Snarkeling

Just beneath the surface of normal


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Anatomy of A Breakdown

Well, here we are at another healthcare post. I swear, 50% of this blog is me talking about medical issues. But I think that it’s important to talk about the stuff that nobody wants to talk about, because otherwise it always seems like we’re going through something unique all alone, which is pretty much never true. But my brain is really foggy and unfocused right now, so I have no idea how this will turn out or if you’ll be able to follow. At any rate…

Stuff I’ve learned this week:

1 in 6 mental health crises are due to workplace issues. That’s too many for me to accept the notion that I should hide this. Mental illness is still stigmatized, but it shouldn’t be if that many people are struggling with their jobs (which of course they are because humans were never designed to live like this). I came out at work that I was sick with a nervous breakdown, just like I would tell the truth if I’d had a heart attack or a broken leg. We don’t have short term disability (which should really be renamed, because STD sounds like something you wouldn’t want at a workplace when you actually should) so I’m using FMLA leave to get my brain functioning again, and I’m not going back until I feel like I can do the job I’m paid to do again. I started wanting to die instead of going to work, and I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be ashamed of that when the environment is as toxic as it is. Absolutely everyone has been very kind to me about it, and I don’t have to hold the shame (or mental cohesiveness) of a secret, which is too much for me to handle right now anyway.

New meds can do super-weird things to your brain. For example, last night I accidentally made cupcakes. Yes, accidentally. See, I keep winding up at events that serve desserts I can’t eat because they have gluten and/or dairy in them, so I’ve had a growing urge for chocolate ganache, as I sadly pass up the pretty pastries. Last night after I dropped Jim off for his trip to Boston, I was rummaging in the cabinet for a snack and found these really bland gluten free cookies, so l decided that I would make some dairy free ganache (literally just some almond milk and a chopped up dark chocolate bar melted in the microwave & stirred, with a dash of salt at the end) to spread on the cookies and make them better – which I did. Except that by the time I finished making the ganache, I had forgotten about the cookies and I was all, “Why the hell did I just make a whole cup of chocolate goo? What am I going to do with it?” So I rummaged in a different cabinet and found expired gluten free cake mix and decided I’d make cupcakes or something. Which I did, adding a bit of extra baking powder to accommodate the expiration problem, and then I sat down on the couch and waited for them to bake.

At which point I realized that I’m home alone all week and not working, and I now have 18 gluten free cupcakes, which have an edible lifespan of about 48 hours, and nobody to share them with, and I only really wanted one cupcake. So now, instead of “why did I just make ganache?” I was left pondering, “why on earth did I just make cupcakes, and what the hell am I going to do with them?” (answer: probably freeze them) In other words: accidental cupcakes.

Which is all to say that while the new medication seems to be affording me a certain amount of volition, it’s not offering any focus or linear thinking/problem solving skills to accompany it. Which is probably why a lot of suicides happen right after a medication change. Don’t worry, I’m being careful. But this is also why I’m on leave. I can’t do my job if I’m losing track of what I’m doing this easily. I deal with academic petitions and confidential information, and that’s too important for me to lose someone’s paperwork and accidentally make cupcakes instead. Also I seem to be having panic attacks at semi-predictable times every day, which really doesn’t work in a customer-facing job.

There are a lot of resources for when you’re crashing, but they aren’t where you’re looking. Finding a new Psychiatrist is a joke, especially when you need one now. Because there’s a massive shortage, and the insurance industry still doesn’t treat mental illness as an illness, so what Psychiatrists there are often don’t  work with insurance companies. The good news:

  1. There is a thing called a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, who can help with medication issues. I’m seeing one at the crisis center until I can be shoehorned into a practice, but I’d be perfectly happy to just see her forever. The more time I spend with NPs, the more I prefer them to doctors, because they listen and have empathy and aren’t in it for the ego trip.
  2. This is too hard to figure out alone. Call a crisis hotline, or go to the Health & Human Services Mental Health site for immediate resources. If you don’t want to talk to people on the phone, you can also go to this services locator and find all the resources in your area. If all of that is too much, enlist a friend or family member. If that’s too much, you should probably call 911 right now, because you’re in worse shape than you realize, especially if you’re thinking about how nice it would be to be not alive right now.
  3. This is a serious illness, and it is eligible for leave from work, school, etc. while you figure it out. All of it will wait, and that happening is much better than dying, even if it fucks with your plans.

