Thoughts on Therapy

Sometimes, this is what recovery/being recovered looks like for me:

I have to take extra care that all the nutritional labels are either directed to the back of the pantry, or upsidown and against the cabinet shelves. 

I have to actively tell myself that my pants aren't smaller. And even if they are, I could stand to gain some weight. And even if I have gained weight, it's ok. 

I have to decipher whether I would normally have that FOOD if that part of my brain wasn't so heightened and, if so, still eat it if it sounds good.

***

I have always felt that when my mind kicks up, it's for a reason. Something going on in my life, feelings I haven't processed, etc. When it does, the first thing I always try to do is figure out where it's coming from.  

This is rarely easy or straight-forward. And I'm aware that, sometimes, it might just be chemical/brain-based— that, for whatever reason, that day everything-about-me-which-can-short-circuit does. These days days are very difficult for me to handle and accept, because there is little I can do. If I can't figure out a probable cause, I can't examine it and feel like I'm DOING something. I know I am not the only one who struggles with needing to "actively do something"; it is a large contributor to my actions and tendencies. And it requires continual practice on my part to understand that, sometimes, not doing anything is doing something.

Regardless, lately I've been starting to dig into some deep down stuff. Therapy can be such a process; I've had to start at the top of the muck and keep digging away and away, like an archaeologist. And only recently have I started to get to some things that are ingrained. Things that didn't happen and I needed them to. I have had an inkling of an understanding regarding these Things for a while, but had never determined what looking more closely at it all would do. I am aware of it enough, I'd think. And nothing now could change it. But I don't know. I suppose if I poke at it, like I'm beginning to do, and it still bleeds, then it's still something I need examine. If it's not scarred over, or fully healed, and it still can turn on that part of my brain, then it's still unresolved. And it's just like anything else I've ever done in all this—no promise that rummaging through painful self-reflection will feed any benefits, that nothing will come from it other than more pain and more days where I have to be even more careful with nutritional labels than usual. That I could very well slip after nine years of steadiness. 

But there has never been any promise, has there? Just the closing of my eyes and sheer god damn stubbornness.

And yet here I am— in all my fight and floundering— and I will keep doing that which scares me.

Life will break you...

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. -- Louise Erdrich

The Difference Between Brainfog and Forgetfulness

Really? I’m dedicating an entire post to brain fog?

Yup. Because after I go through all the technical explanations about my (insert whichever chronic illness I am trying to describe here), brain fog—more than anything else—leaves people a bit perplexed.

While one can often scientifically (and laboriously) describe the effects chronic illnesses have on the body, brain fog can come across as more of a general, non-specific term. I mean, look at it. Brain fog. It’s like the name of a slapdash band from the 1980s or something my nephew made up.

Regardless, even while the medical field doesn’t always acknowledge it (though recently I have had more doctors recognize it), and a slicker sounding name might be better (i.e. Cerebrum stuffyconfusa…?), it doesn’t make it, or the massive frustration is brings, any less real.

I have always had a sharp memory. Freakish even. Tiny details of what a stranger was wearing at my brother’s graduation party when I was 6, where a specific bit of information is in a 500-page textbook, birthdays mentioned in passing.

But things are different these days.

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More often than I would like, I am in mid-sentence when I completely shut off. Mouth agape, eyes rolling around in my head as I desperately try to think of that rudimentary word. (It’s “door,” Sarah! Door!) Sure, lots of people forget what they were going to say but with brain fog, I forget everything I was saying. Often times, even after I’m reminded of what I was talking about, it takes me a good minute or two to call it back to memory. Additionally, how embarrassing is it when you have to sit there for 20 seconds to recall a word like “door?” “I walked through the…” “Reverie? Time-space continuum? Electromagneticastrosphere?” “Um… no. The thingy that does this: *hand gestures*

Thankfully my family and friends are aware of this, but when it happens with strangers it can be mortifying.

