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What’s Your Mental Illness Avatar?

What’s Your Mental Illness Avatar?

Everyone Has An Avatar

We are all familiar with the cliché depression cloud that haunts sad-faced patients in medication commercials. While this fog of doom is not an inaccurate metaphor of being dogged by unrelenting symptoms of emotional disorder, other images come to mind when I see these advertisements.  There are many types of mental illness and everyone has a different “avatar.”

Describe It

Picturing these inner fiends is helpful.  I can see they are a part of me but not the whole of me.

“A dirty jacket,” I tell her. “One that won’t shake off or come unzipped. It’s a filthy coat of misery causing panic and despair.  I can’t escape its’ rotten grip.”

If this garment were to slip off my back, I would feel exposed, naked, vulnerable…because it hides of lot of wounds and gentle, breakable parts. I have a paradoxical relationship with my unkempt cloak.

Mental health blogs, articles, online resources and books are places I’ve sought knowledge and a community of peers during my journey towards recovery.  I have learned that each individual has a unique expression regarding the form their demons take; some declare a heaviness, like an elephant on their chest. Others refer to the monkey in their brain that never stops his chatter.  There are walls that enclose…stone towers…dark wells with bottomless depths; powerful imagery for a powerful illness.

Different components of one’s illness may also have different avatars.  I know mine do.

Avatars Can Change

For a long time, I could only focus on my dirty jacket. Ah, the jacket! Get it off!

Recently, I’ve thought it over and the dirty jacket “avatar” no longer represents the construct of my illness.

Bark. Dead wood. Grayish brown and rough and thick with ugly warts and scratchy husk.  That’s my mental illness epitome.  I am a dried out branch in an untended garden.  Only now, I’ve realized…I’m the gardener.

The therapy, the rest, the treatments, the searching, the hope and self-care; I’m learning to tend this derelict patch of prickly rigor. And guess what?  It’s not dead.  If I scrape away, and pick and prune the hardness gives way to new green growth with potential and possibility.

Gardening is damn hard work. You’ve got to get your hands dirty and dig deep.  Sometimes I neglect my withering greenhouse.  Sometimes I nurture it.  I’ve reached a juncture in my recovery where at least it’s getting some attention, rather than left to rot and decay.  Every weed I pull is one less weed and every flower blooming is a victory.

What Does Your Mental Illness Avatar Look Like?

My Mental Illness Avatar: Old gray bark hiding tender life inside; not a dirty jacket which cannot be repaired.

Brand your inner turmoil.  Give it shape and form. Weaken the grip of intense power by facing it head on.  I liken this to an exorcism when you call a demon by its’ name.  It must be separated from the host.

What does your mental illness look like? I’d love to hear from you. Participate in the following poll or leave a comment if you have a different image you want to share.

Take good care, The Jitter Bug

What Is Your Mental Illness Avatar?

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Excuse me, Porter?

Excuse me, Porter?

In 2005, my husband and I picked up a connecting flight in Puerto Rico on the way to our honeymoon destination, St. Lucia. I remember standing at the ticket counter when a porter kindly offered to help us with our bags. Being young and naïve we allowed him to do so…and he literally rolled them a few feet to the gate, a task we easily could have managed.

Feeling foolish and slightly taken advantage of, we paid up when the man held out his hand for a tip.

The Caribbean is replete with citizens in need of work and income. Lack of jobs creates competition and islanders have learned to become resourceful and assertive in their approach to make a living. We quickly realized our few dollars had helped not only a struggling economy but a human being, a man trying to put food on the table for himself and his family.

The porter had been so eager to take our luggage. The task and weight of carrying bags for tourists added value to his day, his life, his wallet.  Our baggage was necessary for his survival.

Flash forward to 2017.  I am in the process of working through and living with the struggles of Complex-PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. My siblings and I were raised in a home by a mother with borderline personality/narcissistic personality disorder.  Each of us struggle with the trauma embedded in our sense of self.

Feelings of guilt, shame and not being “good enough” continue to dog us in our adult years. At a young age, our brains were wired to believe the standards my mother set were true and if we didn’t meet them we weren’t acceptable.

Now in our thirties, three decades of unhealthy behavior have been spent in the form of people pleasing, self-condemning, unjustified “answerability. ” We continue to struggle with learning healthy patterns

After a recent session with my therapist regarding “emotional and psychological baggage,” here is my take away…only porters should take on baggage. Let me say that again. Only porters should take on baggage.

This intangible burden, a weight I had picked up and carried for three decades, was not mine at all. I had been carrying my mother’s baggage, her standards, her insecurities and the last time I checked, I wasn’t a bellhop.

This weight was hurting my survival, not sustaining it, as it did for Caribbean porters in crowded airports.

