Browsing Tag

medication

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Anatomy of a Breakdown

May 1, 2022
skin

ma·ni·a
/’mānēə/
Noun: mental illness marked by periods of great excitement or euphoria, delusions, and overactivity

For days. For nights. For weeks. For months.
Four months. Six months. Eight months.
Living around the clock and not living at all.
Months of just going going going until I’m gone all gone.
Weeks full with the witching twitch of legs.
Feet that buckle. Knees that jerk.
Nights of eyes wide open wake awake.
Feet that race. Eyes that pace.
Days of churning gut.
Belly button stones.
Surge of heat fire flash.

My meds ran out a week ago. Or is it a month ago? The calendar skipped forward. The calendar skipped back. It’s not the first time. It’s not the last. Fucking hell when is the last time I took my meds? Do you know? Because I sure as hell don’t.

I’m on a break, I guess. No meds means I’m on a break. A breakthrough? A breakdown? Call it what you want. No meds means I MADE A FUCKING BREAK FOR IT. A break from the solid where my feet once stood ground planted, where my arms once floated out stretched.

A break from you.
A break from me.

A break that punts me into liminal space, out of place. Perched on a ledge between the here of here and the there of there, the up of up and the down of down. Powered by the context of no context. I’m powered. Superpowered. Invisible. Invisible superpowers through doors and windows and walls onto a stairwell landing. Stairs go up. Stairs go down. Invisible between the floors. Superhero cape and tights stripped bare. Stripped bare. Stripped. Bare.

My lows are too low lows. And my highs spiral me up high high through a cotton candy clouded sky. The mood swings of mania rise and fall. They’re the convulsing tide of angry storms. The over-correcting upswing on gale force wind waves that send me into a tailspin of spinning tales. They’re the waging saging raging that makes my blood coil boil over in the basement engine smoldering coals of me.

Anything in the middle is just numb. All numb. Nothing.
I am all or nothing right now.
Or maybe I’m all gray area.
I don’t even know.

My manic panic mind thinks I’m stable. Stable is a fable. I don’t remember what stable looks like. What stable feels like. My manic panic mind forgot to take care of business. The business of self-caring. The basic and the not basic important-for-survival self-care things: exercise, meditate, masturbate, breathe, practice yoga, take a walk, spend time in nature, swim, drink more water, eat less processed foods, take all the vitamins, go to counseling. Breathe. Eat. Sleep. Suck. Fuck. Breathe. Shit. Piss. Take meds. Not just take meds, take meds every day. Not just every day, take meds every night. Not just every night, take meds 8pm 11pm 2am. Shit, I can’t remember which when.

My manic panic mind thought it could catch itself at the last psych appointment, or the next. Thought it could catch itself with the tweak of meds – more serotonin less serotonin, more norepinephrine less norepinephrine, more pills less pills, more milligrams less milligrams, more benzos more benzos more benzos. MORE FUCKING BENZOS. Just give me more mother fucking benzos dammit. Benzos catch me. Benzos slow the high speed frantic twitch under my skin, slow the sing-song speedboat race of words through my brain. Benzos lullaby my feet to rest. Benzos slow me down to catch my breath. Benzos come with a side salad slathered in crystal moonshine hope.

psy·cho·sis
/sīˈkōsəs/
Noun: a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality

Me. Stick straight. Not the skin and bones of me. Not the flesh and blood of me. The deeper deep of me. That part of me that straddles the divide, the chasm of bottomless pitch black deep. The me that makes me me. The breath and wind of me. Stuck stick straight silent in the chatter of the chaos between flight or fight or freeze. That’s the only place I can be right now. Because anything else doesn’t feel safe. Hovering right here in place, caught in space, completely off balance within the balance.

This liminal space the only place that feels like what safe sounds like.

 This A-B-C 1-2-3 do-re-mi of me.

Safe in my room. In my bed. Now you see me now you don’t. Shit let’s be real, just peek under the bed and you’ll find the childlike monster of me. Deep in the dark of the blanket fort. The hushed voices of the house vapor smoke streaming through the paper thin space under the bedroom door floor. Smoke voices billowing toward me gaining speed, gaining sound decibels, the screaming hushed voices of the house somewhere close by but out of reach. Playing keep away with the fragments of me. And at night I come out and roam the empty halls, where the only thing I can trip over is myself or the cats or the shoes lined up in formation by the door that should have a better lock to keep me in or keep me out.

I don’t know which is better right now. Locked in or locked out. I’m just locked.

Laying on the floor watching particles of dust, the sloughed off dead skin cell bits of me float through the sunbeam moonbeam rays that streak across the confinement of this broken mind prison cell. The dead skin DNA rainbow-frosting filled gene cells of me carried by the light through the dark through the window windblown bits of me and me and me.

Everything hurts at night. Fuck that. Everything hurts in the dark and in the light. Everything just fucking hurts. Light is too too bright. Blinding electric bolts zap-buzz-zap through the super highways of my veins. I can hear the sizzle as it oozes long river pathways through my blood. Sound is too too loud. Echoes ricochet against bone tunnel walls plaster painted with rainbow colored marrow. I can see the shake of sound waves bouncing off walls inside of flesh behind my eyes.

