Tag Archives: mental illness

Welcome to the doll house

21 Oct

1:06 am

I like that title, never saw the movie, and it only pertains to this post in that, I’ve been going through my old collection of Barbie dolls and really getting into it again–remembering why I loved them so much as a kid.  I was going to put them all up on eBay, but um, most aren’t worth that much because they are super-used, and, I do NOT have the patience to spend HOURS picking through my dolls and clothes and trying to figure out if this was Dream Date or Loving You or Peaches N Cream Barbie and then, after posting to eBay, having to field collectors’ questions!  I thought I was pedantic (which is what makes me a good collector/historian…!).  Still, THAT was actually fun, going through my dolls; I think I’ll probably keep the special dolls and clothes (I had the dream house and car and camper van, too, back in the day; I kind of want to hold onto something of my collection!).

What wasn’t as much fun was going through the other stuff.  And, I have been avoiding writing about it and I guess I should write about it, is all I have to say.

About what? Well, everything! Haha. Life, getting older, my dog getting older, my mom getting older, um, discovering via all this sorting of old stuff–writings, mainly, and photos–that my life seems to have been not an adventurous, freewheeling trip of courage and coming of age; but more a meandering path of mental illness.  That, all my writings are not a gold mine of material but a testament to mental illness over the years–and how to live with it while also not even acknowledging that it is there.  What an iceberg I feel like this realization might be; no wonder I threw this shit into storage a decade ago, moved to the island to start over, and never, EVER thought about looking back literally, at this stuff.  I didn’t want to confront it, and I couldn’t.

One good thing about getting older is that, for me anyway, I can see my own life and choices and path and behaviors much more objectively (it also helps that I am not drinking and wine is no longer exacerbating my issues or masking them!).  What mental illness am I talking about?  I’m talking about depression and social anxiety, sure; but also, things like being on the autism spectrum, borderline personality disorder, maybe even some form of paranoid delusions of grandeur (schizoaffective disorder, something of that nature).  I am not saying I suffered from these things; but, that, there may have been some element of all of them in my past.

It’s not easy, and it’s a slow unraveling.  I’ve kind of wanted to drink past few weeks, but more out of boredom than avoidance or fear of confronting this stuff.  I mean, I’m OK, no one is going to die, but…it’s a bit scary and daunting to remember just how effed up I felt back then, as a teen and 20-something (and 30-something!).

So much has happened the past few weeks, too.  After my mom’s visit–and seeing in action what I would call pretty obvious mental illness; where do you think I get it from?–I am just a bit burnt on all the self-analysis.

My mom’s visit was hard, to say the least.  I don’t think we’ll be spending anymore time alone (without the buffer of other family members), I hate to say.  Before her visit, I spent what felt like an eternity sorting through photos from 20 years ago and beyond.  I hadn’t looked at the scrapbooks and piles of prints from grade school all the way through my early 30s (about the time digital cameras took over, thank god) for years; I mean, we’re talking, I hadn’t looked at some of these photos but ONCE since I printed them at a Walgreens in 1995!  At this rate, I won’t look at these again until I’m 70 (um, in 25 years–holy CRAP, that sounds terrifying); what’s the point in keeping them?

And, that is where my mom comes into the picture.  In looking through the old photos, I saw who she was then more clearly, and I saw who I was then more clearly.  She is different now, but not that different!  All this time, I’ve been thinking that somewhere along the way, she just BECAME super-irritating to me; but, she’s always been herself.  So, what’s changed?  It must be me!  I have changed, a LOT, and especially around how I view my upbringing and how I let it and my stressors affect my life now.

Without really going in too deep around her and me and our issues, one of my big takeaways from our weekend is that, she does not want to hear the “objective” truth; she’s not ready to truly look at her own role in her unhappiness.  The ONLY reason I can say this is that I’ve lived it; as an alcoholic, as we all know, a HUGE part of our recovery is coming to terms with the following life FACTS:

it’s not all about me

stop taking things personally

it’s none of my business what others think of me

let it go

These basic “tenets” of sobriety seem to be what normies just know, or what other people learn as they mature without having to go through recovery first!  Why, at 73 years old, is my mother still seeming to refuse these universal mantras?  Like, I know that it’s really hard to choose to not take things personally, but I also know that continuing to do so causes me pain and that pain is greater than the effort of practicing new behavior.  I don’t know, it was like talking to a wall.  She knows all this stuff, too, but for some reason, she seems to be clinging more and more to choosing patterns of behavior that are negative and take up all her time.  Who knows?  I sure don’t know it all, and I can’t spend much more time trying to figure another person out (I am enough work!).