I am a fucking badass. I have endured sexual abuse, rape, assault, emotional abuse, abandonment, and a veritable shit-bouquet of other traumas. I have PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Most people like me are unable to sustain relationships, and are trapped in some form of addiction (which is pretty much why I can’t watch Jessica Jones even though it’s really good). I’ve been in therapy for the better part of my life, and the return on that is that I know when I’ve gone too far and my feelings are out of my control and I need to get help. I know that hitting a wall is usually actually a stair step higher than I was prepared for, and I can see it as an opportunity for growth, even if the process is bullshit. I’m in a happy marriage with a supportive spouse who is an active partner in my healing process, and helps me confront things like shame and overwhelm and irrational terror with grace and kindness. I have a kid who appears to be a successful adult and is more or less free of the generational cycle of abuse. I’m doing better than most, and still I struggle and fall. Not to say that I’m better than anyone who is trapped in addiction or abusive relationship cycles, just that I have worked for long enough to have earned some perspective and I’m grateful for it. Usually I’m sort of embarrassed to be me, but the crisis counselor was genuinely blown away by how functional I am despite my breakdown, and how able I am to speak for what’s happening to me rather than from it. Go me! I rock at breakdowns, woo!

This is survivable. I know that most of the people who read this know me and know a lot of this (though I’m not talking much these days, so this also serves as a sort of an update). But I also hope that someone somewhere stumbles on this when they’re lost and don’t know what to do and at the end of their rope and finds their way to help, because even though it feels like a hole you can’t get out of, you totally can. And you will, because nothing stays the same even if you want it to (and hey, who WOULDN’T want to hang out in this pit forever, right?). But first you have to ask for help. And then you have to let go and trust that instead of falling further, you will rise. I totally believe in you – you can do this thing. Ten seconds at a time.

If random encouragement from a stranger doesn’t help, go read this, because cartoons about depression are somehow really comforting.

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Allie Brosh is like the matron saint of depressed people.


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When Your Mental Health Crisis Doesn’t Fel Crisis-y Enough

I have a couple of half-written posts that I’m struggling with because I’ve been going over an emotional cliff in slow motion for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I went over the edge- which is basically a good thing, but sucks balls while it’s happening.

I forced myself out of bed with this song:

to drag myself into my miserable job and try to hold it together another day, while I thought things like how much nicer it would be to be dead than to continue dying slowly in this place, and then tried to keep that line of thinking as controlled and non-specific as I could. About an hour in, someone pulled the panic alarm in the bathroom, where it went off for 10 more minutes. That was the straw was too much for my already camel-laden nerves. Tears came, and wouldn’t stop, so I had to go home. Not sobbing or ugly crying or anything, just leaking from the eyes and nothing I could do about it. So I grabbed a tissue and walked the long way around campus and took the train home, wishing I’d taken more than one tissue as the one I was holding got soggier and more full of eye makeup.

Jim came and got me, and I sobbed in the car a little bit, then took a whole Ativan and went to sleep. I woke up last night feeling hollowed out and still on the edge of tears despite a long walk in the sunshine, and so I called out sick today because this is the mental health equivalent of a cluster migraine, or possibly a TIA.

I spent this morning trying to find a new psychiatrist, because my last one moved away and I just let my primary keep renewing my prescriptions for the past 18 months or however long it’s been because I seriously can’t keep up with time anymore. Over the course of two hours of searching and calling, most weren’t taking new patients, some didn’t take insurance, and some were just incredibly impatient with me.