My skin is constantly on fire. A fire that starts in the deepest of the deep down basement furnace of my core and radiates out through bone and meat and plasma pores of flesh. The faint smell of char in my nose. I’m a living breathing campfire vampire. I wipe the sweat from my brow, from between my sagging breasts and the curve in the small of my back. Am I a wholly human liquid locomotive, or a bunsen burner in a flaming fireplace of a smoke stack burning off fossil fuels into the ever after ether filled with creatures, desperate to leave a carbon footprint or nothing at all. I wait in listening silence for an answer.

I can’t regulate. Anything. Not my mood or my temperature or my appetite. I am out of sync. Out of control. Out of body. Out of mind. Out of wishing pennies and rabbit tails, cats eye marbles and four leaf clovers.

Don’t touch my skin. Don’t hold me close. It hurts. I want to tell you how much it hurts but hurts doesn’t even come close to how excruciatingly deep the pain sits. I want to strip this fire singed skin of mine. One leg at a time. Peel the fishnet stockings down my thigh, over under my knee, slowly roll it down my calf, over my heel and pointed toes. Leave it in a steaming heap on the floor in the corner of the room. It looks good on the floor in the corner of the room.

I’m trapped inside of it. The it that is the pain.

I can’t breathe. I want to scream.

And punch you in the throat. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. It’s not me.

Only it is me.

Me.

On a deep dive.

Slipping sliding through the cracks.

Into pieces and parts.

fugue
/fyo͞oɡ/
Noun: a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment

Dive bars
Smoking in cars
Mold in my brain
insane insane insane

Barometric pressure dropping numbers melt together into ink blot tattooed cheeks on faces of clocks. Hour and minute hands severed from time. Parts of entire days lost to the blizzards in my brain. I started the day over here and found myself over there. It was the light light of day and now it’s the dark dark of night, no blurring of reds and oranges to greens and blues in between. Just black. All black of the blackest black. In the everything and nothing of this moment. I don’t know how or why or when I got from here to there. But here I am now, over there.

Mom’s night out Wednesdays. Spring break style. Slamming down shot after shot after fire numbing shot. Sparking the electric pain of misfiring synapses. Feeding the fire of mania. Frantic dancing to music raging inside of my hollowed out liquor sloshed head. Body spinning around the room. Spinning around the moon. Spinning around the unravel of me. The unwinding unbinding unearthing of me. Ending the night without remembering that it started or knowing that it’s over. An arm around my waist lifting me up off the spinning sticky bathroom floor. Vomit smeared on my shoes and tangled in my hair. Fridays, repeat. Saturdays, repeat. Mondays, repeat. Spinning around in spinning shoes crusted and smeared with vomit and mud.

The drive home across the Marquam Bridge or the Ross Island Bridge. Shit I don’t even know which bridge I’m on. Is this even a fucking bridge or is it just an overpass? Suspended over the gulp and swallow of fire singeing water. Navigating toward or against the concrete and metal railing of the in-between. The point of no return. Musical chairs with bridges. Musical bridges scream-singing metal hair-band lullabies. Coaxing me to go all fucking Thelma & Louise and sail right over the rail. Slow ride. Nose dive. No jive. Hit send. The end.

Someone should really hide my car keys.

hal·lu·ci·na·tion
/həˌlo͞osəˈnāSH(ə)n/
Noun: an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present

Fingers drape in the breeze from weeping willow trees.

An astro-baby in a rocketship inside of the freezer case in the ice cream aisle in the grocery store.

Carnivals with acrobatic bearded dragons on the moon.

A cat perched on a lamp…my house doesn’t have any lamps.

Teeth click and chatter in pots and pans on the stove.

Cell phones suspended like fireflies in mist.

I walk on water.
I sink into fog.

A vanilla violet bunny with barber shop poles for ears, spinning red and white and blue, shadows my feet step by step. Bubble gum pink nose shiny with sticky sweet spit.

The colorless boy who laces his ivy fingers through mine and toddles beside me wherever I go, and when his ivy finger vines unravel and slip out of the skin of my hand, he climbs up the stalks of my legs, up over the hills of my hips, shimmies up the slope of my belly, softly slides his small colorless boy arms tight around the summit peak of my neck. Hanging along for the ride.

English accented talking tree frogs sticky suction toe to my arms like bright green tattoos ribbit barking at me through a forest.

The snake-haired warrior-paint-faced woman with eyes of 80s neon pink and skin of cerulean blue spins pirouettes around me so fast my hair whips and wisps with the wind of her.

We’re a goddamn new year’s day parade. The warrior-paint-faced woman and the barber shop pole bunny and the colorless boy, always with me wherever I go. They sing and banter and scream and whisper to me, at me. Sweet nothings in the car, pep talks in the grocery store, at the dmv; they rage at me in the kitchen, in the shower. In the heat and in the cold. In the day and in the night. In the dark and in the light.

