Tag Archives: Pain

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

Tired


Hello depression, my old friend. We’ve written and called several times in recent months, but we haven’t been bosom buddies in quite a while. We seem to be having a right and proper visit at the moment, though. I can’t say I’m happy to see you. You tell me I’m a loser and take away what precious little motivation I have. Not to mention my libido. You make me dwell on things that are long past, and on things I can do nothing about. You make me worry about the future and envision one that is dark and filled with dread. You take away my hope and replace it with despair. You stain my shirts with tears. You worry my family. You make me hide my pain from others to keep them from that worry. You dull my emotions and twist my inner vision until I can no longer appreciate love and praise from those around me. Every now and then, you even make me think about death, oh so briefly.

But most of all, you make me tired. Tired of dealing with the same issues over and over and over again. Tired of feeling sad. Tired of feeling hopeless. Tired of worrying. Tired of feeling joyless. Tired of having no motivation. Tired of feeling worthless. Tired of crying. Tired of having my senses dulled. Tired of wishing I could be like everyone else. Tired of yearning for happiness.

Tired, of being tired. Please, go back the way you came, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I have so many things beckoning me, so many people ready to engage with me, and you’re ruining it all. You’ve ruined so many things over the years, I don’t have enough words or tears for them all.

I won’t let you ruin one more thing by making me dwell on all of those other ruined things, though. They’re past, and they’re not my fault. My best weapons against you are the little army of brown bottles in the medicine cupboard designed to correct my faulty brain chemistry, and dwelling in the present and the good things and people that are here. Exercise and some time sitting in the quiet with the wind on my face wouldn’t hurt, either.

So consider yourself warned, depression. Yes, I’m tired, but I still have some energy left and a lot of tools in my toolbox. Your days are numbered, buddy.

 

The Judge and the Victim


I realized that I have been ignoring a great free resource: podcasts.  I have an iPhone: there’s no reason for me not to stock up on a variety of podcasts covering a wide range of all of the topics that always concern me.  Since almost everything that bothers me winds up boiling down to my baggage, I focused on the meditation and self-help sections of the podcast store in iTunes.

I ran across one called Happiness Through Self Awareness that looked interesting.  I gave one cast entitled “Stop Beating Yourself Up” a try, and learned quite a bit.  He talked about how it was impossible for something to beat itself up: there have to be two parts, the beater and the the part being beaten.  He called them the judge and the victim.  I found the distinction to be very elucidating.

He went on to describe the judge as being something of a perfectionist: an all-knowing entity that never makes mistakes telling you how you’ve gone wrong and how you don’t measure up.  The victim is the exact opposite: a part of you that knows nothing and can do nothing right.  Our angst when we are “beating ourselves up” is because these are diametrically opposed viewpoints that can’t exist at the same time: you have to pick one.

In picking one, you free yourself from the struggle and remove the toxicity.  When you pick the judge, you take on the mantle of confidence that goes with knowing everything (even though of course you don’t) and you can stop being so mean to yourself.  When you pick the victim, you accept that you don’t have the knowledge and can view yourself with compassion.  Either way, when you pick sides and stop trying to be both, you can stop being mean to yourself and view your mental processes with more compassion and understanding.

“Ah, here’s where I know what I’m doing, and here’s where I don’t.”

The two interplay off of each other.  When the victim doesn’t know what to do, the judge is there to help.  At this point, it’s helpful to find different labels for the judge and the victim, because once they’re operating in a more healthy dynamic, they’re not judgmental or victim-minded anymore.  Perhaps the parent and the child, or the student and the teacher.  The guru and the follower.

At least, that’s what I got out of that podcast.  It was pertinent knowledge to get in light of having a week in which I seriously flogged myself for one thing or another.  I look forward to the next one.

There’s a website that goes along with the podcasts: you can find it here.

Ghosts


I’ve been working hard on my book lately.  It’s mostly written (except for the last ten years of my life), which means I’m editing.  Editing means reading my book over, and over, and over again, because editing happens in layers, I’m discovering.  You go through the book once to catch one kind of mistake, then you go through it again to catch another kind of mistake.  So on and so forth.

I’m sure that with some other kinds of books, this merely gets tedious and boring after a while.  With mine, it’s really stressful sometimes, on an emotional level.  I’m writing about things in my life that made me very sad, or angry, or frightened.  Having to read them over and over again is taxing, to say the very least.  Some things that I’ve been able to distance myself from over the years are much closer to the surface, now that I’m exposed to them so much more often.  I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time, all over again.  Unpleasant things.

