psychotherapy

Why Such Hesitancy, Part 2

My skin is crawling.  I am awake.  No, my mind rests in sleep.  My body will not be still; it yearns to move, convulses in response to the defibrillation rocking my body, rocking on waves.  The electric system in my brain falters and sparks, electrical cords encasing me in a womb of wires spitting images.  Do I cut the red or the green to escape?  I contemplate, and then there is darkness.

Drenched in sweat, I jolt from sleep, my heart racing, my skin still crawling.  The nightmares are increasing in frequency.  I warm the shower, strip to nakedness, and step over the edge of the tub into its basin.  The water drenches my hair and washes away the salty residue upon my skin.  The shower head holds pressure upon my scalp.  Pressure.  My head held in place. I taste the saltiness of the sweat clothing my body and gag.  I gag and gag as the shower continues to run, the contents of my stomach threatening mutiny.  Finally the gagging subsides, and I allow the water to flow, to carry away the saltiness and cleanse. Pruned fingertips turn the nob to off and the water ceases to flow.

Trauma poses a challenge to intellectual capacity, and a greater challenge to the brain’s propensity for emotional understanding.  Post traumatic stress disorder.  Seeing the letters strung into words on my after visit summary posed a challenge to my psyche.  I carry an intellectual understanding of trauma.  An event happened that has triggered a litany of effects.  But emotionally, I am swimming in the deep blue.

My eyeballs betray me.  Stop showing me those images, I warned you.  I did not pay the admission fee.  The anxiety and angst swell and crest as waves in my empty stomach.  I claw at my eyeballs, scratching the retinas.  The pictures stop with the swiftness in which they appeared.  With equal swiftness, the monster appears.  Watch out, for none are spared.

There is a diagnosis of acute PTSD, meaning it may resolve, and also chronic PTSD, which lingers indefinitely, my psychiatrist explained to me.  My right hand extended and contracted around a plastic squishy toy I had bought at the Dollar Tree to relieve stress.  Extend and contract. Extend and contract.  I agreed to return in a month.

The empty bucket has made home in my gut, and I cannot seem to fill it, despite earnest attempts to add substance to an emptiness seemingly interminable.  I throw in long-depleted cartons of milk, egg shells, empty oatmeal boxes, a half-drunk canister of orange juice, but nothing amasses to the amount necessary to ease the pain.  I pick garbage from the street, go to parks and dig through bushes, finding cans of beer and bottles of soda pop.  Despite quantity, insufficiency prevails.

I ask myself, why such hesitancy?  I divulged the revelation of my newfound cognizance of my empty attempts to fill the naggingly hollow bucket.  I am doing it wrong, I told her.  Why such hesitancy?  I have been inhaling with a stutter.  I smoothed a honey lavender balm on the back of my throat so maybe I will breathe with ease.  Why have I hesitated to act in the direction of my wellness?

Daily I pick the garbage from my bucket.  I try to not litter inside the receptacle, but cluttered littering is inevitable.  As I discard trash, I remind myself, hesitancy will not heal, but only hinder health.

Connection and Disconnect

At my weekly Wednesday group therapy sessions, I often zone out, floating amongst the clouds far above reality, only coming down once a comment or concept piques my interest. This past session, in rare form, I was actually half-paying attention to the discussion of the group. There was a new man in the group, and he posed an interesting question: What in this world fosters connection between individuals and what fosters disconnect? Other participants listed answers involving meeting people at church, having similar interests/hobbies, attending gatherings, etc. As people continued to discuss the prompt on a more superficial level, my mind started to churn as I truly pondered the question.

I believe that, in life, connection between members of humanity lies far deeper than sharing interests and meeting individuals at gatherings. Yes, those things certainly bring individuals together, but is there permanency? A transcendent component? The strength and vitality of our connection as human beings does not end, does not die, at the end of human life. While it is relatively simple to create more superficial connections between individuals, in order for humanity to thrive and flourish, we must reach within ourselves and delve into the deep.

The Baha’i Faith is a world religion that centers upon the belief in the unity of all mankind and our shared, collective existence as members of one human family. The Faith strives to foster this unity and bring together the different races and peoples of the world. Baha’u’llah, whom Baha’is recognize as the Manifestation of God for this Dispensation and the Promised One of all Ages, says:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”

The reason I reference the Baha’i Faith is because it, like many faiths, is an effort to delve into the deep. As a Baha’i and a member of our collective humanity, I have experienced much of my life a feeling of connectedness with other members of my Faith and with others in my life – not just because we share a fondness for crochet and Apples to Apples (which very well may be true!) – but because we share a common goal, a common endeavor: an effort to unite and better the world in which we live, both for the brief existence we spend on this earthly plane and for time immemorial as humanity flourishes and progresses.

Our connection as individuals is dependent upon our shared causes and goals. Disconnect manifests through the discard and lack of acknowledgment of our common purpose, and also through invalidation – not paying attention to or ignoring the needs of our fellow members of humanity.

Keep attending your knitting circles and playing video games for hours on end with your best buddies, as those certainly foster connection and camaraderie, but also be aware of our higher purpose in nurturing connection between members of humanity. That is where our true connection can be found, eternal and transcendent.

