Thursday, December 12, 2019

When Realization Dawns

I often do a lot of thinking in my sleep. I get my best ideas, have the strangest thoughts, and maybe most importantly, have the biggest epiphanies. This morning was no different. As I was in my subconscious slumber, a big epiphany occurred to me - I've always taken care of other people; I've never really taken care of myself. I was a bit confused by this thought when I came to. But when I started to actually analyze what I was thinking, I realized this was all true. 

As a child, I was placed into the caregiver role without the real knowledge that this is what was happening. It started out with looking out for my parents, moved to taking care of my sisters, and then taking care of my first husband. As a survivor of domestic violence, it took me three abusive relationships to learn how to break the cycle of being in abusive relationships. Yet, it didn't teach me how to take care of myself. 

You start out taking care of someone because you think it is the right thing to do. You think it is the best thing to do. But the more you do it, the more it becomes expected. Then you start taking on more responsibilities. And they let you. This creates codependency. And I've learned that codependency can be a dirty word. It can also be a form of manipulation. All of the empty promises to help, to be there, to change...often people will tell you that it's okay to take care of yourself, but then get upset when you try because taking care of yourself requires time away from taking care of them. 

I thought that because I had broken the cycle of abusive relationships, that I had also learned how to be part of an equal partnership. What I didn't take into account is the other half of that partnership. And then comes that dirty word...codependency. But when I look at my life as a whole, I see much more than just one example. I see dozens. I take care of my friends when they need help or just need to talk. I'm always asking how I can help. I'm always saying I'm here to listen (and I am). I'm always thinking about ways to lift people's spirits. I'm always listening to people vent. I'm always looking for ways to volunteer to help those in need. The problem with this is that I often find it is not reciprocated. Or that this leaves me with no time to give to myself. I've taken on this role of wife, mother, child, sister, friend, caretaker, doctor, nurse, therapist, accountant, personal assistant...the list goes on.

I thought I had learned something. After all, I had started to get comfortable taking myself places, doing things alone, spending quiet time - oh wait, I'm autistic. I already did that. But I haven't really accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I have big dreams for myself. And the more I get stuck in this role of being the caregiver for everyone else, the more I see those dreams fading away. People rely on me. And I rely on me. Only, I can't rely on me anymore because there's no room. And for the first time, I'm angry about it. I'm angry because I don't want to be a caregiver of everyone else anymore. I'm angry because I didn't choose this path for myself, but rather have been forced into it. I'm angry because as an autistic person, I have a difficult time understanding people's motives and that often leaves me in this codependency spot with little to no wiggle room. I'm angry because for once, I want to do something for me and I can't unless I let go - of everything. And perhaps I'm also angry at myself for not seeing the signs (which is hard for me to do), for not learning that taking care of myself is most important, for feeling like taking care of myself would be selfish (which is unacceptable to a lot of people). I'm angry for not saying no, for not taking someone at their word (especially when they say they didn't mean what they said), for not believing what people show me about who they are...

And for the first time, I'm seriously contemplating what life might look like if I were just a bit more selfish, a bit less available to people, a bit more free. I know I would piss some people off. I know I would have to let go of some people. But how much more happy would I be? How much more peaceful? Is the price I'm paying now worth continuing on this path? What would it look like if I just let go?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Today I was vulnerable. Not to say that I'm never vulnerable, but today I was vulnerable in front of my dad. I didn't realize how much it bothered me to be vulnerable in front of other people until that moment when my dad knocked on my door and came in to find me lying in bed. It was the middle of the day. Now I know a grown woman shouldn't care if she's in bed in the middle of the day (since I'm allowed to choose that), but the real problem is that it causes me to admit that I'm sick. And after he left the room, the tears started coming.

I'm sick. Every day, I'm sick. 24/7 - 365 days a year. And I'll never get better because there is no cure for one of my illnesses. Some days, it shows that I'm sick. Some days, it doesn't show on the outside, but I certainly feel it on the inside. And once those tears started coming, I had to remind myself that it's okay for me to not feel well. It's okay for me to rest. It's okay for me to take a timeout from life to take care of myself.

I've been utterly exhausted. I've had horrible insomnia which finally led to my body being so tired that I could barely stand. On top of that, it aggravates my orthostatic hypotension which meant more dizziness for me. But what is it about being vulnerable that's so hard other than admitting I'm sick? I'm beginning to realize it's this crazy idea that other people think I'm strong. They think I always land on my feet and figure it out. I find this completely laughable because I can count on one hand how many times I've actually felt strong. And normally, I land on my face - not my feet. I'm just good at getting up, dusting myself off, and hoping no one else saw. I'm good at hiding my vulnerability. Even my therapist thinks so. Being autistic only makes this more so.

