!)

So today when he told me he had a surprise for me for Valentine's Day, I was trying to prepare myself.  Be nice.  Be grateful.  Fake it.  Remember it's from his heart.  Even though you've told him a million times you don't want more stuff.  This is how he shows love; try not to stomp on it (like I have so many times before).

As it turns out, I didn't have to pretend to like it or pretend to be grateful.  Because he made me a tangle!  He knew I didn't want stuff.  He wanted to do something for me, to show his love.  It was perfect.  He used tangle patterns I love.  He used blue and green (his favorite color and mine) to make it represent both of us together.  He even included a Star Trek insignia (inverted) because I love Star Trek.

It was wonderful and sweet and I love him for the effort he put forth and for showing through his offering that he knows me for real. 

So, as my Valentine's Day gift to him, I want to share his art on my blog.  Starting with his valentine.

Isn't it sweet?
His first piece, as he learned the patterns.
He was going for a space theme.  I think he nailed it!
His mountain landscape.
Here's the deal.  Valentine's Day isn't a holiday I particularly care for.  It's another day with too many expectations.  It's another day that makes too many people feel bad.  And the world's idea of romance is cheesy and shallow to me.

But if we want to boil it down to its simplest form, it's about making sure the people we love know we love them.  And his gift to me did that.

It was a good Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

When God Isn't There

All my life I've felt God's presence near.  From the time I was a small child, as young as I can remember, I knew He was there.  As clearly as I can feel it when someone is standing behind my chair, I knew God was with me.  I knew He had my back.

I didn't do anything to seek Him out or work to have Him near.  It was just a gift.  It was a part of me.  Just the way I was made, like my green eyes.  Just who I am.

I think sometimes when we have gifts (of spirituality or intellect or athletic ability or whatever) we have difficulty understanding why those things are harder for other people.  Sometimes to the point of arrogance.  "They could do this, too, if they really tried."  Something like that.

I can admit I sometimes had that problem with my gift.

It was like I could see something standing right before both of us but you couldn't see it and I thought you just weren't looking hard enough.

As a child I didn't know not everyone experienced it.  As children do, I assumed everyone was like me.  I was often confused at the things people chose to do and say, wondering how they could do those things when God was so near. 

As I grew, I heard people describe their search for God.  What?  Um.  He's just there.  Why do you have to search?  I really couldn't wrap my brain around it.

Then I had long, gut-wrenching conversations with people who said they'd never felt God in their lives.  They'd never felt His love for them.  And, honestly, I wondered what they were doing wrong.  What gospel truth were they missing?  What were they neglecting?  These were good people; why couldn't they feel Him?  Why didn't they know Him?

Because He's just there.  Until He isn't.

A little over a month ago, when I got slammed with whatever mental health bomb hit me, I noticed I couldn't feel Him anymore.  He wasn't there.  I couldn't connect.  I didn't understand why.  I tried to reach out.  I tried all the things that have ever brought me closer to God in the past.  Nothing.

I didn't doubt He was still there.  I've had too much evidence in my life to the contrary.  I didn't believe He had pulled away and was refusing me.  I know too much about His nature to believe that.  But for whatever reason, I could no longer connect to God.  I was alone in a way I'd never been before.

It was such an awful state to be.  It hurt.  It was scary.  It was lonely.  It was traumatic.  It made my heart ache.

At first I just thought of myself.  I floundered like someone drowning, splashing and flailing trying to stay alive.  Trying to want to stay in this world that had suddenly become so dark.

Eventually I thought of others.  I sought for what this could teach me.  I questioned all those judgments I'd made throughout my life.

I had done nothing wrong, but I couldn't connect to God.  I was doing everything possible to find Him again, but I still couldn't do it.  Maybe the same was true for the people I'd judged.  Misjudged.

