Ad Hominem

For the first time in my life I am choosing not to attend a Remembrance Day service, and I have received a lot of flak because of this decision. I would like now to explain  myself, in the hopes that for those of you who have judged me may understand what I am thinking and feeling. 

I have never missed a service. I have sat with dignitaries, laid wreaths alongside veterans, marched in parades, and cried while holding photos of my loved ones. I have drank with légionnaires, and argued with my husband over wearing his uniform. I have held hands with  strangers, shaken hands with people who served alongside my grandfather, and argued with people who celebrate Christmas before commemorating Remembrance Day. 

Each year I put on the equivalent of my Sunday best, do my makeup, pin poppies on my  daughters, and carry a photo of my husband and my uncle, to the service at the legislative grounds. I have gone in every kind of weather imaginable, and have tried my best to present the façade of the strong, elegant, cornerstone of the military family that is the military spouse. It is exhausting, and this year I am too tired to carry on. 

This year I will sit on the couch with my daughters, and the photos of our loved ones, and we will watch the Ottawa service on tv. If I feel like crying, I will cry. I will hug my babies and we will talk about our loved ones, their daddy, and why this day matters to us above all else. We will talk about all of the mom’s and dad’s of my children’s friends who are currently deployed or away for various reasons, and we will count every one of our blessings, made possible by all of these heroes. I won’t put on makeup, I will not present myself as anything that strangers or friends expect me to be. I will watch the service from the comfort of my home, where I am free to feel and express myself without feeling as though I have to “keep it together” for the sake of those around me. 

After the service, we are going for a walk. Maybe we will go to the park, or perhaps the lagoon. From there we can see where their daddy works when he is alongside, and we will count the days until he is home, together. This year I am not doing this for anyone but my family. For too long I have placed too much importance on  appearances, and trust me, keeping them up on a day like today is more exhausting than running a marathon. 

After a decade of being a military wife, and a lifetime of being a military family member, I think I have earned the right to observe this day in a way that is healthy for both me and my girls. My love has missed countless birthdays, holidays, moments that cannot be recreated – including the birth of one of our daughters. He will spend the next year away from us, and I will be strong while I wipe the tears away from my daughters’ eyes, check their homework, take them to lacrosse, doctors appointments, and read them emails from their daddy. I spend 364 days of the year being strong, today I would like, even if only for a few hours, to let my guard down, and feel what I try to avoid the rest of the year. 

So no, I’m not going to a service today, and if you disagree with my decision, I respect your opinion. I am not a bad wife, I am a tired one. If you don’t agree that I deserve to observe how I choose, I suggest you reread this post, or any of my posts, until you feel empathy for what I have to do to survive. If that doesn’t work, I will politely ask you to mind your own damned business – but I’ll only be polite once. 

Reflective Fragments 

The first time someone called me delusional I was seventeen. The librarian called said that I must be delusional because she was positive that I hadn’t returned a book that I was positive I had. 
The first time I questioned my mental health, truly, I was sixteen, and was largely rebuffed by the professional I confided in. I was lazy, ungrateful, ambitionless, and angsty. Get out of bed, brush your hair, show up to class on time. You’ll feel better. You have so much potential. 
The first time I wanted to die I was fifteen. I had a panic attack over having to tell my mother that I had failed math again. I had myself in such a lather that I began cleaning out my closet, and I had every intention of hanging myself in it with a belt. A pink belt with green stars that I bought at Forever 21, the only souvenir from my school band trip that I could afford. My mother called and asked me to do the dishes before she got home. I missed my window. That feeling of wanting to end would simmer in the recesses of my mind, bubbling over at different times later in life. 

The first love of my life came at fifteen, and has remained my only love. He nurtures the good parts of me, and forgives the bad. I owe him my life. 
The first novel I remember reading was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. My dog was my best friend, and the book helped put my emotions into words. It also destroyed me emotionally for a few weeks after finishing it. Being able to read independently (i was in the third grade) offered a method of escape that would save my life more than once as I got older. 
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On the foggiest days I can reach out and touch the ragged fabric with which my reality is created. It’s frayed edges like worn burlap glide through my fingers as I struggle to grasp something tangible. As the mist coats the flora in the early morning, so does my fragmented reality coat my mind. My thirst for normalcy never quite sated from such a thin layer of moisture. 