After talking a bit more with a few people close to me, I realized, if she’s not ready to try to see her role in relationships that are not working for her, and if she’s not ready to do a little self-analysis, then…I can’t take on the sadness and guilt that I do feel because she seems terribly unhappy (unless she isn’t really all that unhappy and is just being dramatic or passive aggressive–another story for another blog post).  I just have to let it go, and allow myself to do what I can for her but to then be happy, unapologetically and fully.  And I do, and she wholeheartedly wants me to (consciously, at least).

At this point, I’m like, who knows?  I have to let it go, and I will…

On that note, my brain is a bit fried, I am burning up tonight (again, who KNOWS what’s going on with my hormones, why one week or day I’m fine, the next my torso is on fire, and the next, it’s only my legs!  WHO KNOWS?), and I really just need to close up shop and turn the light out (in my brain).  I had a great day taking my dog to the beach–she’s “elderly” now, sweet girl, and that is painful; but, the twinges are counteracted by the fact that she’s still out there, frolicking in the water, and truly loving life.  What more could a girl want for her “daughter?”

We are moving in less than FIVE short weeks, and of course, my pedantic self has sold off quite a bit of our furniture.  I have this strange desire to get rid of EVERYTHING, to have no bleepity bleeping stuff anymore–maybe I’m just tired of carrying the weight of the past, feeling like I owe it something that I don’t; maybe I’m just tired of caring about keeping stuff.  I’ve never been one to be truly obsessive about not having clutter, but lately, I’ve been dreaming of a truly clutter-free existence where no stuff is going to trigger me, where the only thing that surrounds my field of view is white light, an open space of present-future, silence to meditate and dream…

Mental illness should not be a moral failing

28 Jul

11:24 am

So, because I’m either a cynic/pessimist, or because I’ve been around the sobriety block and tend to see deeper into things or events than the average “normie” and apply my perceptions differently as they relate to my long-term sobriety–YES, my presentation went off successfully, but I did learn a few things.  I learned that PTSD is real, the brain connections made to enable such a state are powerful, and using drugs to help yourself recover is not only not a bad thing, but a professional method toward recovery.  I learned that my real voice needed to be “let out of prison,” that some/maybe a lot of people relate success to willfulness only and not to a variety of factors (some of which, like mental illness, you are not always in control of), and of my own strong desire for approval from others.

In short, I mentioned the other day that I had been alerted about a month ago by my direct boss that I had to participate in giving a team presentation to our larger group/team at our group meeting that happened just this past week.  Upon hearing the news, and for the next month, I worried and obsessed–and prepared.  I have had a major fear of public speaking and stage fright surrounding this for about 13 years (since an incident in graduate school), and I simply HAD to deliver this time around.  I knew that if I didn’t get help, I would not be able to get up there, I would disappoint my big boss (my boss’s boss) and team yet again (I’ve had, as it goes with stage fright, major issues even introducing myself to the team at past events), and I might even jeopardize my job!

So, I freaking made it happen.  I booked an appointment with a psychiatrist, got a prescription, then used said drug at various public speaking “test” events around my ‘hood all throughout the month of July to see if it worked, and how much of it I needed to take for it to work.  Fast forward to the day of my talk–effing FINALLY–on Thursday of this past week, and WOW/HOLY EFF, I rocked it!  I got up in front of the crowd, and all of the sudden, this deep sense of calm came over me; I just stood there, folded my hands in front of my legs, and began speaking, interacting, and generally, performing at a level I never thought possible for me.  On the flight home, I came up with this as to how it made me feel:  the real me was released from my jail cell, and not only that, set free into the grass, where I danced, literally, to celebrate being free.  It was like, the real me was finally able to come out and perform–I was finally able to show my team who I was, how prepared I usually am, how committed and invested I am in this job, and how well I am doing the job, or at the very least, trying to do it.