I went online to request a referral, but I had to name the unit to complete the request – and all of this is so fucking much to cope with when you’re about 80% of the way to catatonic. So I went to the website of the hospital network to look up what to call their behavioral health practice, when I came across a crisis number. I called it and they referred me to a place nearby that does walk-in intervention for people who aren’t at the planning point of suicidal (if you’re starting to plan, just call 911). I see my therapist in half an hour, after which I will go to my calculus class because I’m afraid of missing any more and there’s an exam next week and I need to improve my grade to pass, and then I will go get walk-in help before I get any worse. I’m afraid of being hospitalized, but I feel sort of safe that they’ll be able to determine if that’s the right thing, and it isn’t up to me to try to assess myself and navigate this on my own.

So I guess I’m writing this to say that nervous breakdowns are going to happen when you’re being treated for depression, anxiety, and PTSD and have been in a shitty situation for a really long time, and that if everything seems hopeless and inescapable and you’re having vague thoughts about dying but you’re sure that you wouldn’t follow through, you should still contact a crisis hotline right away – even if you’re not an immediate danger to yourself. They can do all the rational thinking bits and help you find the resources you need so that you can find a way through and get away from those intrusive thoughts.

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you can’t bring yourself to talk, there is also an online chat option.

 


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Return of Dicktater

Somewhere, my friends, there is a pornographic sweet potato farm, and Whole Foods has bought exclusive rights (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, new readers, this has happened before. Now it’s somehow an industry). In what may be one of the stranger sentences I’ve ever uttered, I can no longer buy sweet potatoes without getting sort of confusingly turned on.

I defy you to contradict me:

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Son of Dicktater: bigger, straighter, more…veiny. I am not entirely comfortable with chopping that up to roast.

…veiny?

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Seriously. Veiny sweet potatoes. How does that even happen? I really don’t think that’s how tubers’ circulatory systems work. It’s not even suggestive, it’s just a scary ‘roid-neck tater. But VEINS!

And lastly, y’all, – and I think this proves that I’m not just making up some kind of weird tuberous conspiracy theory – I give you:

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Where do baby dicktaters come from? Why, vagtater poontato, of course!

To be fair, that last one could also be Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But I don’t think it is.

 


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Mommyversary

This is the post about Corinne turning 18 that I’ve been trying to write for an entire year. Technically she doesn’t turn 19 for another eleven hours, so I made it. Barely. It took this long to come to to terms with the transition to being the parent of an adult. The past year saw her graduate from high school, be responsible for translating Mexico for me and vice-versa (“Mom. Stop trying to speak Spanish. Just stop.”), move into dorms, make the Dean’s List, get a driving permit, and plan a trip to Spain this summer. She’s had a remarkable year, and I’m so proud of her.

It’s SO hard, though. Nothing prepares you for the Age of Majority. One day their entire life is your responsibility, and the next they can do whatever they want and in order to access to their confidential information, they have to sign a document giving you explicit permission. Having a relationship with you becomes fully their choice, and it’s remarkably sudden.

When she was born, I used to say that the upside of having a baby at 22 is that I would be “free” at 40 and it would be awesome because I’d get to have my twenties when I had the sense and money to properly enjoy them. I used to think that freedom was something I wanted, because I wasn’t prepared to be a mother when I found myself becoming one. But somewhere along the way she became my dear friend and I stopped being in such a hurry for my friend to go out into the world and make it hers. Now I jump at every chance for even 5 minutes to be helpful, because motherhood is a habit, and it’s almost impossible to kick.

One of the things about being among the first in your social circles to breed is that you end up being the voice of experience, even if that experience is barely a step ahead of theirs and you’re basically making it up as you go along because you had no siblings & rarely even babysat. Still, the one thing I’ve always been clear about advising is that parenting is one long letting go, pretty much from the moment they depart your body. First you’re kind of happy about it – you can eat a full meal without your stomach getting kicked from the inside, then they sleep through the night, they wean, they play by themselves, they play with other children, they have overnights, they have sports, and you have little moments where you get to rediscover yourself as something other than a mom, and you long for more. Then sometime around adolescence they start filtering themselves, and develop entire lives that you may or may not know much about depending on how acceptable you make it for them to be fully themselves, and they don’t want to connect with you as much and you long for more. Then suddenly you’re packing up their stuff, and it feels like someone else is taking custody of your left leg and you realize that you never want to stop being a mom, and in fact it’s really hard to figure out what to do with yourself now that you’re not momming most of the time. Even if you’ve spent their whole lives preparing for it, one letting go at a time, the longing is still there.

