Sunday, September 27, 2015

“You don't look fake when you unconsciously pretend.”

Confession Time:  I am a really good actor.

I mean, I am phenomenal.  When I was in elementary school, I was given the best speaking lines in the church pageants.  In high school, I attended all the forensics tournaments and directed segments for competition.  I was voted "Most likely to win an Oscar" my senior year.  But I'm not talking about acting on stage, where it's safe to be a character and praised for being entertaining and obviously engaged in pretend play.  This is about putting on a face and presenting myself to the world on a daily basis.  For this, I am colossal.

The best role I've ever cast myself in, is a bubbly blonde whose snark and wit often earns her big laughs.  She's a smiler--been described as inspiring and confident.  I've been portraying her so long, she often feels real.  Most people don't seem to notice that she part of a life-long improvisation.  We all know what "normal" looks like and I've done research, like any other actor worth her salt.

It's easy to show people what they want to see; they usually do the majority of the work me by ignoring subtleties and discontinuity.  It's not hard to change my words to fit what I should be feeling or how I understand what needs to be done to cope with stress.  I've lied to therapists, friends, family, and occasionally myself in this aspect.

The truth beneath this persona, is that I am tired and frightened.  I don't know what reaction I'll receive if I am unabashedly candid.  That perhaps my mood is so easily corruptible, I'm viewed as unstable, weird, or the dreaded crazy.  Because I am unusual--often feeling broken and unfixable--there is no place for me outside of my own mind.  I do not want to answer your ritualistic greeting with, "I'm fine."  But because, "I feel overwhelmed with minor grievances and daily living is exhausting." is a bit of a harsh bummer, I tend to retreat into the likeable and healthier version of myself.  I am a real adult, with responsibilities and obligations.  But I seriously have a hard time getting my shit together most days. 

Today's subject line quote is  ― Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's like stepping into a dream you've been dreaming for as long as you can remember and finding out that the dream is more real than your life.

     I have a recurring dream where I'm shopping in Target.  Suddenly, as I'm pushing the big red cart full of my children and our novelties, my left leg locks up and I have to stiffly limp across the store.  Eventually, I try to run but only end up progressively rigid from the hip down.  It doesn't happen every night.  And when I do have it, I often don't remember the details until I see something that sparks my memory.

     Four weeks ago, I woke up and felt incredibly fatigued.  It hasn't been unusual in the last six months.  I had a baby, after all.  I don't recall having my usual dream this particular time, but it could have been lost somewhere in my subconscious.  I kept falling asleep every time my eyes closed, regardless of what I was doing--watching t.v., sitting in the car on the way to church, waiting for the teens to finish a sentence as I was volunteering with them during the service, while eating my Nachos Supreme at lunch.

     Our house was trashed from a typical weekend of parenting.  Dom was pushing hard for us all to get up and start wiping off the gooey hand prints from tables, fold the laundry forming peaks in the dining room, and pick up the infinite tripping hazards strewn all over the floors.  No one was terribly motivated, but I felt a migraine coming on.

     The whole morning I had been in a fog.  It was hard to come up with the right words to express myself.  Earlier, I spent a full 25 seconds trying to stall for the word "formula" while talking about following preset patterns in literature.  Eventually, reading became too difficult--even trying to decipher Facebook statuses was making my brain feel like a useless pool of jelly. During lunch, the family was watching the "Left vs. Right" episode of Brain Games;  I was totally killing it in a game similar to the concept in this video:  
     I confessed that it was my newly acquired superpower of not being able to read that got me the lead.  Dom had a seriously puzzled look on his face and suggested we go for a family walk.  Two houses down on our trek, I felt deliriously happy.  The grass was the most beautiful shade of brown, the sun was casting a halo of euphoria everywhere I gazed.  My children looked like little glowing beacons.  What was I just doing?  I glanced to the stroller that I was pushing, up at my husband and son ahead of me.  I'm going for a walk with my family.   
     We cornered the block and headed toward our mailbox.  It was Sunday, but we rarely remember to get the mail every day.  What am I doing?  Oh, I'm going for a walk with my family.  My stride slowed a bit.  I'm taking a walk with my family.  A few more steps.  What was I out here for?  The kids zoomed past me, racing for the mailbox.  I am on a walk with my family.  