These feelings bubble over into my everyday life.  I’m crankier than normal, I feel, and need less stimulation.  Conversely, I’m appreciating parts of my current life more.  The difference between this life and that life are even more stark.  I’m aware of how my daughter’s life differs from my own as I was growing up.  My biggest worries with her are that she’s too materialistic and needs some direction, which seem pretty normal for a kid under ten.  I don’t worry about her needing years of therapy, or being saddled with severe personality complexes that hamper her personal relationships and ability to function in the world.  Like me.  I do worry about her developing bipolar illness, which seems to run in the family, but at least we know it might be coming, and forewarned is forearmed.

I have many hopes and fears attached to this project.  Like any writer, I have that tiny nugget of hope that this will be successful enough to garner a spot on the featured shelves of popular bookstores.  Perhaps even a coveted spot in the New York Times bestseller lists (hey, a girl can dream, right?).  I know the reality will probably be more subdued, though, that my readership will probably extend to my circle of friends and not much farther, if at all.  I may even have to self-publish through Amazon or some other venue, if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick up my manuscript.

I admit, I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t even get a publisher to consider printing my book.  I really do think it has that much merit.  Someone recently asked me why I was writing my memoir.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for them.  I think I started writing it just to get it all out of my head.  I had this jumble of bad memories, interspersed with the occasional good one, and I wanted to put it all down, in order, in part to see if it really was all that bad.  To see if, perhaps, I was ignoring the good.  I wasn’t.  It really was that bad.  It was an extremely valuable exercise to validate my memories and did a great deal for my confidence.

Then I wanted to share it, though I couldn’t say exactly why.  Part of it was attention, I won’t lie.  I think all humans want attention for the things they’ve accomplished.  Most people accomplish things like degrees, or mastery of a craft or art, perhaps.  I accomplished the feat of surviving my childhood, something that took far longer than any college degree.  And yes, dammit, I want acknowledgement for that, because it was fucking hard.  In acknowledging the hard, I found another reason for writing and sharing my story, which is best illustrated by sharing the last paragraph of my book’s introduction:

 

There is a Sanskrit word, bodhicitta, that means “enlightenment”, or “awakening”.  It is the primary goal of one called bodhisattva: someone who wants to achieve Buddhahood as quickly as possible, so they may benefit other living beings through compassion and wisdom.  That is my wish with this book, for others to benefit as I make my own journey to enlightenment, as well as healing.  If even one reader can stumble across their own bit of illumination that makes something make sense enough to propel them forward, then we will all be one step closer to peace.

 

While I feel pompous comparing myself to a bodhisattva, that’s how I feel.  So, yes, this book is for me, but it’s also for everyone else who needs inspiration to move forward with their life if they’re feeling like they’re stuck in the path that was carved for them.  It’s possible to get out of the rut, and to carve a new one.  It’s hard, harder than staying where you are, but it can be done, and it’s far more rewarding than staying where you are.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more ‘be’ verbs to turn into action verbs.

It’s Just Not Right


Last Wednesday, we adopted a new cat.  His name at the shelter was Bucky, but we named him Alex.  We used a local non-profit animal rescue group that makes a big deal out of adopting healthy animals that have been thoroughly checked out, neutered, and microchipped.  They were even having a special in order to move as many cats out of the shelter as possible, so he wasn’t expensive.  It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

Well, they were in a negative alignment, it seems.  The first day, we noticed he made an odd cough and that he seemed warm.  Just in case, we separated him from the rest of the house so he couldn’t infect our existing cat.  The second day, he coughed a couple more times, more severely, like a wet bronchial cough.  The third day he had his wellness check at the vet, where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and to bring him back in a couple of weeks if he wasn’t better.  The next day he was listless and his breathing had become bubbly.  The next day he was worse and I called the shelter where we had gotten him.  They scheduled a vet visit for the next day.

We took him in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia.  After a brief inner debate as to whether he should be hospitalized, the vet decided to send him home with me along with a number of treatments: antibiotics, appetite stimulants, subcutaneous fluids, a nebulizer, and a syringe for force feeding him if necessary.  I steeled myself for ten days of cat nursing.

The first day went fine.  At his fourth nebulizing treatment I noticed that the inside of his carrier was getting wet and musty, which  they didn’t tell me to watch out for (they didn’t give me any instructions at all, really), so I got it all cleaned out.  His breathing went back and forth between improving and getting bubbly again.  He still wouldn’t eat, so we had to syringe feed him.  He didn’t like it, of course, but we managed to get a syringe full of food into him.

He spent that entire night moving around the entire room about once every half hour.  It reminded me of Yin-Yang before he died, who just couldn’t get comfortable and kept moving around.  I couldn’t sleep for the sound of his bubbly breathing: it was awful.  He was laying in weird places, too, as well as laying very limply.  He may have already been on his way out.