It didn’t go unnoticed:  everyone, including my big boss, complimented me; she even took me aside and told me that not only did I do a great job, but that I had improved very much over the past three months (we last saw each other in April at another conference).  Which brings me to my first point:  how come I was now considered competent and successful, just because I was somehow (um, thanks pharmacology) able to “overcome” my stage fright and perform like a “normal” human being?  I mean, I am always competent, whether I have mental illness or not; it’s not my fault I have this type of stage fright/mental illness; and, it’s not something I can control.  BUT, having it does not preclude me from also being competent and succeeding at my job.

Another thing I realized was how much I was simply craving not just her approval, but the entire team’s.  I mean, I was SO wanting her to say, I approve of you–and she did, more or less, for the first time since I started this job. I felt SO relieved and reassured when, after complimenting me, she actually talked to me as a person (we had never had a real conversation before); and, later throughout the day, I felt somehow more or less included in the upper tier/managerial team (I am not really part of that team, but at my age and with my title and experience, I SHOULD embrace that type of role, if offered).  UGH–I mean, I cannot deny that that was exactly what I was craving, but it sort of startles me that I need approval that badly.

In any case, I am not only flying high, I am super-relieved.  Of course, there will be other conferences and meetings, and of course, I’ll have to decide if and how I will use the medication (there aren’t many side effects, but there are some; also, if I was a masochist, which I kind of am, I might want to keep attending my public speaking group events here at home to practice speaking without the medication–I don’t foresee myself EVER being able to be as calm and “competent-sounding” as I was on Thursday without that medication, but, you never know/stranger things have happened).  For now, though, I am flying high, grateful, and SO ready to put that behind me and move on.

Moving on, indeed!  In other news, we’ve decided to move back to our island!  I won’t say too much about that–it’s been a long 1.5 years here, struggling to learn, evolve, grow, and rediscover ourselves; and, we’ve both sort of found what we were looking for (for him, he doesn’t want what the mainland has to offer, and for me, I can take the parts of it that I know I want–I can work this nonprofit job remotely from there–and leave the rest, which I discovered in the past 18 months I actually don’t miss, want, or need).

Anyway, I just wanted to share the happy news that while I did succeed at my speaking event, it wasn’t without a few major personally-vexing revelations–welcome to long-term sobriety.  (oh, and of course, there was one night where I was SO burnt on the interacting with other people that I craved a glass of wine–but, no can do, folks/le effing sigh)

On boundaries and saying ‘no’

7 Apr

12:40 pm

So, this morning, as I was scrolling Facebook, I became frustrated:

Why do I have to care about you?  Ugh, I should have gone to that thing last night–why am I so lazy, why am I so antisocial? 

And, on and on and on.  I saw in the early years of my sobriety just how much I could overthink and overanalyze, and how this contributed to my unhappiness and dependence on wine to escape my thinking.

It got me thinking about something else, too:  here I was, on a beautiful Sunday morning, and what was I doing but berating myself because I had let my Facebook feed intimidate me!

In getting sober and staying sober, I have come to realize that creating boundaries and saying ‘no’ are essential to my peace of mind.  There are a LOT of things that caused me to binge drink and drink alcoholically, and I never made the connection between that reactive behavior and the bullying forces in my life until I got sober.

In fact, there are a lot of bullies in everyone’s life–whether your friends, parents, or coworkers are consciously aware that they are being bullies is up for debate, though.  And, until I started to understand the concepts of boundaries and saying no–that there could be emotional bullying, and that this is far more prevalent than actual, literal bullying–I didn’t get that I could both say, No, I will not do that, and say no to taking on other people’s stress or expectations of me (or themselves).

It still makes me feel angry when I delve into this aspect of long-term sobriety, and I feel like this is something that will never go away completely because almost everyone out there (including myself) is engaging in some form of bullying–whether it’s dumping their emotional baggage on you, manipulating your weaknesses, or just using your reactions to make themselves feel better.  I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it’s ME who is in control of how I perceive and receive people, and how I react and interact with them–that ultimately, bullying is a two-way street.

