Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Girl Who Lived

I've been seeing my therapist for 3 months now. Although I was reluctant to accept the initial diagnosis, I am pleased and a bit surprised at how effective it has been in helping me understand and, most times, avoid the anxiety/panic attacks I was having. As recently as 5 weeks ago, the constant pain and sadness was still making me want to just fade away so I wasn't too hopeful I would ever get beyond the feelings of sadness and panic, let alone ever feel happy again.

But something happened.

I continued to follow my therapist's recommendations, despite my gloom and doom feelings, and my panic attacks started to wane. Then I noticed my aggressive need to punch and destroy things had slowly faded as well. I woke up a few weeks ago and  realized I felt completely normal. It took awhile to comprehend what that feeling was and I really expected it to be just a small reprieve from my sadness before it would pick up where it left off. I tentatively went about my day waiting for the melancholy or anger to descend at any moment but it didn't. I've not had a full blown panic attack nor have I punched any thing since February12th. As far as my depression and sadness goes, it comes and goes but the intervals of  sadness are getting shorter and much less painful and the amount of time I feel like my old self continues to increase. I still have days where I'm overwhelmed if I encounter any unexpected emotions and it causes my behavior to be a bit erratic which stresses me out just a bit but I''m getting better at controlling those reactions.  I really can't explain the relief I feel knowing it is absolutely possible for me be completely happy again someday and that makes the bouts of sadness a bit easier to endure.

I feel like the girl who lived.

The month of March is full of dates that bring a range of emotions. Most of them are good emotion remembrances that will most likely help combat my sadness but getting past the one year mark since my nephew died I know will be difficult. I'm a little more than apprehensive about unnecessary grief that could come from unexpected media coverage and insensitive people on social media. I'm contemplating a total disconnect from all forms of media to smooth the way for that day as much as possible. I want to spend the day remembering my sweet Sugar Max with the 18 years of memories I have. There will be time enough after that day has passed to resume my forward progress with my Acute Stress Disorder and the looming unknown of April.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February 2018: an arrow through my heart

I started writing/keeping a journal when I was 12 years old. Through my college years, I would write almost daily. I think it helped me work through things on my own without seeming like those much reviled psycho-chicks I've written about over the years. My writing started tapering off about a decade ago but dropped abruptly to almost none when I moved back to my hometown at the start of 2012. As a part of my treatment, my therapist has encouraged me to start writing again and to go back and read old writing when I feel I can.

I'm  not sure if keeping a journal is partially responsible for this, but I have an uncanny knack for remembering names and dates. This is especially helpful for things like history tests or 12 nieces and nephews' birthdays. It can be helpful for remembering significant events or it can make me seem like a fount of useless information. Currently, it's an arrow to my heart as February brings a few memories that are stirring lots of emotions. Some are good, some are sad but they all make me determined to remain on my current path.

February 4th will be 2 years since my Poppy left this world. He was my first love, my anchor, my biggest fan and the best provider for his family and the hole left by his absence is huge. I will get past this day and will likely shed a few tears but I have nothing but wonderful memories to comfort me and remind me that my life goes on.

The next thing that February brings is an avalanche of memories with Pepe. Although I have written about him before, I rarely write about any specific details or memories because I like to keep that all to myself. I'm making an exception now because of several things which have him at the forefront of my thoughts lately. Unfortunately, he was on the receiving end of some of my worst panic attacks before I knew about my ASD (acute stress disorder). We've been friends for almost 17 years and I've always been neurotic and insecure about lags in communication with him. For nearly 2 decades he has patiently and kindly reassured me and I have bridged the gaps of flakiness because that's the yin and yang of our friendship. My preoccupation with my jacked up emotions has severely disrupted the balance we've always had and I feel I haven't been there for a friend when he has needed one most.

Most of the February memories with Pepe are from 16 years ago.....still within the first year of our association. After 10 months of unemployment and countless resumes having been sent, he had a series of interviews that finally resulted in a job offer on Feb 7th or 8th of 2002. We were supposed to go to dinner to celebrate but we ended up staying in and watching the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The night was significant in many ways and I remember it each February without any fanfare but this year, as he is so heavily on my mind and it is also a winter Olympic year, it seems those memories from 16 years ago are on repeat in my mind. I doubt he remembers the date specifics, but I know he remembers the events. I hope the memories are as good for him as they are for me.