Most of the time, I don't really like people to see me as weak because then they don't take me seriously, but I DO want people to see me as human. We all need someone to talk to, to lean on, to cry to, to catch us when we fall, and to simply see that we can't always be strong. I guess this is why I try to let people know I'm here to listen if they need to talk. I try to encourage others. But sometimes I'm so tired or stressed out that I can barely be there for myself. Pair that with the anxiety and depression that comes with my autism and I'm one hot mess!

But look, if you take nothing else away from this blog post, at least take this - it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to rest. It's okay to leave the chores for a day. It's okay to hire a babysitter so you can get some you time. It's okay to be sick. No one should ever feel like they have to compromise these things for fear of being vulnerable, looking weak, or letting anyone down. You matter. And the only person who will truly treat you that way is yourself.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Life and Autism

It's been awhile since my last post and all I can say is that there's been too much and I just didn't have the words. Not that I do now, but I will try to have it make sense. I'm technically a Las Vegas girl now, but Seattle will always have a small piece of my heart, so the name of this blog stays. I've only been back in the desert for a month and I am still acclimating. But I feel like this year has been one big rollercoaster ride.

It's no secret that I'm autistic. I've been pretty verbal about that because my therapist said I was very good at covering up what I struggle with and not good enough at asking for what I need. I'm still not good at asking for what I need, but I try. Half the time it comes out as a request and half the time it comes out as a demand. I try to be nice about it, but autism doesn't always allow room for tact or for sugar-coating (which I just don't know how to do). So, sometimes people get hurt or offended. I'm really good at being extra honest. Sometimes the extra is out loud and I don't realize it until someone is staring at me with their mouth gaping, and sometimes I don't know why they are surprised to hear it since it's the truth. My friendship is not for the weak.

I miss talking to people I know. This might sound strange to some of you, but it's easier to talk to people you know and have gotten comfortable with. I am constantly told I should make new friends and meet new people. I say, easy for you neurotypicals (people without autism). I have a hard enough time being social with the friends I already have, much less make new ones! Plus, I am really socially awkward in new environments and it takes me FOREVER to feel comfortable. You wanna know how I made most of my friends? I went to karaoke by myself. I kept going to the same place because I was not comfortable enough to go to different places. The same people were there. Eventually they saw me there by myself enough times that they started talking to me. THEY STARTED TALKING TO ME. Not the other way around. It's never the other way around. And it probably will never be the other way around. So, you guys can go make new friends. I'm working on just being comfortable in the same (but new) places so I don't freak out.

I used to think my autistic meltdowns were mild...then I learned different. Granted, I don't end up on the floor kicking and screaming, but I feel like I'm just shy of curling up in a ball, rocking back and forth, balling my eyes out. Or at least that's what it feels like. The reality is I start freaking out inside and the tears start to prick the back of my eyes and I try my best to get out before everyone sees the tears fall. Sometimes I get angry, upset, hysterical, and raise my voice. Controlling a meltdown is damn near impossible - I've tried relentlessly. I've got about 5 minutes before I go into full crying mode. I've only been successful at postponing a meltdown, but never been able to calm down enough to not have one (I'm just prolonging the inevitable).

It's also no secret that I have fibromyalgia. And for those with fibro that say the heat helps, I don't have your luck. The heat does not help me. The cold does not help me. I think that's why I stayed in Seattle for so long - compared to everywhere else, the weather is pretty mild and consistent. Maybe I just need to find a new country to live in. Or a new planet. Losing weight doesn't help either. Fibro is lifelong and I knew the weight loss would not cure this. It just means I can now go through the whole day without a nap. Don't get me wrong, I still want my nap. But if I don't have time, I can muster the energy to make it through...usually. But, I hurt. My body is getting older (yes, I'm older than I look!). My muscles need building and toning because they are not strong enough right now. I feel weak. I feel fragile. If you've never tried lifting weights with fibromyalgia, let me just say it takes me about 2 - 3 days to recover. I think I'm gonna have to opt for the pool instead. Luckily, they make water weights and I'm hoping that means less recovery time.

It's also no secret I had weight loss surgery almost a year ago. My health became the reason because I was in a pretty critical crossroads in my life with my health and I needed to do something. So I got off the teeter-totter and made a choice. I'm glad I did. No regrets.

Now for the things you probably don't know...I got diagnosed with autism last May (2018) and have had to unlearn all of the ways I've covered up the things I've struggled with. In the atypical (people with autism) world, this is known as "masking." That means you pretend to be something you are not so you can fit in. Neurotypicals do this too. The difference is it is EXTREMELY hard as an atypical to continue doing that without wanting to kill yourself (I can't speak for you neurotypicals). So, at my therapist's encouragement, I've had to learn to stop masking and start learning actual useful coping mechanisms for my struggles (I'm still learning. I don't think I will ever master it). So yes, I've changed. You may have noticed I'm more direct, more brutally honest, more quiet, less inclined to talk, less inclined to go out, and I'm not good at reaching out to others (not on purpose). With autism, reaching out to people is not generally on your radar because you like to spend a lot of time alone decompressing. Plus, we are not social creatures. We are socially awkward. However, if someone reaches out to me, I have no problem conversing. So, if you haven't heard from me, reach out! Chances are you've crossed my mind and then I got distracted.