Red-bellied demons trample through a dead forest of purple hued bones. They hot-spit-scream into ear size gill slits on the sides of my head. Spiny fingers of panic ribbon lace crisscross applesauce around my ribs through the moments in between each breath. Cats-eyed beasts leapfrog through the veil of nightmare black, and bear down on my belly. My manic panic belly.

dis·so·ci·a·tion
/diˌsōSHēˈāSH(ə)n/
Noun: the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected; separation of normally related mental processes

The me of me vapor drifts up through the air. A flea perched on a pea on the wing of an eagle soaring sky higher and higher. Peeking back down through coke-bottle-thick spyglass shards of old tv tube static screen, squinting through the blur to make out the pictures of me.

I can’t see without my glasses. I can’t see with my glasses. I can’t find my fucking glasses. Wait. Stop. Back up. Rewind. Do I even wear glasses? I can’t find my thoughts or my words. I can’t find the reason why I’ve walked upstairs 6 times in the last 5 minutes. I can’t find the end of this sentence and I only just began it. I can’t find the milk when I look in the pantry, or the cereal when I look in the fridge.

I can’t find my hands.
I just can’t.

I am quicksilver. Mercury molecules sliding sweaty chest to back. Friction side to side rubbing against my thighs. All fingers wet and moaning sighs. Tremble and peak and melt into a sticky white hot scatter. Divide divide divide. Multiply.

I slip on the downward turning tip of my axis ripped off its axis. True North the billiard black eight ball struck into the far corner pocket. Halley’s Comet tail and cue chalk dust. Game over. Rack ‘em up.

I have no patience. Lost my cadence.

Losing my words. Losing my mind. Or at least the parts of it that I’m still able to articulate. Articulation isn’t really a thing for me right now. I’m not articulating well at all. I’m a writer with no ink or paper or words. I’m a chef with a stovetop full of pots and pans containing all the ingredients, but no spoons to stir or forks to whisk, no spatula to flip or tongs to grasp. I can’t find my words and words are the secret sauce that low slow boil simmers on the blue bottom burner of me and tethers this body to this soul to this water to this grounded Earth. To not float away and become stardust once again.

Me.

S

t

a

r

d

u

s

t

Ice and dust floating through the darkness.

Particles. Beaming screaming streaming. Careening.

Tick tock clock fast forwards.
Tick tock time ticks by.

bi·po·lar dis·or·der
Noun: a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression

My manic panic mind says “I’ve got this”. Well, my manic panic mind is wrong. I don’t have it.

I DON’T HAVE SHIT.

I was sure that once that new psychotropic med cocktail titrated up to that sweet spot right amount dose, I would be good. I would have it. My feet would plant back onto solid ground. And for a short time it was like a placebo honeymoon, I thought I had it. At least some. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. Maybe not. But honeymoons end. And the chaos is back again. The anti-depressants too high, the mood stabilizers too low. The counterbalance out of balance. The axis tipped and the downward slip down down through the black rabbit hole. The fall. The crash. The slam into the rocks of rock bottom rock. I wish I had a bloody nose to show for it. I’d be much happier right now with a bloody nose than with what I’ve got.

What I’ve got is an empty shell.

A sagging skeleton skin.

No meat, no muscle, only threadbare sinew string.

Wind whistling through hollowed out brain.

Electric zaps that make my head and shoulder twitch together on the magnets stitched under my skin.

I walk around like a fucking mud-clawed zombie risen up from the grave. One stiff-kneed leg-jerk step in front of the other.

A deep vacant blank in the dark shadow of my eyes.

As I stare into the space between.

The tight in my chest a solid fist jammed up high-hard into my sternum, compressing any air that might balloon blow-in in or might balloon pop-out out. The heart race pump of cortisol down through the drunken wobble of my sea legs. The roller coaster drop and soar in my belly, that slow chug climb up to the peak then free fall twist and turn and dive below the tracks and splash my gut empty dry.

I know the anxiety and PTSD of me. I know the depression of me. I’ve worn them for so long. They snuggly fit all the lines and angles of me. Their hands swell over my breasts, pooch out over my belly and fold up under my ass, slide their tongue down the tickle of the backs of my knees and down my calves to that sweet soft spot on the inside of my ankles. I enter them and they enter me. Slide their fingers deep into the arch of my head thrown back.

This bipolar me. I don’t know this me. It’s me, only it’s not. Not yet. My skin doesn’t slip slide like silk into it quite yet. Or, it does. Only it doesn’t. I don’t know all the ins and outs and sexy curvy lines of it. We haven’t adjusted to each other into a familiar comfort. I don’t feel safe in this skin.

This moon-faced two-faced skin of mine.

I need more time before I can trace the arch of its spine in the dark. Before I know the scent of it on my fingers. Some time until I can reach out and beg, pull close the heavy fullness of its hand to grope between my legs into the blinding wet of me. Before I can breathe into its neck and exhale silent soft shudders into its chest.

Now, who has my fucking car keys?

Melissa Lynne is a writer, motherless daughter, mental health advocate, and mermaid witch. When she can’t see through the tears of grief or think through the episodes of mania, she writes her way down and through and out. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her 3 kids and 2 cats.

***

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Guest Posts, postpartum depression

Prescriptions and Postpartum: When It’s Easier to Medicate Than Listen

December 22, 2020
receptionist

By Amanda Aardse

“You still there, hon?”