Some real-world examples:

Facebook/social media–Before I got sober, I would scroll relentlessly, and I would allow everyone’s story to affect me.  I would internalize my feelings of “not good enough” and “guilty” and “should have, could have, would have” without realizing that one, I didn’t need to feel any of that, and two, I had control over who and what I let into my worldview.  These days, when I feel that coming on, I try to remember that social media is not real life; people posting to social media are not trying to offend me, personally; and if I want to not care, I can choose to not care and close the app.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not really interacting with my so-called friends; I have friends in the here and now, and I can interact with them–and this is healthy, and it is good enough.  These days, I would much rather engage people offline, in the real world, and not on social, email, or text.  And, some days, it’s as simple as closing the app and moving on with my day–and not judging myself to be a bad friend, somehow, because I have chosen to be a spectator on social media and not a player.

Parents–You know, before I got sober, I didn’t have as much frustration toward my parents for their mental health issues as I do now.  I knew that my mom’s difficulty setting emotional boundaries and my dad’s bullying behavior definitely contributed to my drinking, but I didn’t know exactly how.  In any case, I internalized my mom’s pain, and I always tried to please my dad–two things that I have to work very hard at today, every time I talk to them, to NOT do!

These days, I don’t know if I’ve figured out exactly how these family relationships have made me who I am, but in getting sober, I have learned that calling my parents less is OK, that not allowing them to control how I feel is OK, that putting up boundaries and saying no to their projections and expectations is OK–I wish it was different because they are in their 70s and “should know better,” but…

My mom has a lot of health problems these days, and so, our calls are always quite long and tedious. I feel like she feels slighted that I don’t call often, and I feel almost unconsciously judged for having become an alcoholic drinker and for not having had kids; but none of this matters when it comes to me needing to say no to taking on her bad mood or her feelings of helplessness.  In part, I think she wants me to share my own health problems, but I refuse to go down that road because it’s almost as if she relishes that; simply put, I DO NOT relish it.

My dad is an entirely different beast in that the family believes he has multiple actual mental health disorders, and his entire way in the world with everyone has always been about manipulating other people to do what he wants them to do for him, and expectation (I am hard on myself and need to prove my worth, so you should be, too).  I have simply come to the frustrating conclusion recently that nothing will ever change in our relationship except the way that I deal with it.  I have decided that while our conversations won’t change, and while I’ll never likely be able to directly say no to him, I can say no to his expectations–I love our life, and I don’t have to let him lead the conversation toward accomplishment as a measure of success.

Job and school stress–It took me getting sober to see that I was putting a TON of unnecessary expectations and pressure on myself for many, many years.  And, that I don’t have to respond to stress the way people around me are either responding to it or worse, telling me how I “should” respond to it.  It’s like, I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses by wanting that house, or that car, or that “bigger” job–likewise, at work, I don’t have to stress out just because my boss or coworkers are stressing out, necessarily or unnecessarily so.  You don’t have to stress out to care, or to prepare; stress will not help you have fun.  You can (and should!) take long showers, eat nice dinners, go to your yoga class, or hey, even hit the beach (man, I miss it!)–AND get your work done, and be a careful, caring employee who is worthy of her paycheck.  This mentality is really hard to push back against, but I have to push back–if not just in defense of my health, but in defense of my sobriety.

Exhale.  We all have to set boundaries and guard them fiercely, no matter if we’re getting or staying sober.  Likewise, we all get to say ‘no’–and that is a beautiful thing.  I think that is the most empowering aspect to my sobriety, and to my evolving life and lifestyle these days.  As recovering binge drinkers or alcoholics, saying no is essential to our happiness, to our joy, to our continued sobriety.

So…just say no (sometimes)!

Darwin was right: we evolve

4 Mar

11:47 am

Not much to report. Aside from realizing that I might be mentally ill after all and that everything–and I mean, everything–in life is disposable. You know, just another day at the sober office.

Seriously, I’ve had all these thoughts lately, some of them related to drinking but more of them related to HOW I lived this past decade and WHY I may have turned to alcohol increasingly to self-soothe, escape, and deny. I was re-reading an old journal I wrote on a trip to Costa Rica back in 2003–I was 29 at the time, going through the seemingly-ludicrous “OMG, 30 equals the END OF MY LIFE” crisis–and man, was I hurting. I was in so much pain. I was mentally unstable, in a way. I mean, really really really up in my head, really paranoid, really all about MOI. I was reliving my teenage years then, so was vain in a way that left me feeling empty–that much I already knew. But, I didn’t realize how my behavior must have turned off those around me…? I don’t know. It just screams, pain, this journal; and frankly, I’m sad that I had to go through that, and a little pissed off, too. It seems like such a waste of time.