So I’ve had a year to grieve, and to adjust. I sometimes forget how much I miss her, until we drive 75 minutes to her campus just to have dinner, and for a couple of hours I feel right again. She just left from being here for Spring Break, and it was particularly hard because I knew that I wasn’t going to see her on her birthday for the first time ever. It’s hard to explain the simultaneous sadness and joy of having an adult child (and can I just say that I hate that term? But not as much as kid-ult, so until I find a better word, it’s going to have to suffice) to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Just like it’s sort of impossible to explain what it’s like to have boobs no matter how hard we might try.

I guess as tropey as it is, what I’m saying is that they really do grow up unbelievably quickly. Please know that in what ever way your kid is driving you nuts right now, you will miss it terribly one day. It always feels in the moment like you’re going to suffer like this forever, but things change before you can blink. It feels like yesterday that I sat in the park on her first day of Kindergarten, crying because my baby wasn’t a baby any more – which seems sort of silly now because five is pretty damn little, but at the time I wasn’t ready for her to already be on to school age and I was sort of amazed that my toddler had vanished in the night and been replaced by an honest-to-goodness little girl. Now she’s an honest-to-goodness woman, about to go spend two months on another continent.

The good news is that you never stop enjoying watching them grow and change. And she will always be the only person who once knew my body as the whole universe.

 

 


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My Sheepish Re-Return to Blogging. Again.

I know. I know. It’s been months.

It’s been a rough winter. I mean, it was disturbingly mild as winters go, but it was definitely a long slow bloody-handed crawl through the dark times anyway. I slept a lot. I got sick a lot. I started writing a blog post about feeling crappy, and then realized that I do that every single February and all I’d really be doing is inventing new metaphors for the same Seasonal Affective Shit-Show I go through every year.

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I thought about weighing in on politics, but frankly I’ve had my fill already and I have nothing to say that people with bigger platforms haven’t already (bless you, Samantha Bee). And suddenly BAM! – it’s been a quarter of a year since I posted.

I’m a terrible blog mom.

One of my birthday resolutions (yes, those are a thing, unlike those frivolous New Year’s resolutions that I refuse to participate in) was that I need to commit to writing every single week, even when I have nothing to write about. And then I got in trouble for Internet-ing at work, and I haven’t been able to find a good time to jump in. But it’s spring break now, so I can’t even fall back on “I’m a student and calculus is hard” (which it actually kind of isn’t, to my utter surprise, but I’m still keeping it on my excuse list).

So, to get you more or less up to date:

1.       Fuck winter. I think we covered that, but it bears repeating. If not winter, then fuck the society that insists that I get up in the dark and come home in the dark and in between spend the day in a soulless job in exchange for dubious societal benefits and marginal insurance coverage that is only good by our hideous national standards. It is stunning the degree to which working in a bureaucracy grinds you down.

2.       Having your adult kid come home to visit is weird because she’s sort of Schrodinger’s Guest. Not in the dead/not-dead way, but in the guest/not-a-guest way. It’s a whole new relationship to negotiate, and I understand my parents better as a result. PSA: your parents miss you like they’ve lost an appendage. They probably express it horribly and come across as needy, or overcompensate to the point of strained aloofness. The intention behind it is love. Connect whenever you can. It’s worth it, and the more time you spend on it, the easier it becomes.

3.       Invisible knapsacks are like Tardises – they’re bigger on the inside and they go every-damn-where. Being white means I get to be weird and vaguely inappropriate, and get away with things my colleagues of color would be criticized for. That’s so unfair. I don’t want that and there’s nothing I can do about it. It makes me sad beyond measure that authenticity is a privilege.

4.       Everywhere I go now, people are artlessly littering their sentences with “fuckin’” the way we peppered our speech with “like” in the 90s. Suddenly “fuck” has lost its luster, which makes me sad because it actually used to mean something. Now I find myself editing it out of my writing, which makes it sort of overly serious. I’m currently taking auditions for other casually aggressive but intimate emphatic words. In other news:

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So. This is 41.

