MASKS PERCEPTIONS, REALIZATIONS, STORIES, AND “HOW THEY SERVE ME”

 

 

Creativity: 

I was told, from a young age, “Rachel, you’re good at…art, music…”I perpetuated this story about myself that in order to gain people’s care, attention, love, certainty, and for me to grow, I had to make art, I had to play music, I had to express myself physically through my horseback riding. “Those are the things she was good at”. They’d say.  Let’s tell her that. Let’s only tell her that. Oh. And that she CAN’T, and I mean with certainty, write, do math, or science, because she’s “only artistically talented” 

I love art. I love creation. I love taking six different random colors and forming their soft palates into a singular form, a bird flying, a horse galloping – freedom. I love to write, let the words flow through onto the paper, wet and laced in sweet sayings of humor and vulnerability. Though, this leads into my next mask, so interlaced, 

PERFECTIONISM:

 because I will throw away a drawing that doesn’t meet my standards, if it’s crooked, if the lines are too dark, if the paint isn’t the right color. I’d crumble up my pieces of paper with words dabbled about, telling a story of the process, but god forbid the words be misspelled (because I have a story about that), or that my handwriting is illegible (another story). See, because I struggled so much in school from a very young age, I thought, or believed, and made up stories, that (or perhaps some of this is factual, I’m not that great of a speller) but that, actually, my lack of ability to spell, actually got me more attention than if I were to spell correctly. Teachers payed more attention to me when I did poorly than if I were to be average. (The FAILURE Mask: where in order to gain the love and attention, the care that I feel and deemed I deserved, I had to physically try to fail. It could also fall under the category of a SELF-SABOTAGE Mask) That’s where this pull for being excellent comes in, because if I’m not excellent I’m average, and who pays attention to average? My story feeds into this belief, which in then says 

YOU MUST BE SKINNY: The ED mask.  You must be thinner than the rest, you actually must just be thin, you must see your bones, you must starve, you must control yourself, have control to be thin. If you’re not thin than no one will like you. Only people who are skinny are respected (something which I don’t actually believe others, yet I have a story I tell myself about me). And, also, the mask is a buffer from being hurt. “YOU CAN’T HURT ME, MY FEELINGS, MY EMOTIONS, YOU CAN’T HURT ME, I’M THIN”. People treat me as if I’m more fragile. They dance around me more, especially when treating me (clinically). It’s also a way to seduce love. “If you don’t love me enough, I’ll stop eating. If you love me enough, I’ll eat, if you love me the same, I probably will continue to starve to show you how much pain I’m in, and so that you’ll continue to show me your love”. This story that I have is that people will only love me if I’m “sick”. The sicker I am, the skinner I am, the less I eat, the more bones that show, the smaller the size clothing I wear, the more worry, attention, validation, and connection I get, than if I were of “average” size.

HUMOR:

And of course, I lace my words with humor. I make people feel comfortable with my light and easy personality. I won’t say it’s “all wrong”, but I make up a story that people won’t like me unless, unless I’m light and goofy, that if I’m grouchy, self centered (or even true to my emotions) they might think it’s about them, take it personally, and start to make up their own story and start to not like me. I dance around topics and giggle my way through conversations. I brush off interactions that make me feel uncomfortable with jokes and believe, strongly, that it is my humor that people love me for, my humor, my body, my creativity, and my ability to be 

VULNERABLE: which sometimes I am, because I trust the person deeply and it’s right. And sometimes I’m vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable in a sense that being vulnerable means you can’t hurt me because I’m being so open so how dare you dig in and hurt me right now. I have learned that being open and honest and raw, people see me as a hard worker, and I want to be seen as that someone, and when I don’t get seen like that, I’m afraid that people will say “she’s closed off” and think that I don’t care, and not caring means I’m stupid.

See, it all comes down to, me being stupid. This core belief of mine from growing up when I interpreted people not believing in me and me thinking that I had to play stupid (because I know, I know I’m really not stupid, because I know I’m powerful, determined, and full of all other sorts of amazing shit) to get attention and validation. 

It comes down to my worthiness. If I feel worthy of people’s love and attention for who I am as a person, a smart intelligent person, a person who’s authentically willing to show her creative, vulnerable side, not one who is putting it on as a front to seek out, to manipulate those around her to find that validation that I’m more than capable of giving myself. 

I am the passionate, determined individual, the person who cares for herself with the utmost respect, whose tenacity flows throughout her body like a ribbon waving in the wind, whose compassion seeps through her pores, whose confidence beams. Who am I? because the story that I’m telling myself is the story that I’m perpetuating. I am powerful, brilliant, beautiful, whole.