The walls are the colour of the inside of my skull, bland and jumbled, fuzzy thoughts tied in knots. I hate waiting rooms. My palms are all sorts of wet and I can’t sort myself out. It took two whole days to work myself up to the phone call, and the receptionist was on the other line, sounding bored.

“Yeah, I’m here, um, is there someone else I could see? I just need a referral to a psychologist.”

The words drench me in shame.

I gave birth three months ago. Motherhood. That should at least earn me just an inch of kindness, but so far all I find I get is reproach. You wanted this.

Everyone thinks I wanted this. That I spent my early morning hours for one long year being poked and prodded intimately by nurses who would yawn behind their gloved hands, sip their coffee during the internal ultrasound. That I pumped my body full of hormones it lacked, that I cried over an empty womb month after month for this.

No, I did not want this. I thought motherhood would make me feel fulfilled, beautiful, so in love I couldn’t stand it. This just makes me feel achingly alone from everything and everyone, even my former self, whoever she was.

I’m just Mom now.

“Well you really should see your doctor. She’s on holiday for the next two weeks, did you want to make an appointment for then?”

I picture her in the sun and sand, enjoying her two beautiful children while I have not taken a shower in three days, while my heart jitters with too much anxiety and caffeine. My eyes well with tears.

“Is there anyone else I can talk to?” I whisper and feel the eye roll on the other end of the line.

***

The nurse calls my name and I scatteredly grab my things. I’ve been staring at the magazine table rehearsing my lines – you need to do this, to advocate for your own health when others won’t.

The desire to be seen as more than just Mom is overwhelming.

She lets me into the doctor’s room. I’m explained this isn’t my regular doctor, he’s just taking her emergency patients. Am I an emergency? I wonder. What did the receptionist say about my teary phone call?

Well, that’s just having a baby, the receptionist informs me. A gatekeeper who mocks me. I use google instead, get confused by conflicting advice, and cry on the floor of his nursery while he joins me in wailing harmonies.

I sit on the chair beside the desk. I refuse to sit on the weird papered examining table like a patient. I came to get a referral. That’s all. A name and I’m out.

He enters the room and introduces himself, not smiling, barely making eye contact. I smile too widely to show I’m a happy, loving mother, that there’s nothing wrong. That is what everyone tells me they need to see. That, if I’m struggling, I must hate motherhood, must just not be good at it. I want so desperately to be good at it.

He begins to open fire. I am reduced to five questions, taken apart piece by piece and examined. Unfitting. Ill equipped. I feel mechanical, unhuman.

How often do you sleep? Well, not often, but I have a newborn, nervous chuckle.

Do you engage in my regular hobbies? If I could find the time or energy, I spiral, scrabble

Are you having regular intercourse with your husband? I –  I pick at the skin of my nail until it bleeds.

“How would you say you feel?” He turns to look at me at last. I heave a sigh of relief and decide for honesty.

“So incredibly tired. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. I vomit before I’m able to accomplish anything. I love him so much, but he won’t stop crying, I just feel like I’m losing bits of myself…” I trail off and begin to dissolve.

He hands me a tissue and turns back to his computer, begins talking about prescriptions. How I’ll feel worse in the beginning, but it’s the right choice. I want to open my mouth, I just want someone to talk to, to ask if I get a choice, but I’ve withered.

Do you want to harm your child?

Amanda Marie Aardse lives in Waterloo, Ontario with her husband, toddler, and pleasantly round cat, where she is the third generation in her family’s custom woodworking business. She has spent her days riddled with nail biting anxiety and has nothing but a beautiful life to show for it.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, chronic pain, Hope

The Shame of Pain

October 24, 2019
pain

By Francesca Louise Grossman

I have tried 46 different times to launch myself out of chronic pain. I know this because every time I try something, I write down what I have done, what it feels like, what it costs, whether it’s covered and how worth it is in a small purple book. No one knows I do this. I scribble in it like I’m confessing to my sixth grade diary. In it is the same kind of anxiety about the future that I had in sixth grade, just not about Andy Apstein and whether he was going to kiss me or ignore me. Instead, it is about the treatment or therapy I try, and whether this one will be the one to finally help.

I opened the book the other day to pen a possible 47th.

The book is chronological, of course, but I put it in alphabetical order for clarity. I flipped through.

It starts:

Acupressure: December 2010 – Feb 2010 – dull pressure, not much change, $120/hr not covered – not worth it

Acupuncture – July 2002 (on and off) until March 2018 – sometimes painful, usually calming, blood flow, lasts less than a day but is relief $75/15 mins – sometimes covered – worth it but has to be ongoing

Acetaminophen – When needed – does nothing – over the counter – $9.89 a bottle of extra strength – not worth it

Bioelectric Therapy – October 2016-April 2016 – possibly dulls pain a little – for about an hour $165/hr at office – not covered by insurance

Cupping – February 2014 – one time, hurt like hell, not worth it. $85/30 mins – not covered by insurance.

Codeine – March 2009 – April 2009 – numb, good, not a long term option – covered by insurance $20 copay

Craniosacral Therapy – September 2000 – October 2001 – When in conjunction with other body work  – Myofascial etc – decent relief but dizzy – lasts a couple of days maybe $200/session – sometimes covered by insurance

Cryotherapy – June 2018-October 2018 – feels great right after, like putting ice on a knee. Lasts a couple of hours, heart races. $60/3 min session. Not covered by insurance

And on and on—and on.