Life is such bullshit sometimes for people with mental problems! I envy these happy-go-lucky folks who just don’t seem to care as much–like, they just move on, relate, equate, donate. It’s not a big deal. Life has always been too big of a deal for me, you know? And, I see the obvious now. I am not calling you–or me–mentally “ill” in a bad way; but, when I see how anxious and angry I was back then, I see someone who might have benefited from pharmaceuticals, talk therapy, relationship counseling. Oh, well, 20-20 hindsight, right? You live and learn, right? Life is a journey of the spirit, right?

So much pain. And, interestingly, I was drinking two beers a night back then. It really wasn’t until 2004 that I moved into “raging drunk” (literally) territory–and, that was pretty fast, huh? To go from not really thinking about my two-beers-a-night thing (I remember beer helped me relax, and put me in a sleepy, turn-it-off state) to downing bottles of red wine and blacking out and banging things like my laptops, and phones, and keyboards, and bookshelves? I guess that journal sort of represented the precipice that I stood on: miserable, and about to fall much, MUCH lower.

I’m not sure what to think of all of this. I mean, it’s definitely made me scold myself and my judgments of other “mental cases” (my brother’s girlfriend, my father who is seriously depressed, friends and fellows who are going through the up’s and down’s of life)–I mean, *I* was a fucking mental case back then, and I subtly and craftily denied it for all these years. I KNEW I was hurting, depressed, broken-hearted; I withheld a lot of information, and in my mind, I was raging. However, I was also still me: ambitious, kind, diligent.

I evolved, though. I made it through that year, got into grad school, moved cross-country, began a new life. The booze followed, obviously. And the “thinking problem.” But, I evolved. People evolve. I can look back and say, since 2003–and, I think it really took off with me finally just giving up and getting sober–I’ve learned how to usher out a lot of those extraneous and often overanalytical thoughts. I used to believe I needed to think a LOT about everything all the time. And, as a writer/journalist, that mentality forms the backbone of our profession. However, in sobriety, I learned about letting go–I have to in order to stay sober. I just don’t need to think that much about things–and that is OK.

I think the lesson for me this past week has been, be more aware of where people are coming from. That doesn’t mean let people get away with acting like assholes–there’s a fine line, and if we’ve been sober for a while, we can tell who is worth it and who isn’t. And, if I ever have children, intervene. Butt in! Express my concern. Don’t ignore it or avoid it because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Don’t act out of denial. The long-term repercussions of that are immense.

Today is two weeks away from me turning ONE YEAR SOBER! Woot woot! I’ve thought about drinking again, but I’m quick to wonder, WHY THE FUCK would I do that? So, don’t go throwing up your hands just yet. I mean, the truth is, I don’t know what will happen if I drink again–will I even like it? I can pretty much count on the obsession coming back (It’s 5, can I drink now? What about a little earlier today, maybe 3:30? Can I drink now? What about now?). And, if there’s one thing I’m constantly aware of, it’s this LACK OF OBSESSION. The cravings have dwindled to pretty much being nonexistent. Like, they’re mental cravings now, weak at best; not visceral. And, to live knowing that I can do things–work and run and go out to dinners and attend a wedding–without wanting to drink? Man, that is priceless.

It’s like, I am on even ground now, the Earth is no longer shifting. Even ground means there is no uphill or downhill, just flat. I can walk on flat. I can walk on with my life, on flat ground. I don’t have to run around to find good shoes or a knee brace. My heart rate never goes up, and I never lose my breath. My back doesn’t hurt going up, and my knees don’t hurt going down. I like this, I really, really do. It’s just so much easier now.

Sure, in my mind, I have cravings. Little ones. Sometimes. Then I remember my last drunk and think, But, it wasn’t that good because…I didn’t even get buzzed. I just passed out.

It’s in my heart where I have to be careful. It KNOWS, but it wants, too. What, exactly, it wants (It can’t be wine, it just can’t be, right?), I’m not sure.

And, it’s time to Turn It Off before I write the wrong ending to my story. 🙂

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