When the wind picks up I am carried into the lives of others. Today I’m a parent volunteering at the school. When the wind changes I am an acquaintance in a tattoo shop, a fraud in a bookstore, a friend via text. I can never commit enough energy or attention to any one person or thing for too long. Lights flash in front of my eyes, I want to entertain all of them but instead cannot focus on even one. 
I feel so many things, yet I am paralysed by the thought of expressing them. Truly feeling them. It would be more apt to say that I think about feelings. If I start allowing myself to feel, I won’t be able to stop. I am an emotional implosion waiting to happen. The only thing I feel is fear. 

Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of success. Fear of self confidence. Fear of finding out who I really am. Fear of failure. Fear of faith. 
I couldn’t tell you who I am if I had all of the words in the world. I am a collection of grand ideas, half-truths, fears, and open wounds. The embodiment of an overactive imagination. I am an actual metaphor. Or is it a simile? I could never keep them straight. 

Wave of Mutilation 

I have always considered self-harm to be out of my realm of possibility. I don’t cut myself, I don’t cut my hair when I’m feeling depressed, and i’ve never removed one of my eyebrows. I’ve never given the topic of self-harm much thought, honestly, until the other day, when I was having a particularly stressful conversation with my husband. We were outside talking, and he asked me repeatedly to stop picking. I have been picking at my skin for years. My arms, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Most of the time I don’t even recognize that I’m doing it. I absent mindedly scratch away at my skin until I draw blood. I have deep scars, especially on my arms. Sometimes it takes months to heal, because I keep pulling the skin off to create a fresh wound. He told me that I do it to relieve stress, but that it causes me more stress in the long run, because having a face with bullet sized holes in it starts the cycle all over again. 

I have been thinking a lot about why I do this, and i’ve come up with a few ideas. 

Stress relief. When I’m frustrated, upset, anxious, I scratch away until I’m feeling better. Although as my husband mentioned, the craters in my skin cause more stress when I look at them, which results in me scratching more. 

It feels good. It’s a release of tension. I don’t know that I can accurately describe it, but I can feel areas of my body that feel like they’re going to explode. When I break the skin it literally feels like a release of pressure. 

It keeps me from feeling good about myself. There are a lot of times when I don’t feel like I deserve to feel good about myself. When things in my life are headed in a positive direction, I dig in to remind myself that I don’t deserve happiness. I don’t deserve someone telling me I look pretty. I feel ugly on the inside, so I subconsciously make myself ugly on the outside to match. At times my ego seems grandiose, I am skilled at portraying myself as someone who is overconfident, secure in their own skin, someone who can’t be bothered with what anyone else thinks. On the inside I am none of tthos things. I am riddled with self doubt, I hate my appearance, and the things people say and do affect me deeply. I think now that exposing the raw layers of my skin is a way to expose who I really am on the inside. I don’t think it’s working. I’m literally peeling the mask off that force myself to wear everyday. 

Self-harm can be so many things and manifest in myriad ways. It’s meaning is personal, and everyone is different. The important thing is to recognize what it is to you, and find your way out. I am in the realization stage. As I’ve been writing this I’ve been clawing at my face. I don’t yet have a plan to overcome this, but I thought writing about it may help sort some things out. 

   
  I don’t have acne. I never have.  
Have you made it to the other side of self-harm? Leave me a comment and tell me your healthy way of coping with the urge to hurt yourself. 

Affairs of the Mind 

With suicide prevention in the news, I thought given my somewhat intimate knowledge of the subject, I would throw my two cents in. While I believe in talking openly about suicide, I do not, necessarily, believe that it can be prevented. In my  experience, if a person is in the mindset that they need to take their own life, they will make that attempt regardless of how many people try to intervene. For those who have attempted to die, many will say that they needed that experience, for many different reasons. 

I will speak only on my own behalf; each person’s experience is as intricate and unique as a snowflake. For me, my attempts on my own life came at various stages. After the murder of a  friend, after attempting to seek help for mental illness was rebuffed as ‘in my head’, after a quiet but tumultuous battle with PTSD, all very different situations that resulted in the same self-loathing, shame, disgust, rage, and confusion. Each attempt I made was in earnest; I didn’t want to survive and receive treatment, I wanted to throw in the towel. Tired of fighting, battle worn, I needed sleep. I needed to sleep. 