The next morning, it was time for more antibiotics, food, and nebulizing.  He had trouble with his pill and I had to try twice to get him to take it, and I’m not sure if he ever swallowed it properly. Then we tried to feed him, which was much more difficult than it had been the night before.  I took his resistance as a sign that he was feeling better so we burritoed him in a towel like we had seen on the internet.  I knew to keep him in a sitting position much like he’d be in if he were eating normally so he wouldn’t choke, but this feeding was not going nearly as smoothly as the one the night before.  Whenever he appeared to be having trouble, I’d stop and let him settle, then try again.

Then towards the end of the feeding, he opened his mouth wide, arched his back, and went limp.  We laid him down, he exhaled, and he didn’t inhale again.  It was horrifying.  I’ve never seen anything die in front of me before, and I still can’t help but think that it was my fault somehow.  Everyone tells me that it’s not, especially since he should never have been sent home with us in the first place, but still.  I feel so terrible.  I was trying to help this poor creature get better, and now he’s dead from that very treatment, even if I was merely hastening the inevitable.  I just wish that his last few moments hadn’t been so tortured.  That’s what I feel the worst about, that I may have inadvertently caused this poor creature agony in his last moments.  I didn’t mean to, and I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry Alex.

I wish that they had kept him for hospitalizing on Monday instead of sending him home with me.  I wish that they had realized last week that he was sick and not adopted him to me in the first place.  I wish that I had said no, I don’t want a cat with a history of an upper respiratory infection when they told me he’d had one while in the shelter, even though he’d been treated for it (not well enough apparently).  I wish that they had given me better instructions for how to care for this obviously very, very ill cat.  I wish that I had more experience in caring for sick cats and doing things like syringe feeding.  I wish that I had stopped the instant he looked like he wasn’t digging the feeding and just called the shelter again, but I had never done it before and didn’t know what to watch out for and he really needed to eat.  I mean, you’re force-feeding a cat: there’s going to be mess and unpleasantness.  I wish for so many things that might have changed what happened yesterday morning.

Even though he was only with us for a week, he was still part of the family, and we treated him as such.  He got the same treatment Yin-Yang and Babalon did when they died: I wrapped him up, smudged his body and his grave, and we said some words over him before burying him with his head towards the West.  He’s next to Yin-Yang, who will hopefully help him on his way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky.

As for us, we’ve spent the last 24 hours sanitizing as much as we can so the other cats don’t get infected.  To a certain extent all we can do is pray, because he was out and about for a while before we knew he was sick.  God only knows what he touched with his face.  I can only take comfort in the fact that the germs will die by themselves in a few days, and within 24 hours if they get hit with proper cleansing and some Lysol.  I’ve done probably a dozen loads of laundry to clean every single thing in the room he was in, vacuumed the carpet with germicidal baking soda, Lysol’d the areas he spent the most time in, and am fumigating  the air with more germicidal oils.  Anything that can’t be washed has been sprayed with Lysol and left out in the Sun.  And I’ve done similarly to the whole house since his disease may have been airborne (in which case the horse is out of the barn anyway).

It would be bad enough if our own cat, Samadhi, gets ill because of Alex.  It would be even worse if the two kittens we are fostering got sick because of him.  I would be up the ass and down the throat of the shelter who gave us to him in the first place to make these kittens well.  So far everyone has been healthy, and it’s been about a week since anyone was exposed to anything Alex might have breathed on or touched, so hopefully we’re in the clear.  I won’t stop holding my breath for at least another week, though, when I know it’s been two weeks, which is how long the shelter tells people to isolate pets to ensure health.  If nothing is wrong within two weeks, everything should be okay.

And they’d better be, because we like these kittens and are thinking of adopting them.  We were a house of three cats, and we’d like to be so again.

*shakes head*  It’s just not right, but I’m going to try and make it right.  This summer can just kiss my flabby white butt.

Openness


As I was saying in a post last Saturday, there’s been a lot of crying lately, either out of frustration or out of sadness or out of whatever.  Crying requires openness.  I can’t be tightened up and still cry.  Being sad about the cats lately has taught me that I have to open up and let go in front of other people, which is something that I have an extremely difficult time with.  Most of the people who know me have known me for quite a long time, but in all likelihood have never seen me cry.  I will engineer my life so that I express my sadness alone.

That’s not always possible, though, and it’s not always healthy.  People need each other’s kindness when they’re sad.  My daughter has seen me when I’m overcome with tears over the cats and she comes over and puts her arms around me, and it makes me feel better.  I’m sure the reverse would be true if our roles were also reversed.