Climbing Mountains to Satiate the Soul

I don’t know exactly how to do this thing called “life”. I don’t know what direction to turn…left or right? Straight? They say the only way out is through, as if I was carving steps with my own bare hands into the treacherous mountains, chipping away at old and tired rock. Arriving at the summit, I stood. I stood as tall as I ever have, as tall as I can be, I thought. Until ascending through the darkness, propelling myself carefully around the cliff’s ragged edges, lowering myself to the level ground, It is here I saw great potential. I climbed a mountain and found with its chiseled depths and crevices that it was not the mountain I was climbing which was remarkable, no, that was not it. It was the skill each step, each movement, each milestone that the mountain provided for me to carve my story.

I Love You

In light of recent events, I was in midst of conversation with someone whose opinion I (thought) I valued considerably.

Mental Illness does not discriminate– not gender, not race, not socioeconomic status, not nada. To believe one is above all else [successful people] over I would assume the antonym of which, it is paramount we reflect why it is that even with all the recourses in the world, people still find the need to exit on their terms.

Wondering why “successful” people die by suicide is like saying money can cure suicidal actions.

I wish it were the case, as I have had every. single. opportunity. to receive treatment, medication, therapy, hospital stays, above all else, a wonderful family, which did not prevent me from trying to take my own life. I speak about this now because now more than ever we need to look and dissect the way we treat people who have struggles with their mental health.

I can tell you, waking up on a ventilator in ICU post suicide attempt is probably the single most terrifying experience I have had. It doesn’t make me lesser of a person and does not equate to successfulness. Successful people are not immune.

To die by suicide is a very tragic thing. To have attempted and to live to tell the tale is the greatest gift. To have friends who saved my life, to have family who stood by my side, to have recourses available to me at all times, and yet to still feel so empty, such a burden, and so incredibly overwhelmed is simple proof that the way we are treating depression (etc.) isn’t working.

I called 911 the other day, a friend notified me she had taken an overdose. I found her location, called the paramedics, and yes she is ok, but I’m here to promise you one thing:

I love you enough for you to hate me forever.

 

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Support American Foundation for Suicide Prevention here:

Still Alive

Here I am, almost a year out from my Bi-Lateral Saddle Pulmonary Embolism that, if left untreated, could have taken my life. I spent a month in the hospital (26 days actually, to be exact), from ICU to medical floors, transferred to two hospitals, here I am, that girl; the friend, the daughter, the horsewoman, the dog lover, the writer, the artist, the person who is beginning to not only recovering from a life altering medical emergency but one who is finding herself through it.

 

I have a multifaceted case (well, let’s start this out with: who doesn’t) of PTSD. Not only trauma based childhood stuff, but complex relationship with medical uncertainties. Tying into my OCD, the genuine fear that something is wrong surges adrenaline through my system, kicking that OCD into gear—If you do X then Y won’t happen. If you do A, B won’t happen. Largely, this has followed suit of me obsessing over small health issues that, because of such life threatening ones I’ve experienced, manifest into obsessive compulsions to fix the situation. Generally, it goes like this:

 

Something feels wrong. FEELS wrong. I have a multitude of health issues as it is, including a very intricate, incredibly rare Areterious Venus Malformation (AVM) of my left femoral artery, transversing the femur bone, which takes up much of my left thigh. They believe that this, paired with the recent port placement I had, lead to the pulmonary embolism. Amidst the leg issue, I have an autonomic nervous system dysfunction where my body cannot regulate its heart rate and blood pressure, often ending in me passing out or falling. Oh, and while we’re on falling, lest us not forget the two TBI I have sustained, one while riding my horse, fracturing my occipital (back of the skull) and the other, with a migraine, splitting open the side of my head as I fell into a door passing out. So, it is not without reason for my deep fear of death and dying, or at least, having a medical complication arise that is completely out of my control.

 

But, one may ask, especially after reading much of this blog—have you not spent so much of your life trying to take it? Well, yes, I suppose. On my terms, though, and in some weird way that makes it all different. I will say, being on a vent and waking up from it changed me. I never want to get to that place again, for fear of truly being gone, and leaving all my loved ones behind to clean up the mess that I so thoroughly fought to make.

The OCD/PTSD manifested itself in becoming the most frequent of flyers at the local trauma center emergency department—I’m known by my first name as soon as I walk in the door, nothing to be proud of, in fact, I’m so ashamed each time I enter, but the shame I feel is nominal compared to that of the distress I’m experiencing, and I sometimes, often times, wish I could express this to those who treat me. That I don’t WANT to be in their ED, but the fear is so strong it overrides any shame I have in being there.