The last Pepe memory that February brings is from 2009. The 13th was on a Friday and everyone knows how much I love Friday the 13th. I was sitting at the Red Rooster with my friend, Amy, and it was just before midnight and he sent me a text that just said, "Happy Valentine's Day". This isn't significant because of the message, but just the sentiment. In all the years I've known him, he has never said (either verbally or written) so much as a happy birthday, a merry Christmas, happy St Pat's, etc....to me. Nothing. Except that one Friday the 13th in 2009. It wasn't meant as a gesture of love because that's not how he and I are, but it is a memory that I love all the same.

February will be bittersweet but I'm so very thankful it is full of memories of 2 men (My Poppy and Pepe) who are so similar in their demeanor and  personality and not memories of silly, insignificant people who have made guest appearances throughout the Februarys of my life.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A New Perspective: In Memorium Through a Different Lens

I've written about my friend Becky many times over the years and about the lasting impact her life and death have had on me. Today marks 30 years since she died and although much of how I feel about Becky and honoring her friendship and memory remains the same, some of my perspective has changed as a result of losing my nephew because he was nearly the same age as Becky when she died.

The original post that I'll be pulling excerpts from can be read HERE.

On January 18, 1988, Becky was killed in an accident on her way back to school from having gone to retrieve a yearbook layout she had forgotten at home. I had seen her in the hall that morning as I was rushing to my first class and we exchanged a few words about the exciting things happening in our boy-crazy, high school lives and promised to find time later in the day to really discuss all our news.......but that was the last time I ever spoke to Becky.
I was 16 when this happened and mortality rarely enters one's mind at that age. It felt so open-ended without any chance for closure. In the days following Max's death, I remember reading the things his friends were posting and I knew exactly how they felt. Many of his friends connected with me on social media and I think it helps all of us in different ways to ease the pain of a sudden loss.

Because of Becky's kindness to everyone, I try to be the kind of friend to my friends and those I meet that she was to me. I feel this is the best way to honor her memory and keep part of her alive.

As an auntie, it's so important for me to keep Max's memory alive. I think of he children his siblings will have and I want to help them know their Uncle Max. I want people to hear my nephew's beautiful singing voice and know what a talented guitarist he was. I don't know if any of his friends feel this way, but if my own experience has taught me anything, there are friends who's lives he touched who will always keep his memory alive.

Becky is still very much a part of [our] lives and friendship. We try to make fairly regular trips to her final resting place in Missouri and hope her family finds comfort in knowing how much we loved her, too.

For years I wondered if any of Becky's family would see the remembrances we would leave on her grave and find comfort that friends from Oklahoma not only thought of her but would make the trip to remember her more than 20 years after her passing. When I visit Max's resting place and see little things his friends leave, I feel so much comfort and now understand that Becky's family certainly found comfort in the things we would leave.

It's hard to believe it has been 30 years and given the struggles I have had regarding loss, remembering Becky and drawing some parallels has been good for me. I hope in 30 years one of Max's friends will be thinking of him and the impact he had on their life. I'm so thankful for everything Becky brought to my life and continues to bring.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dealing with Loss

This may be the most difficult thing I've ever tried to write. And if you're reading this, I finally hit the "publish" button.

I will be the first to admit that I've lived a pretty charmed life when it comes to loss. Until losing my father in 2016, I'd never known any profound sadness and had never even remotely felt any depression. In fact, there are many times I wrote about my extreme optimism and my feeling that I might not even be ABLE to be depressed. I think that may be one of the main reasons it took me so long to realize I wasn't just dealing with depression associated with grief. I honestly thought that once I got past the one year mark I would start to come out of my funk. I was wrong. It got worse and there were days that I would only move from my bed to make sure my mother was taken care of and had something to eat. Then I would head back to my cocoon  so I could hide from and protect myself from feeling anything but the dull ache in my heart.

At the end of March, my 18 year old nephew was taken from us suddenly and the nature of his death was fairly violent. Instead of falling deeper into depression, I was suddenly out of my funk and moving with a purpose again. I knew I had to live every bit of life that I had because my nephew no longer could. I felt as though I had been pulled from the flames of a burning building! My life had been saved from the downward spiral of depression and I felt young....as though I had been reborn. That feeling lasted about 3 week and I was unaware that I was operating on adrenaline from the sudden shock. As the adrenaline high subsided, I began to spiral  back down into my deep depression but as the days and weeks passed, I could tell something was different. The most noticeable was my anger. At first I just thought I was finally moving through my grief but I was noticing that this anger came with an aggression that made this life-long pacifist want to throat punch or put my knee to a groin. I felt like I would be better if I could just destroy things. Swipe everything off the table and shelves, upend all the furniture and smash all windows and TVs. This anger tinged with violence started to scare me because I couldn't control when I felt or for how long. As the months passed, I also developed irrational fears that wold bring on anxiety attacks. That was what made me start to think I was going crazy. As one who has always been level-headed and calm, it seems 100 times worse because friends and some family would suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of one of the panic attacks and I had neither an explanation for my bizarre behavior  nor an excuse for my inability to control or calm the attack once it had started.