Similarly, I often forget what day it is. Then I forget what day it is five seconds after I ask what day it is. If someone requests for me to bring them something, I’d say 10 percent of the time I actually remember to do so. I forget doctor’s appointments, responding to email/phone calls from people checking in to see how I am, changing the oil in my car.

(Personal lament: I love words, so it’s always extra fun when, after sending an email, I find I forgot how to spell something. Or, if that isn’t enough, I’ve completely omitted words from a sentence and/or substituted a completely unrelated word. “Dear Boss, I have the book busy today. Thanks!”) Sigh.

Most of the time I’m able to get a kick out of these things, but brain fog can also have more detrimental effects.

I have been taking my medication at the same times every day for years, but there have been weeks where I just completely forgot them. And it isn’t like my routine had changed at all. Work didn’t start at a different time or I was at someone’s house in a different time zone. Things were exactly the same... I. Just. Forgot. Then, of course, because I’m missing meds, my symptoms get worse, which means I get more brain foggy, and more spectacular emails to my boss are sent.

How much water have I had today? It has to have been a couple liters, right? (Try barely a glass full.) Did I forget to send my nephew a card for his birthday? (Damn it.)
I even have to make a note to, “make a note of things to do today.” And don’t get me started on how demoralizing it is to try to sit down and write. I haven’t been able to focus for months.

However, out of all this information, I think this may be the most important to understand: Forgetfulness and brain fog bring about two different kinds of feelings because they are two different things. Sure, I’ve been preoccupied in my thoughts and then found myself trying to remember what I was going to do next; being forgetful makes me feel flighty. But having moments while driving where I honestly cannot remember where I am going, where I am, and how I got there? Brain fog makes me feel frustrated, panicky and confused.

And it’s hard. Transitioning from someone who could remember the weirdest details to someone who now has to think for 30 seconds to remember her 10-year-old dog’s name? When people chalk it up to forgetfulness, it makes it even harder. Forgetfulness comes across as something you can work on; brain fog, just like chronic pain, dizziness, other symptoms, etc., is something you have to cope with and adapt to.

So what can family and friends do?

Please, please be patient and understanding. Chances are we are already ripping ourselves apart for forgetting to get a birthday present for our niece, or not getting the tickets to the movie, or spacing on filling up the cat’s empty water bowl. Also, when we blank out in the middle of the sentence, stay with us and appear engaged. A look of understanding can go a long way in that moment where we feel like complete idiots.

Find a gentle way to remind us. I admit, I’m a bit of a proud person, so I can get a bit defensive when my someone asks how much water I’ve had or if I’ve taken my meds (especially when I’m already frustrated at myself for forgetting). But I need it some days. A designated note-spot by the fridge or on the phone helps for other things. I have a calendar now and write things down in like, eight different places.

Lastly, assure us it’s OK. Being exhausted and not being able to do the physical things you want? It sucks. But, on top of that, forgetting “simple” things, important things like calling your best friend, and just feeling all stuffed up in your mind? That really sucks. So give us a big hug and/or tell us it’s OK when we beat ourselves up about it. We often need to be reminded that we’re not a big ol’ burden even though stuff falls out of our heads sometimes.

POEM: Take Your Fear

Dig through your chest,
take out your fear.
Shine it with your breath and cuff and
put it on your desk—
right there, in the middle.
Wait for slow-drawn Helios.
Then, the flecks of light it renders?—
take them. Gather them in the crook of your arm—
cascading bouquet of noonbeams.

Use them to build your own damned chariot.

© s.e. carson 

Why I Love St. Patrick's Day

For many a'year I've been wanting to try to explain why St. Patrick's Day is my favorite holiday (note: this title is often shared with Christmas), but knew I couldn't do it justice.

This year is no exception, but I figured what the hell; I would try it anyway.