That was last night.  I started letting myself feel what others have felt without being afraid of it.  Without trying to make it stop.  I wanted to let it teach me what it could.  And when I prayed before bed last night (which has been very different and much more difficult without feeling connected to God) I accepted it.  I told God I didn't know if this was an assignment or just a coincidence, but I was willing to accept it and learn what He'd have me learn from it.  I spent last night and today trying to feel what all those people feel who haven't felt God.

I can still only guess.  Even when it was all so dark, I had my past experience to rely on.  I had my testimony through experience to assure me He was there even if I couldn't feel Him.  I had my understanding of His nature to let me know He still loved me and would watch over me even if I wasn't aware of it.  And even with all of that, it was terrifying.

I can't imagine how anyone gets through this life without knowing God is there and loves them and watches over them.  I just can't process it.  But I have a glimpse.  And I am so sorry for all the times I've judged people as unworthy or unwilling to try.  I was so wrong.

I don't know why I had this experience.  It wasn't the medication because it started before I took anything.  I don't know if it was caused by the anxiety and depression or if it was the other way around.  Maybe they were triggered by the loss of God.

Tonight, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought about how lonely I've been without God.  I pondered on what I've learned.  I knew I had to write this post.

And as soon as I committed to write this post, His love came rushing back.  I was flooded with it.  Surrounded and overwhelmed.  Soon I was on my knees, sobbing, thanking Him.  Thanking Him for what I'd learned, but mostly for allowing me to be in His presence again.  To have Him with me.  He reminded me of our previous conversation, "You can't do the work I need you to do if you feel better."  I remembered accepting that assignment.  I reaffirmed my acceptance of it.  I will go through what He needs me to in order to do what He needs me to do.

I don't know if my latest mental health episode is over, but right now I feel peace.  So much peace it is almost overpowering.  And I am so grateful for it.

I know there are those of you reading this who haven't felt His love.  It makes me sad.  I don't know how you will find Him.  But I offer you my experience that maybe you can rely on it until you have your own.

God is real.  He loves you.  He is aware of you and your struggles.  He will reach out to you, in whatever way is best for you.  Watch for it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Like a Broken Vessel

I needed this today.

This is a beautiful, powerful, and much needed message from a prophet of God about depression.  I believe there is strength and truth in this message for anyone who struggles with depression or loves someone who does, regardless of your chosen religion. 

It hurts.  And it's hard.  And sometimes you feel like a failure who should be stronger.  But having someone acknowledge how difficult it is and that it's a serious illness and not a sign of weakness or sin helps.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Health Update of Sorts

Ugh!  I wish I could just say that and it would communicate all I need to say so I could be done.  But it doesn't.  It's taken me so long to update because things still feel so undetermined and it's so hard to do.  But it's important, so I will.

I'm still not leaving my house much.  Many people in my life are aware of what I'm going through and worried about me.  And it's so difficult to communicate in person, so I'll try to do it this way.

I'm not sure what I've told whom so I'll do a short recap.

I've been in a bad way since about the beginning of the year.  Not really depression, although that's certainly an element.  Severe anxiety, but beyond that.  Such emotional pain that it's manifesting physically.  And being with people hurts.

When I met with my therapist, we tried to find a psychological cause.  Was it connected to the trauma work we've done or something else that came up recently?  Not that we could find.  It doesn't feel that way this time.  It feels physically based.

We came up with a couple things to try.  I went home, tried those things for a week, and returned to see my therapist in just as bad a state as before.  He'd been worried about me.  We talked about what helped and what didn't.  I could tell after my recap and a few questions from him, at about twenty minutes into our session, he had no idea what else to do.  I suggested a different approach medication-wise.  He liked it.  We discussed why.  My idea was to take a lower dose of medication more often.  The idea was to retrain my body back to what it's supposed to feel like.  To calm my neurological system and hold it there for a week or two to help it find my homeostasis again.  And part of this plan was that when the medication helped and I felt better I needed to engage in healthy self-care activities.  If I felt good, I was supposed to do things that have helped me psychologically in the past.  And I needed to go to the doctor to get a different prescription in order to try this.  My therapist asked how long until my next appointment.  Two weeks.  He said if things got worse to call him; two weeks is too long this time.  I said I would, knowing that if things got much worse I wouldn't be able to.  But I would do my best.