I'm getting a service dog. Yes, I need one. Yes, I'm that socially awkward and that environmentally overwhelmed. People ask what a service dog does for autism. Well, from my understanding (I'm new to this), she (yes, I'm getting a female dog - or at least I'm pretty sure. I'll know for sure on Monday) will shift my focus to her if I start getting overwhelmed. She will get me out of somewhere if a place is too overstimulating/overwhelming and I need out (hopefully before a meltdown), she will protect me if I do have a meltdown, she will be a barrier between me and whatever is in front or in back of me as a means of protection (based on my command), and a few other things. More importantly, she won't care I'm autistic and provide much needed companionship.

I have some sensory issues. Loud noise is probably my worst one. People ask me how I tolerate going to karaoke. I love music - it's that simple. And this makes it tolerable for me to a degree. I have been at karaoke at times when it's gotten too loud and I feel myself starting to panic. Sometimes I leave. Sometimes I tough it out if I can. But anywhere else is a nightmare as far as noise is concerned. I have to put my headphones on in Starbucks (especially here in Las Vegas because they play their music WAY too loud!). Jazz music keeps me calm. I had to wear my headphones in the Emergency room because those geniuses didn't think about the fact that autism + concussion headache + lots of noise = throbbing head and autistic meltdown in tears.

I hate large crowds. I will walk into a place and if it's too crowded or too noisy, I'll walk right back out. If I know I'm going somewhere where I'll have to socialize quite a bit, I have to mentally prepare myself and then I won't want to socialize for a couple of days after. I love hanging out by myself. And I love hanging out with some people. It's an oxymoron, but that's the only way to explain it. There's certain textures I can't stand (I will never eat tapioca or those boba things everyone loves so much).

After all this, it might seem like a crazy idea that people would want to be around me. The one major misconception about autistic people is that we can't learn well or that we aren't smart. But we have so many great qualities! I'm considered "high-functioning" and this group of atypicals is known for being WAY smart. But on top of that, I have a good heart. And those that take the time to truly know me and understand will experience a depth of loyalty that's hard to find these days. Some people actually LIKE that I'm super honest. It means they know where I stand, where they stand with me, and they know I will always give them the truth... No matter how much the truth might suck. In my opinion, that's what a good friend does. I might tell someone they are being an ass. But I don't love them any less. Telling my friends the truth is always done out of their best interest. Sometimes we don't see what others do. I'm no exception. I'm really creative. I get involved in so many different kinds of art. I love colors. I've got quite a sense of humor... I've been a sketch comedian for several years. It's a delicate balancing act between my great qualities and the things I struggle with.

Some people might wonder why I am writing about all this. It's simple. I've been very quiet about my struggles for a very long time. Lately, I've seen how little support there is for autistic adults. I've always been one to give a voice to awareness. This is no different. Most of you probably know someone who is autistic. And there are so many stigmas that need to be changed. We are people who do our best to function in a society that doesn't understand us - a society that speaks a language we don't speak. There's nothing "wrong" with us. Our brains are just wired differently. We see a world many neurotypicals can't see. And that is what makes us special.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Saying Goodbye to What Was

Recently, there was an event that triggered my PTSD. I'm not going to go into detail about the event, but rather I want to talk about its affect. I don't talk much about my past, so bear with me. These details aren't easy to express. I want to start by saying that I am not mad, angry, placing blame, or disowning anyone because of this event. But I believe it's important to talk about PTSD and triggers and any other mental issues that arise for people. We can't, as a society, keep ignoring it. So, here goes...

Most people don't know I've been in three abusive relationships. The first one was a marriage of 10 years in which I nearly died. The second relationship lasted about nine months (I was recognizing signs faster) and the third about one year. It took me that long to break the cycle...11 years and 9 months. That's a lot of time to lose out on. During that time, I had lost everything, lost myself, rediscovered myself, lost everything but myself, rediscovered myself again, and lost everything. Abuse is a vicious cycle. I spent years in counseling off and on. I spent years working on not being bitter and learning to love regardless of the risks. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (which was thought to be caused by the trauma I suffered); a daily reminder of the struggles I've endured. I was so stressed out that I was constantly flaring and couldn't work full-time. I was constantly sick. My ex-husband wouldn't take care of me when I was sick. Not even when the doctor was worried I had bone cancer. Not even when I was in a full leg brace with crutches. Not even when I had major surgery. 