The book is 24 years old. The same age as my chronic pain, more than half my lifetime, all of my adulthood, eons.

This book exists because all this time I have had a continuous faith that there is a valve for this pain; that I can escape it, or, more accurately, it can escape me. For all these years I have I known this to be true. I will find it. I will heal. I am a warrior, a survivor; tough, strong, and able. People have told me that pain is weakness leaving the body in all different scenarios, with all different motivations. I don’t have this recorded as studiously but I wish I did.

I have other lists I don’t love revisiting, but help to explain the pain. In my twenties I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an illness of the intestines that leads to violent pain and an urgent need to empty your bowels. I developed Colitis later, a more general type of the disease that bloats my stomach to look four months pregnant. I have had surgeries for my stomach, some of which were determined later to be unnecessary. I had thyroid cancer through out my twenties, finally treated when the tumor on my neck was the size of a ping-pong ball. I developed arthritis along the way, both as a peripheral malady and also it’s own disease. My body is gouged from piles of polyps removed from my insides, and (usually) benign tumors removed from my outsides. My neck doesn’t turn all the way to the right. My hips need forty-five minutes before letting me walk in the morning. I have an unidentified liver problem that swells without notice and bends me in two. If the saying is to be believed, there’s a lot of weakness in there, and it seems to be stuck.

*

When I was twenty-nine, I had surgery to remove my thyroid. The overnight nurse was a doozie of a lady.  Opera singer large, big calloused hands that vice-gripped onto my shoulders. Thighs thick as trunks that she used to pin me against the side of the bed so she could administer my catheter without “so much squirming.” She was brutal and brutish. A small silver peace sign sunk deep into her cleavage, drowning in flesh.

She had a hard time getting the catheter in, and as she struggled, she noticed my twisted face.

Pain is weakness leaving the body, my love, she said, repeating it over and over like a command until I could actually pee.

This is an extreme example, but at least once a year, often as much as once a month, this phrase earworms into my psyche. Related to illness and chronic pain or not, this saying has appeared like a subtitle again and again at the bottom of the screen of my life. When I was a weak child? A coach. A teenager who could not stomach even occasional beers? A boyfriend. A young woman unable to go to a bar without scoping out the bathroom situation ahead of time? A roommate. A thyroid cancer patient: a nurse. Doctors, PA’s, med techs. Physical therapists, friends, masseuses, acupuncturists, pharmacists, bosses, guy on the street.

*

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and a delicate med tech took my vitals. She asked the normal questions, made the normal small talk, took the normal introductory tests. Her thin fingers flew across the keyboard, recording my responses. She asked me if I had any pain.

I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.

“You mean right now?”

“Yes,” she smiled softly.

“Nothing acute,” I said.

“So no pain?”

“No. I mean, yes, I have pain, the same pain I have all the time.”

“What would you rate it, 1-10?”

How do you rate pain on a scale made for people with no pain?

“I don’t know, 4?”

She nodded and her hands took off. That was the wrong answer. I knew this, I knew that anything under 5 wasn’t worth her noting, that saying 4 was like saying I had a dull headache, or a splinter in my toe. But what should I have said? 7? Wouldn’t that be alarmist? Especially when that pain had been a relative constant for over twenty years? Especially when I knew from decades of experience that the litany of potential remedies for that pain were not going to help?

*

My husband stepped on a quarter inch wire sticking out of the ground near the beach in Fire Island this summer. The metal went a good inch into his flesh, and when he pulled it out blood sprayed mercilessly all over the sand and sidewalk. He howled. He made noises that I have never heard him make before and I have been with him through a lot of painful things. He was pale and sweaty, teeth gritting, eyes rolling back, that kind of pain.

Later that night, his foot gauzed up and iced, still throbbing, he looked at me and said “I’m so sorry you are in pain all the time.”

I didn’t know how to respond. This wasn’t about me, he was the one in pain, and yet a part of me felt smug at his discomfort. Now you know how I feel, was a momentary thought, I’ll admit it, and not one I’m not proud of.

But it got me thinking about pain and the way people relate to it. It is very hard to relate to pain if you aren’t in pain. Which is why I have such a hard time with the 1-10 scale.

Instead, for chronic pain patients, they should ask what kind of sharp thing is in your foot. Splinter? Pushpin? Nail? Quarter inch wire? Razor blade? Glass shard? Burning glass shard?

Nail. I would have said. Occasionally glass shard.

But instead I said 4 and she smiled.

*

I have fought against my pain and weakness for a very long time. I have tried, often unsuccessfully, to be like my friends. In my twenties I tried to stay out all night, I tried to ski, I tried to walk down the street without doubling over. I worked, I played, I drank, I sat as still as I could so that no one would notice the aftershocks. In my thirties I had children, pregnancy an event that paused my pain for a while so that when it came back it felt like a tsunami. Like many mothers of babies I didn’t sleep and then I had severe postpartum depression; I found having small children so physically demanding I came undone. I’m forty-one now and I am very often a prisoner in my house. My stomach bleeds, my liver pulsates, my head spins. Not all the time, but enough.