I didn’t finish college, my sister wasn’t skinny enough, my brother married the wrong girl…hefty luggage that never had our tag on it.  But, we picked it up, dragged it around and rolled it from one metaphorical gateway to the next, making restitution for un-met standards. This behavior was not only limited to relations with our parents but over-arched the structure of our lives.

Each of us developed different coping mechanisms; we became excessive worriers, doers, helpers.  We spent money, bought gifts, became obsessed with perfection and sacrificed our mental and emotional health.

My siblings and I thought we were “getting paid” in a co-dependent way of compensating acts, trying to elicit positive feedback.  Any hint of accord was like a coin in our pocket, a tip, small compensation that never added up to much.

We had been lugging around my mother’s trunk of skeletons our whole lives, trying to carry a weight that didn’t belong to us to begin with.

I’m not upset I didn’t finish school, my sister is a beautiful and accomplished woman and my brother is happy with the partner he chose.  The suitcases full of expectations and standards can be left at the ticket counter.  The tags don’t have our names on them.  The contents are not ours to claim.

So, unless you are working for an airport, hotel or transportation service only take what you need for your journey.  Everything else will drag you down.  Leave the unclaimed baggage on the carousel.

 

copyright2017 thejitterbug

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The Measuring Stick…My Own Worst Enemy

The Measuring Stick…My Own Worst Enemy

Bust 32″, waist 24″, inseam 28″…oh, and I wear a size 5 shoe. Fair to say, I’m tiny. Five feet, two inches tall and that’s only if I’ve done spine stretching yoga exercises before the doctor stands me up to check my height. Crawling through a doggie door or half open window would present no challenge, making a career in cat burglary an excellent option.

Don’t worry. Nicking pearls in the dead of night from wealthy old socialites is not my plan. But, I do have a plan, or rather, an intention, regarding my “so called” measurements. Being physically small is of little importance…it’s being emotionally small that’s my hitch.

What Is “Good Enough?”

Type A personality can go on my “size chart” along with shrinking, waning, withering feelings that steal my self assurance time and time again. Maybe the cat burglar is inside me?

These negative emotions have sustained a life-long battle with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.  Somewhere, deep inside, the “real me” is hiding while mental illness plunders every last bit of self-worth from the caches of my soul.

During a recent therapy session, I admitted to never feeling “good enough.” Never. I’m not even sure I know what the parameters of “enough” entail. Of course, my therapist prodded me to go a deeper (an annoying but necessary professional stratagem) and I explained this life encompassing feeling.

  • I’m not a good enough wife; maybe my husband would be happier with someone else; someone smarter, prettier, less of an uptight, bitchy anxious control freak.
  • I’m not good enough at my job, at cooking, at writing, at sex.
  • Daughter, sister, friend…I could be better, better, better.

The list is endless. The measuring stick reaches high, like Jack’s beanstalk disappearing into lofty clouds. But, there is no golden goose egg at the unattainable “top.”

What Am I Up Against?

After this painful discussion, my therapist asked, “What are you measuring yourself against?”

I just sat there and blinked.

Anxious, driven, proactive perfectionism has always dominated my life. Control is a must not an option. I over analyze, set my performance in contrast to others, take out the big, straight-edged stick and determine where I stack up against…what? I didn’t have an answer. And then, the smoke screen lifted.

The Poison Bean Illusions

There is no “against.” I compare my so-called achievements to fraudulent ideas, bogus thoughts, unattainable paradigms that were planted in my head like Jack’s magic beans.

Except, these beans were poison, germinated during an upbringing in a home of emotional instability, cultivated by a society riddled with immense standards and fueled by my aggressive Type A ideals.

My therapist pointed out that this compulsive measuring had less to do with accomplishment and more to do with acceptance; behavior stemming from a childhood where credit had been handed out in random, contingent and inconsistent rates. Looking to be the “best” was not my true intention.

The stamp of approval, to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be recognized without condition is what I was searching for all along.

Perfectionism is the Enemy of Forward Movement

The clouds parted right there on the proverbial psychotherapy couch. The measuring stick was not at all about achievement but everything about acknowledgment and confirmation of my worth.

I needed to be high up on that stick because if I wasn’t, I was scared my valuation would deflate in the eyes of those around me. It is a paralyzing affliction. If I feel it won’t be perfect, I feel I can’t begin. Possibilities and opportunities have been left by the roadside because I felt I would never measure up.

Just like the beanstalk is a fairytale, the measuring stick is a fictitious notion designed by my own masochistic nature of self-deprecation.

The beanstalk only got Jack the “cat burglar” into trouble and sure enough it all came crashing down. For me, the outcome will be the same, if I continue to set my gaze on the unattainable lofty heights of “performance” rulers.

My intention is to stop climbing beanstalks and seeking golden eggs. To continue, I’m only stealing from myself. I’m defrauding every opportunity I have to just be me and let that be enough.