My first abusive relationship was so bad it took me five years to be able to write a poem about one specific incident. Five years!! He spent 11 days in jail. He was so perfect on the outside, that no one believed he could be abusive - even though he admitted it in therapy. I lost friends. I'm not allowed to see one of my goddaughter's. He is truly a narcissist. He would threaten to kill himself just to get a rise out of me. It was his way of keeping me under his thumb. He brought me down so low I didn't recognize the girl staring back at me in the mirror. I was a shell of a person. My self-esteem was horrible. I was financially dependent on him. His family blamed me for not being the wife I needed to be. They bailed him out of any trouble he got into. 

During his 11 days in jail, I was delusional. And when I say delusional, I mean DELUSIONAL. I was so out of my mind I didn't leave my room for one week. I would look at bridal magazines and imagine what it would be like to renew our vows and start over. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know how I would survive without him. It took me another 2 years after this to leave. And only because my counselor helped me see my worth and my strength. The crazy thing is, we were both in counseling! I got better. He didn't. 

So many people look at me and comment on how strong of a person I am. I wasn't always this way. I was meek, shy, quiet...I wasn't the outspoken, brutally honest, straightforward person most of you see now. I wasn't strong. I wasn't solid. I wasn't sane. The work I put in is what got me there. 

My second abusive relationship was a surprise. I was actually best friends with this person for a very long time before we became involved. I didn't know the extent of his anger problems. He wouldn't get help or go to anger management. He would pick a fight with me over any little thing...including a box of chocolates. He had a short temper and everyone told him so. But because he had a good heart underneath, everyone gave him a pass. 

My third abusive relationship didn't start out that way. Then again, neither did my first or second one. That's how they get you. They do everything right, say all the right things, make you feel special. Then it starts with the name calling or the bickering. It starts with the nit-picking and the blaming. Then the yelling comes and the throwing things. The storming out and not answering the phone. Then things get physical. My third abusive partner had the cops called on him by a stranger because he was screaming at me at a bus stop. I don't even remember why he was screaming. He would try to use bible quotes against me to justify that I was disobedient and that's why he acted this way. He tried to control me and at the same time, didn't contribute very much. I was working full-time while he was on disability. He would stay home and play games on his phone all day. We would end up spending so much money on him that I couldn't afford my medications at the time. He left bruises all over my arms and I had to wear long sleeve shirts to work. He also, would not get help. Many people were aware of his abusive tendencies, but apparently didn't see fit to tell me about it. 

Now that you have some history, back to this PTSD trigger. This recent incident was like reliving a night from my past, only it was not the same people and it was not the same circumstance. I am not in a relationship with this person. I am not obligated to this person. Nor was I the sole focus of this person. Also, there was other influential factors. I say this so you can understand that this is not a typical situation for any of the people involved, but also so you can realize this is a single episode. 

I know it's hard to understand without having the details, but I'll do my best to at least explain certain parts. Violence, anger, yelling, name calling, and hitting were all involved. Now, I've done the work. I know people like to say that if you have triggers that you aren't over it. If you think that, leave my blog now because this shows exactly how IGNORANT you are. Otherwise, keep reading. 

I was the buffer. THE BUFFER!! Things were not initially or officially directed at me. But as the buffer, I saw firsthand the familiar snap in the eyes, the rage, the sheer evil was like being in the room with my ex-husband while he held a knife to my back all over again. I could almost feel the blade pressing against me. I could almost hear myself praying again with tears streaming down my face. And when the verbal threats ensued, it was like being back in the room with my third abusive partner. Words dripping with venom meant to scare and hurt. I could almost feel his hands squeezing my arms so hard that bruises were eminent. But there was ONE major difference (outside of the circumstances)...I wasn't scared. I was angry. I was livid. 

I really didn't know my PTSD was triggered until days later. I had an instantaneous fibro flare that I'm still recovering from (better, but still have fatigue). But once I realized I was still very emotional about the whole thing (even after talking to people involved, getting a sincere apology, and not being angry anymore) I knew there had to be more to it for me. I had to dig deep. Why was I so bothered? Why am I still so anxious? Why do I feel like I can't breathe at home sometimes? That's when it hit me. Hello PTSD. It's like an old friend. A very unwelcome old friend. The kind you outgrew, kicked out of your life, hadn't heard from for years so you thought you were home free...yeah. Only to realize you've been found. So, what is my point of this story? Well, it's two-fold. I needed to get it off my chest. And I need you all to know how real PTSD is. It can be triggered anytime by anything. It doesn't matter how much work you've put in. It doesn't matter how many triggers you've gotten over. Sometimes you don't know a trigger exists until it's triggered! So, I've been a hermit, hiding in my room, doing some self-care, wallowing, and forcing myself to work so I stay occupied. I'll get over it. Just gotta take it one day at a time. 