From my teens until today, this minute, and all those in the foreseeable future, there is pain. At least nail in foot pain. Sometimes glass shard. Never pushpin. A splinter would be welcome. In fact, when I think back on my childhood and that which was difficult – most sports, endurance, gym class, partying, anything else that required my body to function – I think it’s possible that I have been in pain all my life. Back then I never considered that my resting state was anything less than normal, but now I know better. Most people do not live with nails in their feet.

I hurt. I hurt in the morning when I turn over to get up. When I walk, when I carry groceries, when I turn my head to the right to reverse in the car. My stomach burns, my joints swell, my liver rejects everything I eat and drink.

I don’t talk about pain very often. I tell myself it is because people don’t want to hear me complain but it is more than that, I can admit that. I’m ashamed of my pain. I’m ashamed of my weakness.

What is it about pain that is so shameful?

We live in a culture in which wellness equals strength. People my age do cross fit and triathlons, women have babies without drugs, are lauded for their tight abs, their thick skin, their ability to play tough. I have never been strong like this. I have tried, but I have failed. I was never scrappy. I don’t think I will ever be. I am soft. My belly, the place of much of my pain, is squishy. Distended, bloated, doughy, depending on the day. I’m sensitive. I cry at pop songs.

Our society’s greatest hero story is about overcoming obstacles. We love a fighter. We love an underdog who comes out on top. We love triumph and happily ever endings. We love to fix a hoarder, intervene and send someone to rehab, remodel a decrepit house. We love treatment. We love survival. We love hope.

But hope is complicated. After all of these tries, this list of 46 different treatments and therapies, I no longer have hope that things will get better. I have hope that things will not get worse, which is not the same thing. I have a hope that feels a lot more like mercy than it does like faith.

When I ask myself this question about weakness and shame I hear a quiet hum suggesting a better question: why am I fighting so hard?

In my experience, pain is not weakness leaving the body. I realize this is a trope, and any mantra is nothing more than a slogan. But slogans have power. They convince. And I’ll admit I have always believed this – that the suffering I endure might one day let me free.

When I was pregnant and exhausted, a friend of mine told me that of course I was tired, I was making a person in there. Though not the same, pain sometimes feels like that too. Of course I’m tired, I’m fighting against myself all the time, trying to quell the pain so that I can live my otherwise fortunate life.

I’m not delusional about this. I know I live a charmed life in almost every way. I am educated, from a family that loves me – even when I behave idiotically. I am not from a country ravaged by war. I have a husband who cares for me, does not abuse me, even dotes on me sometimes. I have two healthy children whom I adore. I am from a privileged minority, I have more than I deserve. I can walk, breathe and think to exist in my daily life. I can afford therapy, eastern medicine, treatment outside of insurance sometimes, to do part time work. I can try 46 things. In short; I’m lucky. Unfairly so. And yet.

Here’s the whole list, abbreviated to just the titles:

Acupuncture, acupressure, acetaminophen, alcohol, aleve, aromatherapy, bioelectric, CBD creams and oils, cupping, chiropractic, chanting, codeine, cranial sacral therapy, cryotherapy, dairy free, hallucinations, gluten free, guided breathing, fasting, fentanyl, flotation, ibuprofen, oxycontin, marijuana, massage, meditation, myofascial, quell, reflexology, radiation, salt baths, saunas, steroids, sugar free, sodium free, sound bathing, surgery, swimming, percocet, physical therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry, praying, vicodin, xanax, yoga.

Everything helps a little. Nothing helps enough to be worth the life altering work and piles of money it takes to keep it up.

Here’s a truth: the things that actually take the pain away feel a lot like addiction. They don’t remove the pain, that’s the trick. They numb. And they are delicious. But they don’t last and they unleash other pain, often more severe that the original. It’s never worth doubling the pain tomorrow to have numbness today, no matter how attractive the reprieve.

So the pain is there. It’s always there and most likely it will always be there. I don’t know how it got in. Maybe the pain was waiting for me when I came into this world. Maybe it comes from my ancestors, my DNA, my parents’ tragedies, my childhood bullies, or little or big assaults. Maybe I am sensitive to the world for some reason, and it simply hurts to be here. As woo-wooey as that sounds, that’s the one that feels the most accurate, the most likely.

I think it’s actually softness that makes us strong. It’s not skin made of iron. It’s showing the underbelly. It’s not bracing for the storm, it’s putting a kite up in the wind. It’s the willingness to see the world as a series of experiences some of which are going to hurt like crazy and the ability to just keep going anyway. It’s vulnerability. It’s asking for forgiveness. From ourselves as much as from others. It’s mercy.

Mercy is an open palm. It’s the meaty bit. Curling your hand so that your knuckles face the world is so much easier. But a fist to heart feels quite a lot different from a palm to heart, resting square on your breastbone, staying there, the heel of it pulsing the same rhythm as the heartbeat on your chest, marching your body along in a long trek to some sort of quiet absolution.

My husband’s foot healed in a few days. He stopped limping. The knowledge that he would get better permeated and defined the experience – the faith that this would be over soon.