No one could’ve prevented what my body was telling me to do. So how, as bystanders, care givers, do we help those afflicted by suicides disease?

Here are my suggestions, based on what I did and didn’t receive during the aftermath of my attempts. 

The person who wakes up from a failed suicide attempt is not the same person who made the attempt. It is naive to think that your loved one will emerge with a new zest for life, ready to take on the world with a new appreciation for all of the sights and sounds that the world has to offer. Shame, anger, regret, frustration, more anger: that is what is felt when you realise that after your best efforts to end the terrors in your life were not successful. The hate that consumes you cannot be abated with get well cards, flowers, or whispered conversations between family and medical staff. You don’t need to understand, but a little bit of empathy can go a long way. 

Make freezer meals. 

Bring books. 

Make horribly inappropriate jokes. 

Stand up against anyone who plans to lecture or belittle the fragile psyche of your almost departed loved one. 

In a shitty situation, Nibs always help make things better. 

In short, be who you’ve always been. No one is made of porcelain (except perhaps Tilda Swinton). Being handled with kid gloves only accentuates the above mentioned feelings of shame, guilt, anger, etc. Yes, things are different, your loved one has changed, but by offering a steady hand you are providing an incredible feeling of unity and support. As survivors we know that nothing about our situation is easy for anyone. We know the fear, the anger, the burning desire to grab us by the shoulders and shake us; we feel these things too – amplified exponentially by the demons inside of us that got us to the point of suicide in the first place. 

I’ve said it before, and I will say it until I’m blue in the face, suicide is a disease. The only cure is death. No matter how many good days we have, suicide is always lurking, waiting for a vulnerable moment to hit us from behind. Remember this:

Suicide. Is. Disease. 

Suicide. Is. Disease. 

Find the balance between constant vigilance and being over bearing. That’s where we need you. Always be on the lookout for ‘signs’, but don’t make us feel guilty. The bomb is ticking, but no one knows when the clock will stop. Remember this:

We love you. 

We aren’t punishing anyone. 

You can’t prevent something that has been preordained. 

Your patience means more than you know. 

We will work on prevention, we need you to work on acceptance. 

Suicide is disease. It cannot always be prevented. Like a cancer it can be aggressive, all consuming. Some strains have cures, some are fatal. In the end, making those afflicted feel normal, valued, unashamed, wanted, needed, those are the things that will make the periods of remission better for all parties involved. 

Death Song

What does suicide sound like?

Suicide is different for every person who attempts it. Unfortunately for the living, we can not ask questions of the dead. We can however, question the survivors. I am a survivor. I have made several attempts on my life, and although I’m not proud of it, I will not shy away from talking about it. My vow of transparency about mental illness has no conditions, and I will not hide the less than glamourous parts.

An attempt on your life starts well before you even acknowledge your want to die consciously. Your thoughts change slowly, the taste of the things that you love gently fade. The retreat into the vast darkness of your mind is generally an even descent, with sadness and desperation compounding hourly. The poison floods your veins like ink in water, and soon, you hear the sounds of suicide.

Everyone’s experience is different, and I encourage who is ready to share their story. Mine continues…

A slight ringing in my ears, just loud enough that I feel irritated. The constant drone of my inner monologue, highlighting every painful event, every negative feeling, running like a nonstop ticker tape behind the rest of my thoughts. It is background noise, but when things go quiet, the sounds become more clear. The music I love becomes muted when I listen to it, the voices of my loved ones sound far away. The monologue gets louder, its hurtful thoughts getting nastier, more aggressive. It whispers to me while I read, while I do the dishes. 

You’re worthless. You’re a burden to your loved ones. You will never get your life together. Everyone is tired of you being sick. If you love them, you’ll leave. 

 After weeks, months, years, of the sybiote wearing you down, there is no longer any light to fight it with. The fire in your soul is now ashes, ashes that make it hard to breathe, hard to see. As you try to fight your way through the cloud of ashes the demons within blow it in your face, and your soul is scattered into pieces that you think can never be put back togeher. This is when the biggest change happens: you believe your monstrous ticker tape. The fog clears for the first time in ages, and you are thinking more clearly than ever before. I AM a burden. My loved ones deserve better. This is the ultimate sacrifice I can make for them. Free them from the shackles I have placed them in. 