     My hips felt tight.  I pushed forward, still looking around the neighborhood in its new glow of blissful light.  I am taking a walk with my family.  I am taking a walk with my family.  Something was wrong and I was finally queuing into it.  My left leg was feeling a bit sluggish--not heavy, but it seemed to be running it's own pace compared to the rest of my body.  Whatever foot was attached to it, it certainly couldn't have been my foot, bent inward and refused to straighten.  This was my nightmare coming true.

     Dom!  The thought was there but the words wouldn't follow.  Again, I tried to call for my husband but only a breathy sigh came out.  Finally, after coaching my mind and vocal cords to collaborate, I was able to meekly stutter it out.  
     He immediately shuffled me into the car, buckling our kids' tiny, terrified bodies into their car seats.  Michael was holding back tears as he asked where we were going.  After three attempts I was able to answer, "Hospital."  Dom was speeding South down Highway One, telling the operator on the other end of his cellphone "I think my wife is having a stroke." 

     Tears were plopping onto my cheeks as I thought This is really happening.  Is this REALLY happening?  Dom hung up and grabbed my thigh, "It's okay.  You're going to be okay."  I heard him say we were only ten minutes out from the E.R. and we were better off driving ourselves than to wait for an ambulance.  Ten minutes?  Isn't that too long?  I'm going to stay like this.  I'm going to get worse.  My eyes met the windshield, the outside still looked surreal.  I am going on a walk with my family.  No, that wasn't true any more.  I am going to the hospital.  Staying grounded was priority.  I am going on a walk--No.  I'm going to the hospital.  

     "Ask.  Me. Quest-ions."  My demand was in a slow, deliberate cadence.  I was able to name my children by their first and middle.  There were more that I aced, but I don't recall the specifics.  In my fuzziness, I just remember thinking about how a mother could ever forget the names of the babies she made from scratch.  And then I felt a pang of dread in my stomach because that might just be what was happening to me.
     A nurse greeted us at the entrance with a wheelchair and helped drag me up the three steps to sit down.  I survived the staff inquisition, all with my one word sentences and hand gestures.  I passed the grip test.  I could swallow.  And eventually my head CT showed that there was no indication that a stroke had occurred or if a tumor was present.  
     Sitting on the bed, the pace of my words came back to normal as time passed.  I felt drunk, but at least I could express that verbally now.  The doctor on duty seemed a bit perplexed at my symptoms.  After his initial examination, he explained that it was likely anxiety related.  

     Once everyone left and I was wearily laying on the bed, completely exhausted, I started crying.  I felt as though this whole ordeal was my own mind's elaborate practical joke against myself.  Thinking that I put my family through such panic over nothing was agonizing.  After being able to explain my symptom progression and disposition for migraines, the doctor said it was likely a migraine equivalent.  Since I hadn't felt a headache through any of the fit, it was a rare event.  

     I've since followed up with a neurologist (who looks incidentally like the portrait of Edgar Allan Poe printed on my tote bag) and has sent me for multiple MRI scans of my head and neck.  I've been cleared of any clots, tumors, lesions, or other scary diagnoses.  His only concern was that my motor skills were lacking in my examination, which ended up being a combination of sleep deprivation and a misplaced disc in my neck from (what was likely) an injury that happened when I was 16 and ended up to catching a color guard flag toss with my face instead of hands.  He was on board with the migraine theory and has recommended physical therapy for the old marching band injury.  

     I'm trying to control my stress levels, but it's difficult being home alone with three kids.  And sleep is number 1 on my wish list, but breastfeeding an infant doesn't let that come easily.  Handling the depression just makes it all 1,000 times more difficult.  So I'm living task-to-task, partaking of the sweet moments as they come. 