5.       Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to team up with my social psychologist friend to lead a roundtable discussion on Benevolent Sexism next Friday, which means I’m in crash-course mode about the topic.  Benevolent Sexism is sort of the friendly pigeon-holing of women that we receive as a compliment and so unwittingly reinforce unequal gender/power expectations. Chivalry is one example: holding doors, carrying heavy things, placing women on pedestals – generally treating us like idealized children. But so is the idea that women are better nurturers, better empathizers, and can juggle job and family where men don’t have to. So is wearing makeup, shaving our legs, and doing other things to adhere to society’s beauty standards, which value us only if we adhere to them, but not too zealously or we’re stupid and vacuous. I was introduced to the term “self-objectification,” which is where we become overly concerned with how our appearance is being judged. I’m trying to learn this stuff without becoming humorless or militant, which are apparently unacceptable things for a woman to be. Where is the line between being nice and being paternalistic? I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with the power to choose whether to accept the “niceness” being wholly mine with no strings attached.

 

There’s probably a hundred other things that have happened, but I don’t want to inundate you all at once. Which is good, because I have a backlog now, meaning that I might be able to commit to posting once a week like I want to.

 

Sometimes I might even say something worthwhile.

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Yay, self-deprecating Mad-libs! (continuous verb) existing


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To Give Is Human

Today is Giving Tuesday, which I think is an incredibly awesome idea. That a Friday pseudo-holiday dedicated to shopping is a thing is beyond disturbing to me. Holidays are commodified enough without rubbing away the thin veneer of illusion that holidays are about anything other than consumerism.

Though I have to admit, I do like to shop for gifts. I would pretty much always rather buy things for other people than for myself.

I learned to love giving when I was about eight. It was the first time I had any money, and I biked my three dollars and change a mile down a major road (because it was the early 80s and people didn’t freak out about kids running about on their own yet) to the Hallmark store and bought stickers for everyone on my Christmas list. Stickers, in case you didn’t know, were EVERYTHING in 1983. Hallmark had a wall with dozens of rolls of fancy stickers and you could buy them one at a time for your sticker collection, most for less than a dollar.

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Hush – we didn’t have the Internet to keep us occupied yet. Also, don’t judge until you’ve known the brilliant shine of a new City Cats sticker.

I spent hours at the sticker rolls trying to select just the right sticker for each person, never once stopping to think that pretty much no adult on the planet particularly wanted a foil-backed rainbow sticker, no matter how carefully chosen. All I knew was how good it felt to be giving things to people I loved.

Likewise, my first inappropriate credit card binge/debt hole was from buying really nice Christmas presents for everyone I loved (proving that yes, Virginia, you CAN make giving a narcissistic activity).

Fast forward to today: my mom is sick. The short version is that she was born with a whole lot of issues with her large intestine. Sometimes they put her in bed for extended periods of time. Having been in bed for extended periods of time myself, I know how depressing that is. So I sent her a care package. Before you go “aww,” the care package included this:

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Because of course it exists.

In addition to cheering her up, I now get to say “mother, don’t wear your colon like a scarf,” AND I get a lovely (if rather plushily graphic) picture of her suggesting that I kiss her ass to use as her contact photo. See? Generosity just pays and pays.

But even when you never find out who benefits or how much joy or relief it brought them, giving is always still worth it. Giving helps us remember that we’re all connected by our humanity and part of a community far larger than our brains are capable of comprehending. And as Terry Pratchett said, “sin…is when you treat people as things.” Today’s as good a day as any to remember to treat people like people by making sure they have the things they need to get by.

Whether you want to give to someone’s personal crisis fundraiser, or a well-rated charity in someone’s name or memory, or donate fancy gourmet brownie mix to your local food pantry/shelter/kitchen, or a pair of novelty Bad-Ass socks to a random homeless person on the street, go exercise your humanity today by acknowledging theirs. And then maybe again tomorrow. And the day after that. And maybe we could just start treating everybody like people every day. that would be something to celebrate.

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Or, you know, not.

But for real: don’t wear your colon like a scarf.

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