Therein lies the difference between acute and chronic pain, of course: in how we define hope.

So what kind of hope can I have? What if I looked at my years and piles of pain and perceived weakness not as a failure but as a step towards becoming who I am? What if I forgave myself the years of fighting myself and sank into the deep cool water of acceptance? How would it feel down there?

I do not mean that I should give up. I’ll try things if they look promising. 47, 48, that’s fine. But what if instead of fighting so hard I allowed the pain to be part of me? What if, for a while, instead of the restrictive eating and the therapy and the medicine and the exercise and the planning and the trying (and the failing), what if I just stopped? Even if it hurt? Even if the pain never left? Could I recalibrate to “0”? Could I see that as the most radical act? Doing nothing at all?

For now I’ll put the little purple book in the drawer. I’ll cap the pen and sit quietly. I’ll let what’s in me stay put. I’ll put my feet up, expecting and accepting the pulse of the nail that might be forever lodged there.

Francesca Louise Grossman is a writer and writing instructor based in Newton, MA. Her work includes contributions to The New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, Word Riot, Drunken Boat Literary Magazine, xojane, Kids in the House, Ed Week/Teacher among others. She is currently working on a memoir and a novel. 

 

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Guest Posts, depression, No Bullshit Motherhood

The Intruder

September 22, 2019
intruder

By E.F.C Warden

I remember how my brain started working, how even well before my daughter was born I kept envisioning her death. Not a peaceful “died in her sleep” or was “born sleeping” death but horrific versions of the same endings.

While pregnant, I would envision falling on sharp objects that would pierce my belly and my daughter and end her life. I saw myself being hit by a car and her tiny form being squished to death inside of me. We died together in many ways inside my mind.

Visions after visions of our untimely end filled my senses on a daily basis to a point where it was all I thought and even dreamed, my brain consumed with how she would die and when she didn’t fulfill the nightmares new ones would form in their place.

This should have been my first clue something was wrong.

The thoughts never ceased after her birth. I thought she would die during her arrival. I thought she would suffocate from my inability to progress during labor. I believed she would choke to death or stop breathing before she was even born. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Dots And Holes

August 21, 2018
dots

By Avery Guess

  1. Morse Code

Morse Code is made up of dots and dashes, or more accurately, dits and dahs, but I don’t know anyone who uses the latter. I never could listen to Morse Code and understand anything beyond the standard S.O.S., and even then, I’d worry that I hadn’t heard the message correctly. My first name, Avery, is made up of a total of 8 dots and 6 dashes. My last name, Guess, 10 dots and 3 dashes. Anxiety has 8 dots and 8 dashes. Depression contains a whopping 17 dots and only 8 dashes. Bipolar disorder, 27 dots and 16 dashes. Except in the case of anxiety, the dots prevail. There is no escaping them.

  1. “Repetitive Vision”

I saw Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Room” titled “Repetitive Vision” in Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory in August 2014 while visiting Katie, a friend I’d met on Facebook a few years before. If I had heard of Yayoi Kusama prior to seeing her work that day, it was only in passing. Kusama is a Japanese artist who has been active since the 1950s. When she is not working in her studio in Japan or overseeing her popular installations, she lives in a mental hospital a couple of blocks away. She has experienced hallucinations from an early age that appear as “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots.” When Katie and I walked into the room, and the door we entered through closed behind us, I experienced the exact opposite of claustrophobia. The walls and ceiling are made up of mirrors. The floor is white and scattered large neon coquelicot polka dots. These reddish-orangish dots also cover the three white mannequins with grey wigs who stand in various poses within the room. The effect the mirrors creates is that of infinite repetition. Katie and I stood amongst the mannequins and began imitating their poses, walked around the box we were inside trying to find an end, and took photos of ourselves within this magical environment. I could have stayed for hours.  Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, depression, Mental Health

The Me and The She

December 27, 2017
bear

By Adrienne LaValley

I’m a little blue today.  Not the Ceylon sapphire blue I’d love to be enveloped in. Royal blue, cerulean blue, turquoise like the ocean or any other variety of azure. The blue that leaves me confused, unsure, and downright loathing of anyone able to plaster a smile on their face. Fuck them. That kind of blue. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Forgiveness

Not Quite Forgiveness, a Yoga Story

July 21, 2017
forgiveness

“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
― Virginia Woolf

By Nina Gaby

It was with the best of intentions that I shut down my old life as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in upstate New York and packed up my family and got a quick prescription for Paxil and clonazepam and became an innkeeper in a small village in Vermont. Let it now be known that if you need two prescriptions to convince yourself that what you’re doing is right you might want to take another glance at it. Instead I went to a psychic in a strip mall and interpreted her words as confirmation (what she really said was light some white candles, take a bath with herbs, and think on it.) And while I fully understand I’m using this as a seductive hook here–after all who hasn’t at one time considered the cliché of running away to a simpler life of baking scones and turning down crisp bed sheets and not only smelling the roses but actually having time to grow them–that isn’t really the story.