Today's subject line quote is Game of Thrones (2011-Present TV Series)
Episode: A Man without Honor (2012).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tell Giles...tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay.

"The hardest thing in this world, is to live in it."  In the episode "The Gift,"  Buffy Summers gave this sentiment to her little sister.  It was an epiphany--for both of them, I'm sure.  For me, too.  I've always spent my life waiting for Happily Ever After.  Movies, TV, books?  All these outlets gave a younger version of myself brief immunity from reality.  But as younger versions of ourselves are less matured and educated, I mistook the life pauses for life expectations. Happiness is not constant; it comes in and out of swells of grief, indifference, and discord.  And, like Buffy, we all battle our demons and celebrate the victories as they come.

The last few years have been a particularly confusing era for me.  The endless hills of emotions have been brutal.  I settled into an amazing community, caught some kindred spirits to share our joys and concerns.  I kept them in a heart-shaped jar and, one-by-one, watched them flutter away to the next home.  It's the occupational hazard of being a military family, befriending other military families, that I hadn't expected in the beginning.  I made friends.  Friends moved.  I moved on. 

With the help of those beautiful creatures, I was able to overcome a lot of my insecurities and anxiety.  I started exercising and lost the remaining college-marriage-baby-ate too much taco bell when I worked there-weight.  I no longer cared if people saw me without makeup.  My paintings were selling at craft fairs and customers wanted me to sew dresses and capes for their kids.  My kids were happy and my marriage seemed to be slowly solidifying into a steady rock.  So we decided to add another family member.

About 4 weeks into the pregnancy, I was nauseated by everything.  Barfing was my newest talent and I was perfecting it.  By 6 weeks, I had developed a hemorrhage behind the baby and was told to park my ever-widening-ass until it cleared up.  I watched Supernatural via Netflix on my bed all day, next to a lime green puke bowl as I let the downstairs t.v. raise my kids for the summer.    I felt myself slinking closer to a dark place I hadn't been to in a while.  Was I becoming depressed again? 

I told myself it was just circumstances getting me down, mixing a cocktail of hormones in my brain and that any day I would sober up.  Eventually, Willow was born and I was ecstatic!  She's perfect.  Nurses well, sleeps great, smiles constantly!  The older kids love her, as does her daddy.  So why was I suddenly, after two months of pure bliss, feeling so defeated?

All I wanted to do was sleep or cry.  My body had exploded to 200 lbs. during the pregnancy and I had even gained weight in the hospital, despite having a 7 lb. 7 oz. person surgically removed from me.  My office is an abandoned wasteland of crafting supplies because time is a precious resource and I now have 4 other people in the house that need mine.  A hollowness had taken over.  I let my mind marionette me around, mimicking my old emotions, but it was just a performance for the spectators.  When I was alone, I was hung up and lifeless.

It's just the Baby Blues.  Every mom gets overwhelmed and exhausted with a newborn.  It will pass.  My thoughts ticked on with time.  When I hadn't had any local visitors, they evolved from I guess everyone is giving me time to get settled at home all the way into nobody cares that I had a baby--no one even wants to meet her.  Eventually, I believed there was no reason to exist.  I actually uttered a daily mantra--Nobody cares if you are alive.  You don't do anything but screw things up.  Maybe everyone would be better off without you.

I was holding Willow, post afternoon feeding, when I whispered it to myself; that's the moment I recognized where I had gone.  This was that lonely, awful place I had been sequestered to as a teen and again as a young adult.  Hormones may have played a role in my return to depression, but it certainly wasn't going to fade without intervention.  It wasn't right.  A person who literally depends on me for life--who's whole existence would fade without me supporting her, feeding her, loving her, was staring up at me and I couldn't allow myself to truly feel it.

I've been on medication since April.  There are days that I still struggle.  This might be the monster I fight for the rest of my life.  But, I'm fighting to make it a long one. 

"Be brave. Live.  For me."

Today's subject line quote is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003 TV Series)
Episode: The Gift (2000).


Follow me. I might lead you somewhere you haven't been.