Remember folks, you don't know what someone is dealing with so try to always be kind. Also, just because someone is strong doesn't mean they don't need anyone (this is a HUGE misconception). And if you ever find your PTSD triggered, it is important to learn to say goodbye to what was once again. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

When Everything Changes

When I was younger, I believed change was inevitable. I welcomed it. I yearned for it. I thrived off it. But as time has passed, I've realized a few things - change is indeed inevitable. But I'm not as prepared for the changes. I don't welcome them the way I used to. And I certainly don't feel like I thrive from change. What happened to cause this? When did this become different?

I'm sure many of you can relate to the idea of change being scary (even if it is exciting sometimes). As we grow older, we find that change is not as comfortable as it may have been. The challenges that come with change seem to be magnified and the realizations that dawn appear more harsh. I've often wondered why, as adults, we lose our sense of adventure. We get comfortable in the "known" and fear the "unknown." The problem with this is that many times, what is comfortable is also what holds us back. It prevents us from growing - from becoming our potential rather than just having potential. We become stagnant.

I know people that have been doing the same thing for years. They work the same job, live in the same neighborhood, have the same friends, do the same thing every day and on weekends. Then one day, BOOM. Something happens in their lives to shift or break the pattern of routine - of every day "norm." I see these same people scramble to cope with the changes that are being rapid-fired into their lives. I see them get depressed, take up a new unhealthy coping mechanism, run, hide, and lash out. But what would happen if they would just embrace the change? What would happen if they looked at it as an opportunity to grow into a better version of themselves?

I'm not implying that ALL changes are easy to deal with. I am implying that all changes are opportunities for growth. Yes, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. Truth is, we learn most from the difficult changes and circumstances, not the easy ones. We learn most from making mistakes, not being good or right at something. Every good change is an opportunity to grow more in the path that we are currently on. Every bad situation is an opportunity to grow more in your soul. Let me give you an example. I have a friend. For the sake of this blog, we will call her Lorraine. Lorraine has been through a few abusive relationships. She was almost killed by her first husband and held captive with a weapon. Lorraine suffered verbal, emotional, and mental abuse. She was broken. She couldn't recognize herself in the mirror anymore and thought there would never be a way out for her. She felt worthless. She thought no one would want her or that she would not be able to survive financially. Then something happened...

Lorraine started going to school. She studied art and medicine. She was good at it. She got praise. She made new friends. She realized that she could have a life outside of abuse. She sought counseling. Her counselor taught her ways to be strong and realize how capable she was. She started planning her escape. It took 10 years, but she got away! She started thriving. And then she met her second abuser...

Luckily, she learned to get out much faster before things could get worse, but she suffered through three abusive relationships before she was able to break the cycle. But when she did, she had a new resolve and was determined never to live that way again. You see, what you don't know is that through the abuse, Lorraine had to learn to love herself again. She had to rediscover who she was and what she wanted in life. She had to eventually learn to forgive and let go for her own peace of mind. She had to learn to move forward - even and especially in the face of adversity. She had to learn to stand up for herself. She had to learn how to choose her battles and at the same time, fight for what she believed in. She had to learn to be truly, honestly, authentically herself. Without apology. She had to learn to be strong, smart, and brave. Granted, her situation is pretty extreme. My point is, most people would look at Lorraine's past and think 'poor thing! How horrible! Why didn't she leave sooner?' And many other judgmental comments. In fact, Lorraine used to say the same thing about herself. Then she realized the value of the lessons she learned. Not in spite of her situation, but because of it. 

What if we took a page out of the same book? What if we learned to thrive because of adversity, not in spite of it? What if we embraced all changes and looked at them as opportunities for growth? For new adventure? What if we let more things roll off our back and worried less about things we can't control? Can you imagine how interesting life might be?

Change is the only constant. Let us take the time to use these opportunities wisely.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Building Bridges

Someone once accused me of burning too many bridges. Truth be told, I did burn a lot of bridges, but for very good reasons. People often look at the lives of others and assume they know what's going on. The truth is, no one really knows your reality except for you.

I recently read the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. The interesting thing about this is that I was already doing most of the things the book mentioned because I had simply gotten tired of the "norm" and societal expectations. I just don't fit in with society. I've tried. I've spent my life trying. And then I realized why it wasn't working (but that's a whole other blog story). But back to seems the older I get, the more I realize what kind of "bridges" I want in my life. Priorities have shifted, realizations have dawned, and I have simply outgrown so many things I couldn't keep up with the things and people that didn't contribute to my life. I'm sure many of you can relate.