People who don't know me well usually react one way when I freak out about St. Patrick's Day every March: a joking elbow to my ribs and eyebrows raised while giving me a slightly obnoxious grin, "You like to 'celebrate', huh?" And while I'm not entirely sure I've ever refused a shot of whiskey in my life, this couldn't be further from the real reasons, which are threefold.

Aon! I don't have an exact date when I started recovery from my eating disorder, but I mark it by this month. The first March, when I had decided to get better and was seeking some intense treatment, I (while walking into the grocery store, no less) was suddenly struck with the nearness of everything. It was like I had gone through so many years where I didn't even realize how awesome March was and then suddenly, here it was in front of me. Fresh air, vigor, and hope.

Nine years later and every time March rolls around, I feel the exact same way. Rejuvenated and unstoppable.

Dó! There was a long, long time where I didn’t like myself (understatement), a number of traits in particular. But as I began working through things, I was able to see that a lot of those traits aligned with those from this really beautiful, charming, and magical heritage of mine. And maybe that meant parts of me were beautiful, charming and a bit magical, too.

For instance, I’ve always been a bit loud and I can’t remember a time (unless I was a wee lass) where that didn’t bother me. It always seemed to happen without my noticing it and I could never understand why I couldn’t keep my voice at a normal human decimal range. Most of my life was spent overcompensating and becoming perfectly and acceptably quiet. But now I realize my loudness always comes from an exuberance of being around people I love, of being wholly happy in the moment, of being so overcome with joyous contentment that I have to get it out some way or another or I would just break apart. Of giving back, I guess. So, while it’s not necessarily the ‘gift of gab’, there are very few quiet Irishmen I’ve come across…

My temper was another thing. Anger was one of the “Bad” emotions: it was scary, it could make me say things that were unmeasured that maybe no one could love me for, it was often explosive, uncontrollable, and powerful. All of which can be frightening to me. And yet, I still happily remember the first time I let myself be angry for the first time after 10 years of my disorder: I was playing hockey, something pissed me off and, rather than stewing on the bench like usual, I skated over and all of the sudden I just broke the shit out of my stick across the boards. This huge flare of emotion and it startled me, and it startled everyone on the bench, too. But no body thought of me any differently and I still have that broken stick saved as a reminder.

Regardless, my temper can still get me into trouble and I try to keep it in check but, usually, when I am all Irish fire it’s because I’m passionate about something. And passion in life is very important to me— even if it’s about beer league hockey.

Stubbornness is a big one. I am irritatingly stubborn. After one of the daily occurrences where I had done something that prompted someone to comment on it, I responded with “I’m not stubborn, I’m just capable.” Regardless, I think I’ve always liked this about me. I know this trait directly saved me from my eating disorder because I dug my heels in and just decided I was going to get better.

I think this is why I catch myself saying, “I’m Irish” a lot these days. Because I’ve not only been able to accept the aforementioned, but because they also have become some my favorite things about myself. And that’s really really cool to me. To now love things I used to hate. To think that a bit of me might belong to this island of magical, charming, spirited people.

Trí. I love St. Patrick’s Day because it’s like a gift. It’s like a day just for me. Where my mind is quiet. And this one is the hardest to describe of three. No matter how many ways I’ve written it down, worked it out in my head, or tried to phrase it, it is falls frustratingly short. But here goes: the rest of my love for it is about being alive. Because, when you shake off all the other shit, what a glorious thing it is. To be alive. And some days I run and run across the earth as fast as I can, not caring how far or fast I go. And some days I sit on the back porch during a thunderstorm and watch how lightning can be different colors. Some days I breathe in this great, big earth and myself and the people and creatures and things I love so dearly in the world.

But then there’s this one day—this one really special day—where I turn up Irish music really, really loud and dance and dance, and I look around the room at, or think about, my most favorite people. And I am the loudest I have ever been; in laughter and in words and in spirit. And yes, usually then I will pour myself a shot of whiskey and say my favorite Irish prayer because… God… isn’t it a wonder just to be alive.