The ringing in your ears stops, you can no longer hear your own heartbeat. You are finally filled with the calm that you have been craving. 

What does surviving sound like?

Waking up is knives in your head, sirens blaring in surround sound. Metallic ringing so loud you feel nauseous. Then the yelling starts. That inner monologue is angry, and it takes no prisoners. It screams at you, over everything else that you’re hearing at full volume. YOU ARE THE ULTIMATE FAILURE. YOU DON’T DESERVE TO STILL BE ALIVE. YOU CAN’T EVEN DIE PROPERLY, HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO LIVE? 

You drift in and out of consciousness while the medication being pushed through your veins starts to work. The volume inside decreases, and if you’re lucky, a tiny fire is lit in the brassiere. The anger subsides, and you promise yourself that you will do better. You feel ashamed and embarrased, but the fire warming you convinces you that you will survive, and thrive. That hideous ticker tape retreats back into the dark annals of your subconscious, but it takes those angry, bitter, ashamed, thoughts with it to save for a rainy day. 

You apologise profusely to your loved ones, you promise your numerous doctors that it won’t happen again; but you know deep down somewhere inside of you that suicide is a disease, and the only cure is death. It becomes dormant, you smell flowers and love and giggle with friends, but it’s always there, ready to spread through you when the timing is right. Thats when you hear the ringing in your ears…
Remember why your life is worth living. Bottle happiness, listen to every song that you love until you can sing every part, including the bass guitar. Accept and be thankful for complements, and give them back tenfold. Look your loved ones in the eyes when you tell them you love them. Eat cake. Sleep in. Feel sand in your toes. Walk barefoot when possible, and store all of these beautiful thoughts and feelings away so that when the ticker tape starts, you have a fighting chance.

The Maker Makes

I have three daughters, aged 7, 4, and 10 months. As my beautiful ladies grow older and develop their own interests and personalities, I find that I’m discovering parts of myself in them. My biggest fear for them is that I will pass my poisons onto them, and not recognise that I’ve done it. 

When I was a child and even a teenager, not many people subscribed to the idea of childhood depression. Many people, my mother and father included, believed that the brain wasn’t capable of mental illness until after the age of 18, and also that “teenage angst” was a choice – not a symptom of mental stress. 

After discussing my youth in-depth with my psychiatrist and councillor, we mutually determined that I have been suffering from anxiety since childhood, major depressive disorder since my mid to late teens, and bipolar disorder stemming from around the same time. Looking back at those times in my life I can quite clearly see the signs and symptoms, which of course, seem obvious in retrospect. 

Now, as a mother in this new mental illness enlightened age, I worry for my girls- my eldest especially. Certified gifted, I was told that I may experience behavioural problems with her, and was giving a few books about “coping” with the gifted child. My amazing, hilarious, friendly, little L has trouble getting out of bed, especially if her dad is sailing. Prone to fits of rage, sometimes physically attacking me, sometimes not being able to eat. Happiness countered immediately with sadness, coupled with anger and obsession. 

It’s hard to deal with. 

I have my own emotional shitstorm to battle with every day, sometimes trying to deal with her is too much for me. I check out, lock myself in my head, and hope that the kids will engage autopilot before I crash the plane. But they deserve better. L needs my compassion, my understanding, my experience, but most days I’m just too tired to give it to her. We do battle on a daily basis. It’s hard on all of us. No matter what, I always try to validate her feelings. She is entitled to feel. Whether I agree with her or not, she gets to tell/yell her thoughts to me. I don’t know if it helps or hurts, but at this point I feel like she’s constantly on the cusp of exploding, but it seems like the yelling and stomping keeps her from diving over the edge  

I’ve read the books, the blogs, the listicles, the forums, and the truth is: I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing when it comes to my girls’ mental health. I have no clue. I barely have a grip on my own mental health, how am I supposed to be responsible for that of these precious beings? I’m terrified daily that I’m causing permanent emotional damage, or passing on my mental instabilities (or both). On the other hand, I don’t want to see symptoms in them that aren’t there. We all know what tricks the mind can play to spike our anxiety and send us spiralling. For now I’ll keep reading, keep fighting, keep cuddling, keep trying, keep failing. I owe them my best, even if some days my best is merely existing through the day. 