What I find most interesting though, is that it is still hard to cut some ties. I'm not sure if this is out of comfort, emotional attachment, or some other element that I can't define. It's those moments of someone having been a friend for a long time versus whether or not they actually contribute positivity to your life. It seems people like "collecting" friends these days. I'm just not one of them. I believe people have real value and that is why having the right people in your life is so important.

This year has been full of growth in this department and there are bridges that I invested in much more than others. These are the people that I felt were truly important in my life, but also the people who invested as much into me as I was investing into them. After all, that's what it's about, right? But building bridges doesn't end with putting forth effort. It takes continuous work. Constant building. Otherwise, what's the point? So many people say they have been "busy," but the harsh reality is that people make time for who they want to make time for. Period. And if you're reaching out with little to no reciprocation, it's probably not gonna happen. At that point, do you move on or keep trying? It's not always cut and dry.

My main goal this year has been to become more authentically myself in every way - mentally, physically, spiritually. Considering I was already pretty authentic, this has been no easy feat. But it has taught me so much more about myself and other people than I thought possible. I began a journey that took me in a direction I never imagined. One that was very unexpected. I have no regrets. Naturally, with all things of this nature, bridges again must be burned or built depending on where your journey takes you.

Some things to ponder if you are looking for more depth in your journey:

  • Does your current path make you truly happy or does something feel like it's missing?
  • If you could be or do anything, what would it be? Why aren't you doing it?
  • Are you the reason that's holding you back?
  • Why can't you let go of some people/things?
  • Is social media taking up too much of your energy? 
  • Are you putting energy into things/people that don't reciprocate?
Change is scary. Taking a different path is scary. But it's necessary for growth to happen. Time to dive in.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lost and Broken

I want to preface this post by saying that this was very difficult to write and took a great deal of courage to share my own story. This post is not a garnering of sympathy, but rather a recognition of a bigger problem. I dedicate this post to those who are touched by depression every day. To those who live in fear, severe anxiety that they can barely function, to those with a chronic illness that no one can comprehend, and to those who couldn't take it anymore and saw no other way out. I see you.

I want to talk about two touchy subjects. Depression and chronic illness. I'm writing about them both in the same post because one can relate to the other. But I also want to address them seperately. It's no secret that the world has seen an increase in posts and articles about depression and suicide. We've heard of more people who have committed suicide in the last year than any before that I can remember. We've become a society that is chronically and acutely depressed. How did this happen? I think I've discovered a few ideas.

Let's start with depression. I'm going to share my own personal story for context. I've always suffered from "a touch" of depression. You know, the kind that you can pull yourself out of...the kind that leaves you sad for a moment or a day or two and then you are right as rain. It comes and goes, but doesn't come all that frequently. This is common for most people. I've also suffered from bouts of anxiety. Sometimes I get really anxious (like when I have to talk myself into going to work when I loathe my job) and sometimes I only have a little anxiety (like when I have to go to the doctor). But I've always been able to go about my life and eventually get to a point of contentment or even semi-contentment again.

Recently (about the last 2 months), I have fallen into a severe depression - one like I've never known before. Everything became dark and desperate. Everything became more lonely (which I didn't think was possible) and isolated. Everything became more hopeless. About two weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a hot tub to try to relieve the ache in my body (we'll get to my chronic illness later) and I started thinking about a friend of mine who died several years ago. She was 27-years-old when she passed away. She drowned in her bathtub after being well intoxicated. We all knew she had a problem with alcohol and I'm pretty sure most of us knew she had a problem with depression. In fact, I had just spoken to her a few days before her death. She was a dear friend to me and we were all devastated by her passing. Now back to the hot tub...I was sitting in the hot tub looking at the water when a thought occurred to me - I wonder if this is how she felt before she drowned...did she look at the water and say to herself 'I could just let myself slip under...' (It was never said that she committed suicide, but the thought has crossed my mind and I wouldn't put it past her.) This was when I realized I was suicidal. I had this very thought. It would be so easy. What if I just let myself slip under the water? This thought frightened me like no other. I cried the tears of desperation. I had no idea how I had gotten to this point. I never saw it coming. I kept asking myself 'how did I get here?' There's no easy answer to that.