This all reminds me of something I read either in a Buddhist or a yoga magazine sometime recently about meditation and how it opens you up.  Someone had written in confused about the sad and even angry feelings their meditation practice had brought up in addition to the peace and calm.  The answer was that meditation opened a person up to all of the sensitivities of emotion, not just the so-called positive ones.  Meditation puts us in touch with all of the emotions that we’re sitting on, even the yucky ones that make us feel bad.

Sometimes, though, I feel those are the ones that have to be processed the  most in order to let the ones that feel better to us, flourish and grow.*  The former have been sat on for a reason: they don’t feel good!  They just have to be dealt with, which means addressing how they got there in the first place.  Depending on what it is, that might mean a whole host of difficulties ranging from the very minor to the life changing.  No wonder we just push these things down and don’t want to meditate or do anything else that lets them bubble up.  It’s hard to stay open.  It feels vulnerable and dangerous.

The nice thing about meditation is that you don’t really have to DO anything with them.  You just let them BE.  You don’t have to judge them.  You don’t have to judge yourself.  Just simple acknowledgement is all that’s necessary, and the depth of that is up to you.  A full analysis of the situation might be useful, or a simple, “Yep, that came up, it can go now, too,” might suffice as well.  What happens next, remember: no judgment.  That’s crucial and can be a huge stumbling block  that can lead back to being closed.

My mantra at times like that is typically, “No one is judging me but myself.”  Judgment is me trying to close myself back up, and I have to stay open if I want to grow.  I also have to stay patient.  It took a while to push some of that stuff down, it’s going to take a while to let it bubble back out.  Those bubbles usually take the form of more tears, but that’s why I keep kleenex around when I’m doing deep spiritual or meditative work.  I know I’ll be releasing a lot of stuff up from the muck, of which I’ll just have to be accepting, non-judgmental, and open to.

*the rest of this presumes you already have a steady meditation practice

Tearful but Productive


I’ve been crying a lot the last few days.  Whether it’s because of hormones, or because of sadness over the cats, it doesn’t matter really.  I’ve felt sad, and so I’ve been crying.  Or I’ve been frustrated, and so I’ve been crying.  Sometimes I’ve been angry, and so I’ve cried.  I’ve tried not to judge it too much and just see it as my psyche needing to purge extra feelings.

Not that I haven’t been entitled to extra feelings.  I’ve had a frustrating week, I feel.  I’ve been feeling the absence of the cats very keenly for some reason.  It was the same Moon sign as it was when YinYang died, and it was also the same time in my hormonal cycle as it was when I was dealing with both of their illnesses.

I’ve also been working on my book, which is always frustrating.  I do a little bit, and then get stuck.  Usually because I’m waiting on edits from other people.  I hate to put it that way because it makes me sound ungrateful, which I’m not.  I’m extremely grateful for the time other people are giving me towards editing or just plain reading and opinion-giving.  I’m starting to get really antsy, though.  I want to move forward, and I can’t.

As such, I’m trying to divert my need to write something into other projects, like the other two writing projects that grew out of the primary one: the travelogues, and the one I refer to as “tapestry” which is made of all of the photographs and letters and other objects from my grandmother that tells the story of the women in my family.  It sheds a lot of light on the relationship between the women in the family too, at least Mom and Gram anyway.  It’s interesting, especially when overlaid onto the history of the timespan it covers.  Unfortunately, it’s a fuckload of material.  There are letters that span over 70 years, and almost as many photographs.  Not to mention all of the genealogical information.  I’m drowning in all of that stuff.  It’s overwhelming.

The travelogues, on the other hand, are almost written.  Their drawback is that they’re dependent on the main project to make sense, to a certain extent.  Unless I remove all text that refers to the main storyline.  That would make them sound weird, though.  I don’t think they’d stand on their own, not all of them anyway.  I’d have to try it and see.

Then there are the blogs.  I have this one that I’ve been working on that I’m thinking of adopting a daily theme for.  I.e. Meditation Monday, Witchy Wednesday, so on and so forth.  It would make me stay on top of content and would hopefully draw more traffic.

I’ve also made another site that might not necessarily be a blog per se, but a place to put more formal articles and that is more about me and has my name for a title.  A site for a “writer”, as recommended by Writer’s Market, which I’ve been reading for the last two days in the absence of the ability to actually do any writing.  I also made a separate Twitter account and am thinking of making separate Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well.  I had a LinkedIn account but recently deactivated it because it was pretty well useless.  Then again, I wasn’t using it specifically for writing purposes.

So this one will probably stay pretty much the same topic-wise, it will just get re-organized.  The other one will be more formal and will hold my articles that I spend more time and research on and will hold more biographical material.

Looks like I’m really serious about trying to be a professional writer after years of bellyaching about being an amateur one.