Monthly Archives: November 2014

Circling America to Block Intrusive Thoughts

For a long time I have been falling into a pattern with mental health professionals (and, let’s face it, general folks as well sometimes) who seem to believe they hold the answer to my blight. The answer, it seems, is to let it go, “it” being whatever it is that is nagging at me for the moment.

Unfortunately, that has been about as helpful as telling me to solve my problems by digging up pirate gold. I have no map, and not one person I’ve asked who has made this kind of suggestion to me can seem to convey exactly how one lets something go. 

No matter how many children I see on the news singing the Frozen theme song I can’t seem to pick up this skill via osmosis. Likewise, I have never suddenly been able to perform an ollie after someone handed me a skateboard and said, “just do it, man!”

Seemingly more helpful suggestions have been to “focus on something else,” or “push the thoughts out of my mind.” I have been able to accomplish the pushing skill about four times out of the several hundred I’ve tried (but at least I know it can work if I put up enough of a strong arm) but trying to focus on something else has also been… spotty at best.

For whatever reason, I seem to live with the voices of all the rude, horrible people who have ever said hurtful things to me swirling around in my head. Try as I best to let go of them, they always seem to linger like flies and fail to allow themselves to be relinquished. They don’t seem to be interested in being set free, not when there is fresh meat (like me) around.

So what do you do when you let go of something that wont let go of you?

Well, first I discovered that if I shouted, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!” I could drown them out a little.

From there I moved onto using the chicken dance song as a personal mantra, singing it at various intervals to block out the scathing internal conversations. This helps, but is decidedly obnoxious to anyone around who can hear (as is the random shouting).

Last week I finally met with my new therapist who brought to my attention a technique where you move your eyes in the shape of the United States, along the border all the way around over and over again. I’ve tried it with my eyes both open and shut, and for whatever reason after two passes the noise and horror in my head seems to die down.

I believe this technique is based on the same school of thought that EMDR comes from (a therapeutic technique that uses eye movement to help the brain become desensitized to traumatic experiences), and though I am still looking into this method for my own PTSD symptoms I don’t currently have the finances to be able to afford to see someone who practices it.

Realistically, I can’t walk around and do everything with my eyes spinning around in my head but if this works I am certain there must be other silent, less obtrusive methods of blocking intrusive thoughts. When I find them, I’m sure you will be the first to know…

Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

If there is one thing I could say is my least favorite thing about living in the city (and that is putting it mildly) it would be living in an apartment building.

To say that sharing walls with other people is enough of an inconvenience for me that it blows past trying to avoid stepping on used needles, people entering and exiting the bus without any concept of keeping other people from being on time, and parades for “most annoying city thing” might be something of an indication that my real problem is this; the people thing.

No, people on the streets in Seattle aren’t nice. They call it the “Seattle freeze,” people here will honestly just pretend you don’t exist when it is convenient for them to do so. Even worse is that these folks, when snuggled into their apartments at the end of the day, seem to also believe that whatever happens in the walls of their little unit has no effect on anyone else -and why should it? This is my home.

This is not something I can pass off like a torch and say, “ah, well, this weird and overwhelming rude-neighbor-noise-problem has nothing to do with me!” I know very well that it does.

You see, most of the time I have a very hard time asserting myself. I realize that might sound odd to anyone who knows me because I tend to have a bit of a controlling reputation, but it is true. I really struggle in situations where I feel like my boundaries are being violated and I need to stand up for myself.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to assert the boundary in the first place, especially with a neighbor. So when my neighbor spends two or three weeks encouraging their children to scream as loud as they can over and over again and I do nothing (“just ignore it,” right?) a precedent has been established; screaming all day and all night is ok.

At my last apartment, that was my method… and not because I have a great time ignoring horrible sounds, oh no. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t have access to that part of my brain, or it broke, or never quite grew in. This is especially true with repetitive noises, nothing will make me psychotic faster than a repetitive sound that I cannot avoid.

At the same time, I was terrified of what might happen if I did say something. If I waited to reach out to my neighbor when I was already agitated from the noise, wasn’t there a risk I might have a panic attack at their door or, even worse, snap at them? What if the psychosis brought on a moment where I couldn’t control myself? What if I acted like such an asshole it made things worse? What if they called the police on me for not making sense and seeming threatening?

Ultimately, no matter where I tried to go with this, the final result seemed thus; no matter what I do, pissing off my neighbor could be the biggest mistake I could make. An angry neighbor can make your life hell. 

The truly funny part was that right before I moved some gentleman went to some of my neighbors and asked them about me. I figured that since I hadn’t ever approached any of them, their responses would probably be neutral.

Nope.

The responses they got were overwhelmingly negative. I was a hermit. I was cold. I was rude. I was constantly on autopilot.

And while these things are probably true (because I was always pissed off at those people for making stupid amounts of noise) it became clear that avoiding confrontation was not making people like me. In fact, they probably liked me about as little as I expected they would if I had said something to them about the noise!