Like anyone else who goes through depression, I think the biggest thing you feel is like everything piles up. Everything falls apart and comes crashing down on you and all around you. You have no idea how to pick up the pieces. My work environment is toxic. No one is happy there. I started in February and already 6 - 8 people have quit. The person that was supposed to be my significant other isn't. My health is not the best. I had a new diagnosis of Asperger's and have been trying to deal with undoing a lifetime of bad compensations for the things I struggle with because of my Asperger's. My work won't accommodate me for my health issues. And the list goes on and on. But what people see is someone who has a good job, a nice apartment, food, a vehicle, and who goes out to sing karaoke on the weekends. Only two people knew I was suicidal when it happened. One of them berated me. I clammed up and shut down. I spent days in bed (partly due to depression and partly due to illness). My chronic illness reared its ugly head into one of the worst flares I've had in years. I couldn't even bring myself to go to the grocery store. I'd barely convince myself to get out of bed, be awake for a few hours and be so exhausted I needed a three hour nap. I talked to very little people and they were very short conversations. I barely ate. I felt like I was physically, mentally, and emotionally a very literal sense. My saving grace was my therapist that I see weekly for my Asperger's. She's been trying to help me hold on. She recommended a medical leave of absence, but I wouldn't get paid and that's a different kind of stress.

Now to the chronic illness...I have fibromyalgia. I've been diagnosed since April 2004. This was back when some doctors still thought it was all in our heads and thought we had a mental problem. We know that isn't true now, but it was a tough illness to be diagnosed with back then. It took 1 1/2 years to diagnose me. As time has gone on, it's gone through stages of flares. In my early years (the first 5) I flared all the time. I could only work part-time and was sick more often than not. I was in an abusive marriage and the stress and anxiety were contributing to my flares. I could barely walk. After my divorce, I felt better than I ever had. I started to learn to listen to my body to control as many symptoms as possible, but as with any chronic illness, this means your life is permanently altered. I couldn't (and still can't) do a lot of the things I used to. Symptoms for fibro range from pain all over the body to fatigue to digestive issues which include IBS, nausea, and acid reflux. This doesn't include the headaches (migraines), "fibro fevers," "fibro fog," language issues (double for me with Asperger's), and the constant "you don't look sick" comments (if you haven't read the spoon theory, I strongly recommend you read it as it applies to all invisible illnesses). I've learned that stress, anxiety, and depression contribute to my flares, so I work really hard to rest and keep my stress levels down. Unfortunately, I can't control everyone else. I can't control every situation or circumstance. And here I go into a flare again. Last year, I broke down and bought a cane. I should mention I just turned 37-years-old last week. And now I'm the owner of a cane.

Anyone who suffers from a chronic illness (especially an invisible one) knows that it's no cake walk. People don't understand when they aren't in your shoes. You get everything from funny looks to rude commentary. I got yelled at by a lady once because I parked in the handicap parking. Apparently, you can't be handicapped if you are young (eye roll). She had her elderly mother with her. She didn't even bother to see the handicap sticker hanging on my rearview mirror until I pointed it out. I know people that could tell us all some horror stories worse than that. Disease sucks. It knows no age or gender. It doesn't care if you are a nice person, smart, work hard, have kids, are married, are single, or what race or religion you are. It affects us all.

Yesterday, I walked into a spot I normally hang out in - with my cane (which was not the norm for people who normally see me). Naturally, people were concerned. I also have a foot injury which doesn't help. But what really irritated me was that I was actually mocked by someone I've known for a long time. And it got me thinking - 'what if this cane becomes a part of my every day? Then what? Am I still going to get mocked by people who should be supportive?' Probably. And as I sat there and looked around, I grew very tired. It was just a sad reminder that people don't get it. It was also a sad reminder of other people's ignorance.

Again, I brought up chronic illness because it can lead to depression. Again, my story is just for context.

You don't have to have a chronic illness to suffer from depression. And you don't have to have depression to suffer from a chronic illness. But sometimes they meet. The thing that has bothered me most about having severe depression is other people's ignorance. This isn't a single person's fault. This is our fault as a society. Let me explain: when we hear about people being depressed or suicidal, we say "reach out to someone if you are depressed." It's a lovely sentiment. And sometimes it happens that way. But more often than not, depression has a way of isolating you from others. You don't talk to other people about it. I had a recent conversation with someone who was my childhood friend. She told me if I ever felt suicidal again, to call her. My response? "If I am truly going to hurt myself, I'm not calling anyone. No one will know anything. At that point, people should have already known." I am not removing the responsibility from the person who is depressed. By all means, you should talk to someone if you are feeling anything that doesn't feel good or normal. You should talk to someone if you don't think you can help yourself. However, as a society, we need to be responsible as well (more on this in a minute).

I can tell you that I'm still depressed. I'm still not better. I'm still having fibro flares. I'm still exhausted. I still don't talk to many people. And luckily for me, there's something deep inside of me that has an innate will to live. Some people are not as lucky. I still have to take one day at a time. It started out really small - this road to recovery. And I still have a LONG way to go. It's still a small victory to get out of bed, but I do it. It's a bigger victory to go to work (I didn't on some days), but I try. It's a victory to stay at work once I'm there. It's a victory to eat. It's a victory to get in the shower and get dressed. It's a victory to take care of daily responsibilities (I finally cleaned my kitchen and bathroom. It drove me crazy, but I couldn't bring myself to do it sooner). It's a victory to go to the grocery story and to answer the phone. My therapist says I'm good at being "fine" even when I'm not. I'm sure many people can relate to that. She recognizes that I'm quiet rather than say what I think or feel because I don't know what's socially acceptable sometimes (Asperger's). And she's challenged me to look at how I waste my energy and the people I waste it on. She's 100% right. Time is the most precious gift you can give someone. It's the most valuable commodity. This is more apparent when you face death and realize that you are running out of time.