I need so desperately to protect them, but I can’t save them from themselves. Or, maybe I can. I wish someone had tried to save me.  

Too Many Elephants in the Room

This month has been full of ups and downs. My sister and my niece came to visit, my husband has started sailing again, now my uncle and cousin are here for a few weeks. I haven’t been compelled to write much as of late, but a recent experience has reminded me of the healing that can come from expression, and the cathartic relief it provides. 

A few days ago I ran into the one person I was not ever prepared to face – the person who over the course of several years abused me financially, emotionally, and sexually. The encounter was brief, but the effects were immediate. I was terrified, horrified, and completely taken off-guard. Of all the gin joints in all the world, how did he end up in mine? 

My fear turned to shame, anger, and guilt. Am I being punished? Tested by some divine power, perhaps? I went home shaking, wondering ” why me?”. I told my husband immediately, and he reminded me that I’m safe, and will remain safe with my family. 

After a restless sleep full of nightmares of horrors from my past, my husband and I talked again. I learned a lot from that short talk, and I’d like to share that with you now. First, and I think most importantly, we talked about forgiveness. I am not required to forgive the wrong that was done to me at the hands of someone I trusted. He will never apologise, and I need never forgive him. I do however, need to forgive myself. It wasn’t my fault, and I need to stop punishing myself based on the actions of another. The emotional trauma that these events caused me have changed me forever, but they needn’t define me, and I can’t allow the bad memories to continue to creep into my new life. No forgetting, no forgiving, just acceptance. I can’t erase the past, and it’s time to stop living there. 

The second, equally important point was strength and success. I have conquered many things in my life, why not this? Fear of the past has coloured the way I have lived, have seen myself, and controlled my emotional capabilities. But hell, if I can survive suicide, death from illness, bullying, homelessness, and hopelessness, who’s to say I can’t survive, and thrive, because of this? 

It’s time to reclaim my life! My emotions, my mental health, my dreams at night. I own all of those things, and no one person can take anything away from me. Only I have the power to punish myself, and only I have the power to heal myself. I forgive the naive girl that I used to be, I forgive the bitter woman that I have allowed myself to become. The soul-sucking raven I used to be is gone, and a Phoenix has arisen from the ashes in its place. No more feeling sorry, no more excuses for my anger, no more burying the experiences that have helped to shape me. My shadow needn’t scare me, my nightmares aren’t real any longer, I owe myself some sanity. 

I am growing, I am moving on, and I am looking forward to a newer version of myself who refuses to be defined by the bad, but instead by the good.

I am strong. I am worthy of real love. I am a better person for all of my experiences, both good and bad. Most importantly, I am good enough for myself. I am OK with who I am as a person, a mother, a wife, a sister, and a friend. From this moment on I pledge to give no one the power to hurt me, and I will cause no one any hurt in return. I can’t forgive the wrongs, but I can move past it all and know that acceptance, in my case, is a good replacement for forgiveness. 
  

Continuous Thunder

Days and weeks and months go by with my mind racing, my palms sweating, heart pounding. I can’t ever get away from myself, and it’s terrifying. I’m an out of control merry-go-round, if I stay on I spin until I’m sick. If I let go, I fly out of control, leaving behind what little reality I was clinging to. 

I have been bubbling over for a few weeks. I could see the meltdown coming for miles, but have felt powerless to stop it. Last night after particularly trying day, I walked to the lagoon to try and slow myself down. It wasn’t as helpful as I thought it would be, in fact I found it to be greatly over-stimulating. Dogs barking, vehicles rushing, sounds from the naval base echoing, people laughing…I walked home disappointed, and fell into angry and scary nightmares that left me feeling exhausted as soon as I woke up. 

Today, while trying to paint the play structure we got for the girls, the wind picked up, the clouds burst open, and we all laughed at our luck as we rushed to get everything inside. 

Then the thunder started. We never have the right weather systems to warrant thunder. The sound of it stopped my mind in its tracks. I was transported home, to sitting on the porch with my mom, tea in hand, blanket draped over us, silently delighting in the miraculous weather. 