This past November after a particularly emotional weekend away from my day-to-day life, I felt bombarded with every type of emotion. Most of them were good, but a few were difficult and sad but it was probably the first time I had allowed myself to fully feel ANY type of emotion since February 2016. Once those flood gates were opened, I couldn't staunch the flow and that's when I thought about fading away....ceasing to exist. That's when I knew something was very wrong and beyond my control.

It wasn't easy, but I went to see a therapist and after a brief explanation of the crazy and uncontrollable things I was feeling. After 15 minutes the therapist told me I had Acute Stress Disorder.

What is Acute Stress Disorder?  It turns out that it's a mild form of PTSD. In an instant I felt ridiculous....like some frivolous little girl. How on earth could I have anything even remotely resembling PTSD? I kept thinking......that can't be. I'm not even the one who lost their son. I'm not the one who is living like half or them was removed when their spouse died. I was just a girl who had always been incredibly stable and sane who had lost her father and her nephew.

My therapist sent me home with an assignment to read about Acute Stress Disorder. As soon as I read a textbook definition, I knew that he was 100% correct with his diagnosis and I felt just a little bit of the craziness leave my weary mind. I have a lot of work to do and the worst part of my panic disorder is the impending sense of loss that I feel looming constantly, just waiting to swoop in and take away another person from my life. It's likely this feeling will not even begin to subside until after April. My subconscious perceives a pattern of loss [my father in Feb 2016; my nephew in March 2017, and ??? in April 2018] Just typing that has my anxiety building and I can feel my limbs shaking as my heart races. 

To any of you who have been on the receiving end of one of these attacks, I am trying to get to each of you personally to apologize and explain. For now, when I feel as though I'm about to lose someone, I focus on the type of loss I'm panicked over. As my therapist points out.....all loss besides death can be regained, found, added back to you. And focusing on the difference in the types of loss have made it much more manageable in my mind.

At times this diagnosis still seems a bit ridiculous but I know I already feel better than I did and I might get through this without losing too many of my marbles. Be kind to each other and be mindful that everyone has something unseen to others that's a burden they must bear on their own each day. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Private! Keep Out! [Relevant Wisdom from my Lovey Mom]

Those who know me, know how wise my Lovey Mom is. She has always been able to teach important life lessons in simple and effective ways. So many of these lessons/concepts contribute to character and values and have consequently become the cornerstone and foundation of my own life. I can't speak to others and the choices they make, but I share my Lovey Mom's morality tale as it has recently come up more that once on several fronts in my life.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T ones P-R-I-V-A-C-Y 

For as long as I can remember, my Lovey Mom gave me and my siblings absolute privacy. Not only were our bedrooms a personal sanctuary, the expectation of privacy was total; covering every space/aspect of our life. She felt that everyone should feel their personal privacy was important enough to be respected, no matter our age. In so doing, she taught me that every one's privacy is sacrosanct. Knowing that my privacy was respected, I never felt the need to hide anything. 

Lovey Mom's Privacy Principle was based on avoiding a moral dilemma. As an example: If I left a note I'd written to a friend (folded and on a table in the den) and she read it and discovered that my friends and I were planning to skip school and go to the movies...not only would she feel the need to confront me about the plan to skip school, she would also have to confess to invading my privacy and that just wasn't something she ever wanted to do as a parent. [Heather's note: I never would have skipped school. I would have told my mom that everyone was skipping to see a movie and would have asked her to call the school and excuse me for the rest of the day. I know.....but, I was raised by Lovey Mom and it was a wonderfully symbiotic existence.]

Don't misunderstand. If my parents had ever suspected that we were hiding something that would have hurt us or caused us trouble, they would have come to us and given us a chance to come clean. If necessary, I suppose they would have informed us of a need to look through our rooms but that was never an issue that ever came up with any of us.

Because of this lifelong respect of my privacy, I've never been tempted to snoop or pry but I also expect that everyone will extend that same courtesy to me. I also understand that sometimes, things are seen accidentally and can't be unseen.

I suppose I'm writing this as a way to offer amnesty to the few who have found themselves elbow-deep in my private things and are unable to confront me without admitting their own gaffe.  I'd be more than happy to address any concerns or explain what you encountered. I can assure you I have nothing I'm hiding from you.