One of the things I really took away for my hospitalization a couple weeks ago is that I need to work harder at being assertive and setting up boundaries with people. Again, this is something that is pretty easy to put on the list, but following through with it can seem like a daunting task.

My first day back from the hospital I approached neighbor-with-screaming-kids (I call him the butcher since it constantly sounds like he is murdering children two doors away -I dare say I would be more nervous if the kids didn’t seem to keep multiplying or answering the door grinning) when I couldn’t rest because (you guessed it) his kids were screaming.

Though he seemed somewhat incredulous that seven blood curdling screams happening simultaneously could be heard in my apartment (really?) he kept the kids quiet for a good 12 hours before the screaming started up again.

Last night I had a panic attack while trying to eat dinner because I could hear an adult over there encouraging the kids to scream louder. This unit is not next door to me, it is on the other side of the building! So, for a second time I approached my neighbor, this time with the blank pallor and the uncontrollable twitching that accompanies a panic attack. After he smiled and laughed a little a six inch Bugs Bunny sporting a pink beret, a shaggy pink sweater, and a green pencil skirt appeared on my shoulder,

“And of course you know this means war!”

Maybe my neighbor doesn’t like me, but chances are he probably wouldn’t have liked me anyway.

I’ve made the first step in establishing a boundary. Screaming at that level = inappropriate. Having established this idea with my neighbor, I feel much more relaxed about calling my building manager or the police if (or when) the screaming starts up again.

There are often times in my experience with bipolar disorder where it feels like I’ve suddenly woken up. They don’t last long anymore, but when it happens I look around me and see how much of my life has been reduced to nothing… then I spend the better part of the next few days trying to set something up again. Just enough that the ball will keep rolling without me pushing it every few feet. Practicing being assertive and setting boundaries (um, no, pizza with no sauce is not pizza!) while I briefly have the frame of mind to do so will hopefully help it stick when I don’t.

The Number You Have Dialed Has Been Disconnected

I don’t know if you have ever spoken and felt like nobody could hear you, but for me this feeling can potentially trump symptoms like delusions and hallucinations for the most maddening feeling I’ve ever experienced. Even when I am experiencing hallucinations or delusions (and maybe even don’t recognize it) I can talk to someone about it; but the times when my mouth and body do not convey what I want them to (or they do but in such a way that nobody can understand them) have left me (the innermost me) feeling like a phantom limb.

Last weekend, in a matter of days, I became engulfed by that feeling. Everything I was trying to say, the jokes I was making, the observations I attempted to casually convey, became hostile. It seemed no matter how I spoke or stood or gestured, people were genuinely afraid of me. Those desperate sorts of pleas hoping to convey my intense sorrow came out, instead, angry.

My manic episode from the week previous had turned dark, and as the depression I was experiencing became more and more intense, so did my apparent rage. The rage left me incapable of conveying the depression, and being unable to express myself left me feeling so isolated and alone that I could feel the depression feeding on it and growing exponentially.

When Monday rolled around I tried everything I could think of to crawl out of the disconnected, suicidal funk I was in. I emailed my psychiatrist only to find out he was on vacation. I called the intake coordinator for the new clinic I’m trying to access therapy through but she did not have time to talk. I called the crisis line (as I’ve been calling them a lot lately) but all the phones were busy! This, if nothing else, seemed like a sign, so I grabbed my purse and a book and went straight to the emergency room.

It can be very confusing to watch yourself begin to destroy your own life (your job, your relationships, maybe even yourself through impulsive drug or alcohol use) and feel like you are a passenger during the whole experience. Unfortunately, this is a feeling I am familiar with so I knew that the only real card I had left to play was hospitalization.

What I didn’t know was that I would be spending all day and all night in the emergency room before reaching that inpatient bed. I was awake for 36 hours and extremely alert and energetic (as I said, mixed episode) fueling those depressive and hostile waves that kept coming until I was (somehow now in an inpatient room) crying uncontrollably for hours, and periodically ripping up anything in my room I could find to rip up.

My goal was to outlast the episode until it switched into depression or stability (whichever came first), a fairly easy goal I figured, since my episodes cycle so rapidly and I was already 12 days into the mixed episode. Though it wasn’t fun (but hospitalizations never are) I seem to have outlasted the hostility and was expelled through the other end of the hospital Friday experiencing severe depression instead.

So I am home now, and though my decision-maker seems to be broken and I had a panic attack trying to go into the grocery store I am, seemingly, a free woman again.

My mind has still been trying to whisper all manner of horrible things to me, but I can eat food that wasn’t produced in a hospital now… so it makes all that a bit easier to live with.

Needless to say, my posts may be somewhat spotty for a bit. I’ve been very overwhelmed by a lot of the things that have happened this year, and several more big things are scheduled to go down this month.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves! I’ll be doing the same.