©thejitterbug 2017

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I Prefer the Needle…Relief in Acupuncture

I Prefer the Needle…Relief in Acupuncture

The moment a precisely placed needle pricks my skin, I know relief and relaxation are just minutes away. I’m an addict and yes, it’s a something I will never quit…acupuncture.

Determined to fight a diagnosis of Complex-PTSD without the help of a pill, I choose a homeopathic approach.

In the past, I had tried medicine for depression and anxiety.  It offered little result and unpleasant side effects.  From this experience, I came to prefer natural remedies.

Meditation, yoga, exercise, talk-therapy, herbal teas, essential oils, hot baths…I tried them all. Nothing helped enough.  I began to feel hopeless and defeated.

Finally, at the sincere urging of my therapist and steps away from being hospitalized, I agreed to once again consider traditional medication.

Medication

Nothing worked. I tried medicine after medicine.  Every pill came with side effect after side effect.  Some drugs even caused life threatening allergic reactions to my highly sensitive system.

Rashes, headaches, extreme fatigue, brain fog, heightened anxiety, increased depression, restlessness, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, sexual side effects, hyperactive behavior…the list goes on.

A very small dose of sedative medication was the only drug that my body tolerated. It was the only medicine that took the edge off agonizing symptoms.

Months of trial and error with a psychiatric nurse practitioner yielded no results. My therapist eventually referred me to a highly recommended psycho-pharmacologist/psychiatrist.  Even she could do no better.

The psychiatrist prescribed a new drug which introduced sleepless nights, intense anxiety and finally, a fainting episode in my pharmacy parking lot.  I decided enough was enough.

Time for a New Approach

“Exquisitely sensitive” was the term my psychiatrist used. C-PTSD had put my body in a hyper-vigilant, fight or flight mode with no off switch.  My body over-reacted and attacked anything new that was introduced to its’ system.

This response was not limited to medication. Noises, lights, quick movements, pain or any external stimulation that overwhelmed my “exquisitely sensitive” nature caused extreme anxiety. (“Exquisitely sensitive” was a dressed up, but unique way of saying “living in terror.”) My brain deemed everything as “danger.”

And then…I found acupuncture.

Acupuncture

I had previously researched this treatment with regards to anxiety and depression.  My sister gave me positive feedback as she had undergone acupuncture therapy for her own health issues. I decided to try it.

Skeptical? Sure, but at this point (no pun intended), what did I have to lose?

After the first treatment, I was hooked.  A relief I had never felt washed over my body.  The experience is hard to describe. I laid there for an hour, floating in a dreamlike state.

My doctors encouraged me to keep going and I faithfully agreed to keep every appointment.

Now, once a week, I arrive, ready for the little needles, the heated table, the soft music and the hour of relaxation. Every visit is different and each treatment is based on what symptom I am struggling with the most. This list is long, but includes Gastrointestinal Issues, Migraines, Low BMI, Severe Anxiety, Fatigue, Depression, Rosacea Flare-Ups, Loss of Menstrual Cycle, etc.

Due to low BMI, my menstrual cycle had stopped for over 7 months! After two specialized acupuncture treatments pertaining to this issue…voila!  The “curse” returned!  This was a huge step in getting my hormones back on track and feeling better.  Yes, I was a woman jumping for joy to get her period!

I didn’t need any more convincing that there was something very real in this ancient, Eastern technique.

Herbal Therapy, Benefits, Time

My acupuncturist eventually started me on an herbal therapy to reduce anxiety. Dietary recommendations were made to help me gain weight and clear my skin.

It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly, with time, I noticed a loosening of misery, a slight dialing back of anxiety, and more restful sleeping.

The benefits of each visit started to extend beyond my hour on the table and carry gently over into everyday life.

My psychiatrist explained that it can take years to begin healing from an illness like C-PTSD.  It’s a slow process and sometimes I feel deflated at the long term prospect of this journey. I try to remember I’m the tortoise in this race and not the hare.  One day, one breath, one precise little needle at a time.

Symptom Management

This treatment has NOT been a cure. Acupuncture helps to better manage my symptoms in a way that SSRIs, mood stabilizers and certain benzodiazepines have not.  I am a believer in Western AND Alternative medicine. In fact, I am still on the small dose of sedatives, but now they seem to work more effectively in conjunction with regular acupuncture treatments. I go to therapy twice a week, continue light exercise, practice meditation and no longer work. There are many factors contributing to my path of healing.

Cost

Acupuncture is expensive.  I pay out-of-pocket as my insurance company does not cover any cost for this type of treatment. That’s a soapbox rant for another blog post.

Currently, I spend $70 a treatment for a once a week visit. This price includes a discount for buying a 10 visit package rather than paying per visit.

I am fortunate to be able to cover this expense, in part, because I live a frugal life-style and make intentional decisions on where to spend my money.  Manicures, shopping sprees or expensive restaurant dinners do not make the budget.