The story is that for the past fifteen years I have been angry that the story fell apart. As it unraveled into petty interpersonal and not so petty financial conflicts, the small community we had moved to took sides. Think wrong table in junior high school cafeteria. We were not only collateral damage from 911 and eventually lost the inn, our life savings in one of the tech industry debacles, my mom, my dog and the old friend who lived across the road in our new village dismissed me in a way that felt cruel and confuses me to this day. I still feel shame for sounding like such a victim, as it was likely the victimhood that put us at disadvantage in our community in the first place.

Forgiveness has never been a consideration, anger being my stronger suit. Sometimes forgiveness is not even an option, even though we want to believe it is, as if we have more control than we really do. And that’s the real story. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Medication, Mental Health

Unbecoming

September 15, 2016
sleep

By Julia K. Agresto

I haven’t slept in days. The crushing anxiety that plagues every waking minute of every day won’t let up. It’s a constant feeling of being deeply afraid, although of what specifically I don’t quite know. It’s a strange combination of caring far too much about everything and nothing, and no longer caring much about anything at all.

Each day begins the same: with a tearful phone call to my father. Or a phone call where I don’t say much and don’t cry, but I call anyway because I just need to feel someone there, to feel somehow less alone in my loneliness. I’m unsure which of the two is worse for him. In either case, I feel like an impossibly heavy burden. I know the weight of my sadness and his inability to remedy it are slowly destroying him. I know he is at a loss for what he can say or do. I wonder if, like many others who have seemingly disappeared from my life because they too are at a loss for what they can say or do, he debates whether it would be easier to just let me drift away. But I’ve already drifted. I am standing on a tiny island in the middle of a colossal sea waving my arms desperately, waiting to be rescued. Nobody sees me.

One day during our ritual phone call, my dad says, “You can’t do this anymore. You’re not sleeping. You’re missing work. You’ve hit a wall. You need to go on medication.” I resist. I’ve long operated under the misguided notion that medication equates to weakness. That succumbing to this last-ditch solution would mean I’ve admitted defeat. I’m terrified of side effects. I’m terrified of gaining weight, even as I’m withering away to nothing, so severely depressed that grocery shopping and cooking have become too emotionally taxing to deal with. He tells me that he’s found a psychiatric nurse practitioner in my area who can see me that day to evaluate me and prescribe something for the anxiety and depression, and to help me sleep. I am so completely drained and exhausted that I finally agree. The thought of never escaping this hell that I’m in finally becomes more painful to me than the stigma of being medicated. I figure that things can’t get much worse (this turns out to be untrue, as I’ll soon learn that the adjustment period to these new meds is complete and abject misery). Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Medication, Mental Health, Surviving

Lexapro: A Love Story

August 4, 2016
Lexapro

Lexapro: A Love Story

By Anonymous

“Don’t drink. Continue taking your medicine,” my friend repeats in my ear as I throw bikinis into my carry on.

I half lift my head, slightly acknowledging her words of wisdom.

“Are you listening to me?” she asks, taking my silence as a worrisome sign.

“Sort of,” I reply, before turning my attention to a crop top.

I have this pattern- some call it subconscious self sabotage. I find myself in Italy, tempted by the tastes of fine wine. I know before I leave U.S soil that I will have some after a year of purity. The first glass tastes strange. It is airplane cabernet. I sip it very slowly, checking to see who is around me. I feel like I am doing something wrong. Sneaky. I don’t finish it. The second time I drink, I am at dinner. The pizza is much better than the wine. I do it again the next night, but with gluten free pasta instead. After a month, I leave Florence feeling like I am not in love with booze.

Weaning off medication comes gradually as well. My supply is running low, so I begin to cut the dose. At first it seems like a fine idea. My sex drive returns and I feel a heightened sense of creativity. As I move through the streets, I am turned on by life and the multitude of emotions passing through me. And then slowly I begin to slip. My Montmartre apartment becoming more and more appealing than an unexplored city. I am crying a lot, for no reason at all. I want to believe that I am releasing something, that the tears serve a purpose. But I am afraid it is just the same familiar sadness that has been haunting me since childhood. Before heading home, I start swallowing my pills again. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, depression

Sensitivities = Superpowers

May 11, 2016
medication

By Jennifer Ann Butler

I am two weeks into withdrawing off of Wellbutrin (an anti-depressant) and I feel like my skin has little caterpillar legs on the inside and is going to tap dance off of my body.

I had my first date with an anti-depressant when I was thirteen years old. The best way I can explain it is that I was born with the volume turned way up on life. My hypersensitivity made day-to-day life quite challenging. I could hear electricity and people’s bones creaking, feel other people’s emotions, and see things that most said weren’t there. From a young age, I figured death as the only way out.

Since my teenage years, I’ve maintained a love/hate relationship with some form of medication. Most made me feel like a zombie. Others made me twitch. Others, yet, gave me stomachaches and caused hallucinations. I always felt disconnected from who Jen Butler really was. It was as if I was standing in a room full of mirrors; I could see my reflection, but I couldn’t connect with it on a human level. There would always be the piece of glass between us, preventing true connection. This resulted in a numbness that increased the longer I stayed disconnected. I remember times when I was so numb that I would run red lights to see if I could feel anything. I’d drive my motorcycle 110mph+ just to get some form of a sensation. Continue Reading…