So here I am. Sitting on my porch, no tea or blanket, just me and the rain. Today, I this moment, I am at peace with myself. 

Idiot’s Eden 

I have decided to give my time to an orphanage in Romania. The location and organisation are not up for debate, nor are my intentions. I have been working to advertise, and for the most part, the reactions have been positive. I have a restless soul that is yearning to do good on a bigger scale, and I truly believe that this will be a life changing opportunity for me. 

This next part of the post is for anyone that has been less than supportive. 

Dear soapbox preacher:

Please enlighten me as to what you have done for the world. You can think of better places for me to go? More worthy causes? Then why don’t you champion them? Trying to make me feel bad for wanting to help somewhere that it is needed is beyond ludicrous. I know that there are other places that need help. I know that kids in my country are suffering. What you fail to recognise is that there are government programs that can help these kids. I can’t fix the government. I’m not Superman. I can’t fix everything. I have chosen to do this because children with mental or physical defects in Romania are literally thrown in the garbage. I would love to be a philanthropist and help everyone everywhere, but I can’t. I am one person who wants to help a few kids have better days while I can. If you don’t support me – fine! That’s your prerogative, but don’t you dare shame me for wanting to do a little bit of good. I am trying to be a better human being, how is there any shame in that? I shouldn’t have to justify wanting to good. 

Now, for those people who are interested in knowing about my quest, here is some information. 

I am fundraising to spend 6 weeks at an orphanage in Romania with the organisation United Planet. I have a fundraising page, a Facebook page, and I also tweet about it. You can click on the links in the text if you would like to learn more! 

Graceless 

I have been in a bit of a slump lately. 

 I am cranky. I am pessimistic. I am quick to anger. I need to make a change before my guilt and anger get the better of me and my depression swallows me whole. 

Whenever my anxiety is high, my sister asks me to make lists of my favorite things to help me focus and ultimately calm down. 5 favourite songs, books, movies, places, etc. Today, in an attempt to let go of some anger and to remind myself why I am worthy of being here, I would like to make a list of things that I’m grateful for – in no particular order. 

  • I am grateful for my three incredible daughters. Their individual personalities are amazing, and even though some days it seems like I’m failing, at the end of the day, they always love me. I am so lucky that I get to spend the rest of my life with these amazing human beings. 
  • I am grateful for my sister, who will at a moment’s notice, drop what she’s doing to talk to me. She gives the best advice, never sugar-coats anything, and always tells me what I need to hear. She has also given me a beautiful niece who has taught me that I am capable of loving a child that isn’t my own unconditionally. 
  • I am grateful for my little circle of friends. They put up with my sudden absences, lack of communication, bad moods, good moods, all of it. I have few people whom I feel are true friends, and I am grateful for every one of them. (For the sake of privacy I won’t mention their names, with the exception of Dyane, who’s blog everyone needs to read!)
  • I am grateful for my husband, who has been a season ticket holder on my emotional roller coaster for ten years. His dedication to our family is inspiring, and I would not be who I am or where I am without him. 
  • I am grateful for my location. At any given moment I can look out my window and see the Olympic mountain range, the ocean, and a small forest full of beautiful flora, animals, and waterfalls. I can step out onto my porch and smell the ocean infused air. A five minute walk puts the sand between my toes, or takes me on an adventure through the trees where I can hear peacocks and owls. I will never tire of watching the sun fall behind the mountains. I am indebted to the earth for allowing me to take this beautiful place in, every single day. 
  • I am grateful for my life. Every breath that I take, every beat of my heart. All of my accomplishments, all of my flaws. It’s easy to forget that I have a purpose. It’s easy to beat myself up. It’s easy to fall victim to negative thoughts. Happiness is a fight, but It’s always worth fighting. Every day that I wake up is a victory, regardless of if I feel successful that day. I am worthy of this life, and I won’t quit just because some days or weeks or months are harder than others. 

A life with bipolar is an uphill hike through a hurricane, but I am working on remembering that everyone has their own battle, and most importantly that comparison is the thief of joy. The less I focus on how it seems everyone else is doing, I need to focus on how I’m doing. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Remind yourself of what you’re grateful for. Hug your children, give your dog a treat, and forgive yourself. That’s the best anyone can do. Today it is all I can do.