I went to the doctor a couple days later.  I love my current Primary Care Physician.  I feel like he really listens and wants to help me feel better.  I read him the part of my blog that described what I'd been feeling (which he said he really appreciated because it helped him understand).  I told him about my visit with my therapist and what we wanted to try.  And then I asked for a lower prescription and for just seven pills.

Apparently, he doesn't often get asked for a lower dose or fewer pills.  It's usually the opposite.

He said he was willing to go that route, but there might be a better way.  He suggested a different anti-anxiety medication, one that was longer-acting.  He also suggested an anti-depressant I haven't tried before (I've tried many and none have worked, except to sometimes make me worse).  I told him I wanted to try what my therapist and I had agreed on first.  If it didn't work, I'd be willing to try the other.

One thing that both he and my therapist pointed out is that I shouldn't continue to hurt so much just because I am afraid of becoming an addict (which I am afraid of because addiction runs in my family).  They said it's their job to keep that from happening.  I need to worry about feeling better.  It's not okay for me to remain in this state.  (My therapist pointed out that not stopping the pain when I can is still a form of self-harm, which I have a history of).

So I tried the approach my therapist and I agreed on.  It helped take the edge off, but didn't really calm me.  And it didn't last more than a few hours.  I tried it for four days.  It was just absolutely not working.  I called my therapist and told him what my doctor had suggested and asked how he felt about it.  He said to go ahead and try the longer-acting anti-anxiety medicine the doctor had recommended and we'd discuss the anti-depressant when I saw him again.

I contacted my doctor and asked him for the meds he'd suggested, which I got.  That was Tuesday.  Now it's Friday.  How are things going?

I wish I could say wonderful, but they're not.  Before all of this the anxiety and pain was horrendous about 80-90% of my day, with a few moments of okay.  That's reversed some.  I am settled enough to be with people about 70% of the day, even though there is still an underlying anxiety.  It's not as painful, but not really joyful.  Still a lot of worry about everything.  I still have trouble separating myself from the emotions of others.  I still cry for almost no reason.  And now I have the side effects of the medication.

I've been having nightmares recently.  I'm less mentally clear.  I get a rebound headache every evening; last night's was horrible.  I feel unsettled within my skin (yeah, sorry I can't be more clear on that).  And I still have moments with waves of anxiety that seem to come from nowhere.

I'm trying to do my part.  I'm sleeping more (lots more because of how tired the medication makes me).  I'm trying to remember to eat, although that one's gotten worse on this medication.  And I'm trying to connect with others.  But that's hard.

I went to book club last night, because I felt like that would be what my therapist would want me to do.  I enjoyed listening to the discussion, but didn't participate much.  It was kind of hard to be in a room with that many people.  And I'm sure it was hard for people to have me there.  I am usually very participatory at book club, contributing a lot to the conversation.  Not last night.  Last night I was mostly silent.  That's a big red flag to my friends that I am not okay.  Maybe I shouldn't have gone.  I feel bad that I made people worry.

My husband is checking in with me regularly because I asked him to.  Any medication with a sedative effect tends to throw me into a deep depression after a few days or weeks.  I need help recognizing that because I am usually so deep before I notice that I no longer care to do anything about it.

Right now I'm playing a wait and see game.  I'm still taking the meds my doctor prescribed.  I'm hoping some of the negative side effects will wear off as my body acclimates.  And that it will do so before I'm lost in the darkness again.  I'm trying to do things that make me happy when I can, but I'm so tired. 

I love the Olympics.  I'm hoping they help.

I know this wasn't much of an update, but it's the best I've got to offer right now.