More to the Picture

For much of my treatment career – yes, I am indeed calling the taming of the beast these years have evolved into a “career” – I have painted a two dimensional piece, whether it be a Monet, a Picasso, or an unintelligible charcoal-smeared creation.  The point is, these pictures are flat.  For the last eleven or twelve years, I have relied oh-so-heavily on the powers of psychiatric medication.  I was once again recently hospitalized for bipolar symptoms, and during a visit with my mother following a highly frustrating and disappointing meeting with my inpatient psychiatrist, we made a list of the treatment options I had tried thus far.  First came the list of medications – lithium, depakote, risperdal, lamictal, clozapine, haldol, trilafon, thorazine – the list is endless, and nearly so.  We calculated an approximate trial of 20 to 25 different medications I had endured over the past years.  Next we tracked treatments I had undergone, including naturopathy, acupuncture, electroconvulsive therapy, and twelve inpatient hospital stays.  Is it time to paint a Van Gogh?

The use of psychiatric medication has drastically altered my life.  In fact, I can confidently say it has saved my life.  But then, what is left over?  There is only so much a psychotropic drug can do in the recovery of a person with mental illness.  It propels the car down the interstate, but there must be another driving force to push pass the border.  There must be more to the picture.  Effective coping skills.  Do not undermine the power of the mind to alter a mood state, thought pattern, or to deescalate a crisis through the implementation of learned skills and behavior modifications.  My greatest experience with learning and engaging in coping skills has been through Dialectical Behavior Therapy practice.  I have had much interaction with DBT, mostly beginning with the three week completion of an intensive outpatient program.  For three weeks – three weeks! – I ate, breathed, and slept DBT.  Yet I did not implement the principles into my life – mindfulness, acknowledgment and acceptance of painful emotions, distress tolerance, emotion regulation.  The invaluable things I learned in this program could have served to begin to possibly alter my art into three-dimensional pieces, had I been doubly persistent.

I also received intensive DBT exposure and training in the four hospitalizations I have experienced in this past hospital.  Our days were centered upon groups led explicitly in the informative and practical application of DBT principles.  Yet, I come home and once again fail to implement them into my life.  A few days ago, I came upon my medical records of my hospital stays at UCLA and documentation with the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles.  I was shocked, disturbed, and distressed reading through the records, realizing how long and arduous a road this has been.  Medication after medication, unsustained improvement.  I suddenly realized that these medications are getting me only so far.  I must begin to exercise my inherent powers to alter my life, use my mind, thought processes, and cognitive abilities to effect change.  It is the only way I will cross the border and enter the adjoining state without disregarding or disparaging the gas the psych medications have fed me.  There is a possibility to work to control my neuroses and obsessions, to combat my suicidal urges, and to attack and smack down the thoughts of self harm and punishment that often plague my mind.

I am slowly working through the practice of these skills.  It is a process – an extremely slow process – to effectively learn and implement them, but I believe they are as valuable as my psych medications.  Perhaps in the future I will be able to exclaim the power of my mind and thought processes in their imperative role in the dismantling of the current and historical blockade inhibiting my path to recovery and the rescuing of my life.  No more Renoir.  Shall I try a Michelangelo?

To Be Free

I often times feel trapped in the world of my illness.  My life is a series of medical appointments – psychotherapy, psychiatric, life skills groups, DBT groups, ECT treatments – which are all consuming, centering solely on the treatment of my illness.  Not only am I trapped in the physical world, but I am imprisoned within the confines of my mind.  My mind is my torturer, offering unrelenting disruption and disturbance.  Thoughts drown out the world around me, and in a sense create an impenetrable bubble and barrier between myself and the world.  I am secured – ball and chains – to this world with bonds that cannot be severed.  My illness has kept me from participating in many aspects of life that are essentially commonplace phenomena, such as advancement and completion of school and studies, participation in social circles, and the partaking of events and happenings that is taken for granted by many.  

I pray to God to be free, to know what it is like to be able to just live, to have the opportunity to participate in the fruits of life without having to question my ability, dependent upon my mental state, to engage in events.  I feel as though I have lost so much, with numerous hospitalizations, outpatient programs, years and years of psychotherapy and medication management, and now thirty-four ECT treatments.  My autonomy has been handed over to hospitals and doctors.  I receive glimmers of hope – progress with therapy and medications, improvements during hospitalizations and in ECT treatments – but yet this is not living.  I think we often take for granted our ability to be, to live and participate in a life that has happiness and meaning, to be able graduate from educational institutions or to go throughout our days without having to check our phones to see what scheduled medication we are long overdue to take.  I am seeing marked improvements with my medication therapy and numerous ECT treatments, but I thirst for more.  I hunger for more.  

Nina Simone’s song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” touches me deeply and expresses so well how I feel in my search for freedom.

 

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

 

I wish I knew how

It would feel to be free

I wish I could break

All the chains holding me

I wish I could say

All the things that I should say

Say ’em loud say ’em clear

For the whole round world to hear

I wish I could share

All the love that’s in my heart

Remove all the bars

That keep us apart

I wish you could know

What it means to be me

Then you’d see and agree

That every man should be free

 

I wish I could give

All I’m longing to give

I wish I could live

Like I’m longing to live

I wish I could do

All the things that I can do

And though I’m way overdue

I’d be starting anew

 

I refuse to give up this fight, to acquiesce my power to that of my illness, but oh,  how wonderful freedom would be.  Perhaps my struggle is what makes me unique, what makes me special.  A defining characteristic of who I am.  I must find my own freedom within this seemingly impenetrable world that is my illness and slowly chisel cracks in walls that are already beginning to crumble.  Will freedom ever come in the sense I wish for it to?  Most likely not, as I do not believe that is feasible.  However that does not mean I cannot be free.  I will find freedom in the quality of the life I create for myself, in the life-saving treatments, with the friends I surround myself with.  Freedom is not as elusive as I believe it to be.  It is there, requiring nothing more than an ardent search.