As I began to look around, I started to realize how many people in my life are either fair-weathered friends or just acquaintances. I was extremely disappointed by the people I thought would be there the most. And surprised by the people who actually were/are there. Today, I finally said what I felt to someone who had been unsupportive during this time. This is a person who said they loved me very much. I called them out. I got excuses. For the first time, I realized this person doesn't belong in my life. And even though the realization is bittersweet, telling that person how I felt and calling them out on their words versus their actions was a big victory for me. It's not something I enjoy doing. But as my therapist knows, this is an important skill for me to learn to do. Depression has a way of making you "eyes-wide-open." This is when you really see who stands with you. This is when you really see what you are made of.

Now this is important. I mentioned earlier about our responsibility as a society. I understand that many people have NO IDEA what to do when they realize someone is depressed. I also realize that depressed people cannot get out of depression alone. I know personally, I was quite upset that I couldn't do this on my own and that thought also scared me. That's how you know it's bad. But what kind of society - what kind of friends - what kind of people - have we become when we stop checking on people in our lives? When we stop checking on people who we say we love? Sure, I get that we are all busy. We all have lives. We all have obligations. And then we all have that friend/relative/loved one that we may have helped to save if we had taken 1/2/3/4/5 minutes out of our day to let them know we were there for them. That they are loved. That they are not alone. Because nothing - let me say this again - NOTHING is worse than feeling like you have no one in the world. It's horrible to be in a crowded room and feel an emptiness and a loneliness so deep. So, if you don't know what to do for someone you know who is depressed (this does not mean telling them to call you when they need to) read on.

Send a text message. This is especially important if you find someone is not responsive to your calls. Do this daily. It doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as I care about you or I'm here for you. The reason I say to do this daily is because you will eventually get through to that person - it might just take a few times since depressed people don't always like to answer the phone.

Stop by. Just be aware that they may not answer the door unless you are relentless. And be prepared to see the ugly once you are allowed in. They probably haven't cleaned, eaten, and in some cases, showered.

Make sure they eat. I can probably count on one hand how many times I ate during those few days I spend in bed. Food helps fight depression. The depressed person doesn't always know or think about this. Food is essential to their well-being. Even if it's just a snack at a time.

Give Hugs. Depressed people may not always seem like they want hugs, but I can tell you that I wished for hugs a lot (and I still do) when I was in my darkest moments. And not those generic one-armed hugs (you all know the kind...), but real, powerful, significant hugs. The kind that instantly let the person know you care that much.

Offer help. Not just a listening ear. Honestly, I'd rather talk to my therapist than people I know. Offer other kinds of help. Offer to take someone to the grocery store. Offer to get them out of the house. Offer to go for a walk with them. Offer to do the daily stuff they can't at the moment.

Intervene. We have become a society that doesn't want to be involved. We keep saying "well, I've been busy" or "I've been dealing with a lot" or "I can only do so much." Newsflash - we ALL go through a lot. We ALL are busy. We ALL can only do so much. The difference is, we need to learn to recognize when someone is in trouble. The signs are usually there. They are just subtle and we suck at recognizing them. So, when I say intervene, I mean be the kind of person that says "get dressed. We are getting you out of the house!" And then follow through. When someone is depressed, they really don't care where you take them. You may only get them out for a short amount of time, but it helps. It's a small step forward. Heck, someone could have taken me with them to run their errands and I probably would've just been glad for the company.

Don't assume. Don't assume that someone else is reaching out. Don't assume someone is okay just because they are going to work. Don't assume that they can't be depressed because they have their basic needs met. Don't assume that they have friends or family that check on them. Don't assume anything. Period. Assumptions are wrong 9/10 times.

Help head off depression early. Check on your friends. Check on your relatives. Check on people you care about. Constantly. Whether they are depressed or not. Tell someone you care. Tell someone you love them. Tell someone you are here for them. And then show it. Always back up your words with actions. If we start taking care of each other, we just might save more lives.

Author's Note: This is based on my experience and observations. A blog is typically one opinion and leans biased. I welcome suggestions for other things that can we can do to help others with depression and chronic illness. If you are suffering from depression, you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 when you feel like you have no one else. Depression is one of the biggest pandemics we face in this world. Let's do something about it.