At this time, acupuncture adds more value than cash accumulating in my bank account.  As a frugalist, it’s a tough spend but I’ve realized health comes first.  I want to gain financial freedom, however, there is no point in achieving this goal if I’m not well enough to enjoy it.

Do Your Research

Make sure you work with an acupuncturist who maintains proper licensing and credentials. Check out this link to better understand how you can find the best practitioner for you.  http://www.wikihow.com/Find-a-Licensed-Acupuncturist

A good acupuncturist will begin your first visit with a health consultation or questionnaire.  They will ask about current medications, primary complaints and work with you in creating a treatment plan.

When starting acupuncture, consistent visits over a period of time are suggested.  As symptoms improve, your acupuncturist will recommend “maintenance visits,” are are less often.

Consulting with doctors about new treatment, herbs and diet changes is an important step in preventing possible interactions with other medications.  Remember to tell your doctor before you try anything new.

I am certainly not telling anyone to stop their medication or disregard traditional Western treatment. I am encouraging people to keep looking for answers, keep having discussions with your doctor and keep trying things you may not have considered.

Little Needle, Big Possibilities

A non-invasive form of therapy, acupuncture is a holistic approach to health and well-being.  Believers and dis-believers in the medical field debate over the authenticity of acupuncture’s healing claims.  However, emerging research is beginning to prove the benefits behind this ancient Eastern technique.

Consequently, this approach is another tool in my toolkit, another arrow in my quiver, against a battle I fight from the moment I open my eyes each morning.

Combined with other life-style changes, acupuncture has augmented my path to healing.

Who knows…the needle could be your healthy addiction too.

©thejitterbug 2017

**Check out my post about medication and irritable bowel syndrome.

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Anxiety, Medication and Disaster Pants

Anxiety, Medication and Disaster Pants

If you think this story is about a bad fashion choice involving purple paisley pants…you’re wrong. It’s about anxiety, embarrassment, internal absolution and a very wise phrase coined my by ten year old nephew, Stevie.

Something’s Gurgling…

Complex-PTSD was an illness I had battled for a lifetime (only recently coming to terms with what my struggles were all about.)

After a long road of trial and error, my doctors and I had finally found a medication to combat my symptoms. I was starting to feel the grip of anxiety and depression loosen.

But the stress of the illness, anxiety and those pretty little pills, came with a price tag and I’m not talking about paper currency. The premium was gastrointestinal discontent. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

At the time this was a cost I was willing to pay, but have now revisited this decision.

Bouts of diarrhea, gas and abdominal discomfort were daily struggles. Holistic teas seemed to help and my confidence improved, perhaps too much so.

The Event

One Thursday evening while conversing with my husband, I felt some abdominal pressure. Thinking this was merely intestinal vapor, I discreetly took action to relieve myself and received a big surprise.

The tragedy had already occurred before my frantic attempt to reach the bathroom. I had ended up with what my 10 year old nephew Stevie refers to as “Disaster Pants.”

My husband, normally unflinching in any situation was totally nonplussed. The bathroom door flew open, a pair of clean underwear flew through the air and the door slammed shut as he retreated to a less noxious space.

Disaster Pants

“Disaster Pants.” My nephew could not have coined a more accurate description for when in life, we literally or figuratively shit our pants.

Not always, but often times, a disaster is not something we caused or made to happen.

Merriam-Webster dictionary says a disaster is “a sudden calamitous event” or a “sudden or great misfortune.” (My yoga pants were ruined…perhaps not a great misfortune but disappointing none the less.)

We all have things that happen to us, not because of us. At some point, we all have to wear a very real or metaphorical pair of “Disaster Pants.” But, then we take them off, or clean them up or find a new pair because after “disaster,” anxiety and embarrassment there is usually recovery.

My nephew didn’t come home from school announcing he had pooped his corduroys. “He” didn’t do it. It was not a choice but a bodily function that occurred beyond his control. Stevie simply stated to my sister that an incident of “Disaster Pants” had occurred.

Internal Absolution

This statement reveals a self-forgiving and nonjudgmental perspective; perhaps an attitude we all need to assume upon finding ourselves in uncomfortable, awkward, unavoidable situations that are truly not our fault; situations that a little bleach or internal absolution can most likely repair.

Anxiety is Self Punishing

We judge ourselves, we blame ourselves, we punish ourselves for misconstrued transgressions. Sometimes, we are just at the mercy of this chaotic universe.

Learning this little bit of priceless wisdom has helped me to let go of some anxiety surrounding things I cannot control.

I’m not enlightened or healed; I have good days, bad days, worse days. But, now when I get up in the morning I’m a little more ok with the knowledge that things might not go exactly how I want them to, that most likely it won’t be my fault and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

After all, everyone has disaster pants and we all put them on, one leg at a time.

©2017 thejitterbug

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