 

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It’s a Sign

I found myself driving an old familiar road at an unfamiliar time, my car’s wheels wrapping around each corner, each bend, eagerly propelling and thrusting us forward, thirsty for new adventures. Where was I, but a thick forest, sky blue, stark contrast with scarce cloud cover? With the vultures, quite ominous in nature, circling high above? Where was I, but an old grass feild, each blade dancing in the wind, full of bad headaches, forgotten memories and misguided decisions? For am I not where I started? So many years ago, sneaking out late at night, behind the backs of those who loved us more than we loved ourselves?

Oh no, you are not. For you are on the same familiar road, though the dangerous pot holes and road blocks are less daunting as you have met wisdom, invited mindfulness, and welcomed forgiveness into your life.

 

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Worries Wake the Weary

I haven’t written in a while, for fear of permenance, or something, but it’s been holding me back and I’m ready to face the concreteness of this life even be it at a speed of a snail.

So where does that leave us. Currently it’s 3:00am, which, unfortunately, is not unusual these days. Insomnia, or more obsessing/compulsions, is keeping me from a decent nights sleep.

I wonder, like, they say, well, at the beginning these obsessing compulsive behaviors were actually an adaptive and skillful way to deal with the tumultuous waters that were life. Soon came 3:00am day 8 of 4 hours sleep. What was once so adaptive quickly slid like sand through fingers- thoughts of which I realized a much more immenet death perhaps than the fear of the obsessing over what was going to kill me.

I’ve been “keeping busy”- enough, or maybe not, maybe that’s why I’m not sleeping, but that’s not the point. I’m aboard The Brown Horse once again, making my life just a little more magical.

 

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Tin Man

As mornings go around here, we gather under the awning, the designated smokers area, and sit around the table on our flimsy plastic sun chairs with our coffee and smokes. My roommate goes to put her cigarette out in the old tin coffee can we keep for cigarette butts and exclaims in fright. A bug! A bug? Inquisitively I peek over the rusted rim to find a vibrant, near neon green grasshopper.

I scoop him up gently with a plant leaf and transfer him to our garden under a lavender bush. I found an old grape stem and turned the hose on as to drench it and leave droplets of water on the branches for him to drink and bathe. He does so meticulously.

He is my miracle today. He reminds me how in love I am with life, how far I’ll go to save even the tiniest of creatures, and how fascinated I am by the resilience that’s intrinsically bestowed upon us as vessels of the universe.

Grasshoppers, as some may know or recognize, are a well known symbol of good luck. They can only jump forward (not backwards or sideways) which is why they are considered by many to be such a good omen. Amongst other attributes, the grasshopper is valued amongst many cultures through ancient to present times.

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“You Have People Who Love You”

It was December 26th, 2016. I snuck out the back door of the crisis house I was living in and called an Uber. Where to? Safeway. As a Christmas present we had received gift cards to the grocery outlet (most people who reside in the crisis house being homeless) though my one thought was, I finally had a means to get pills. And that’s exactly what I did. I bought and injested an entire bottle of extra strength Tylenol PM. That’s 100/500mg tabs.

Being the day after Christmas, the air was so cold you could slice it with a knife. I brought a blanket with me and sat in the parking lot, awaiting a wishful death. Slowly, the world became more removed. A nice woman approached with a steaming hot chocolate, and soon after a man with a large coffee and a $20 bill. “Merry Christmas”. The words traveled and I could hardly mumble a “thank you” in return. I curled deep into my blanket on the frozen asphalt.

At some point I had called my dear friend Jenni, who was courageous enough to reach out to my mom as my jarbled words alerted her to immediate danger. Though I would not pick up my mom’s phone calls, Jenni was able to get enough information out of me, albeit from 500 miles away and a completely unknown area to her, to give to my mom that my mom could relay to the police to find me.

It saved my life.

From my journal at the hospital: ” I remember waking up that morning, I’d been contemplating suicide for a while, planning it out… longer than any other attempt I’ve had. Technically I wasn’t allowed to leave the house until the next day, but the urge was so strong, I couldn’t wait, maybe in fear I wouldn’t follow through, or for fear I’d get caught before I had the chance to die…”

Lights and sirens filled the parking lot and two police officers approached me gently. “Rachel? Are you Rachel?” I must have looked amused at this point. “Yes!” I shouted, “I am!”

Amused turned to fear. How on earth did they know who I was. I asked, politely “excuse me but how did you know who I am and where I was?”

“you have people who love you” replied the police officer .

And then it fades. I wasn’t making sense, I didn’t know how they had found me (I was busy trying to die), but I do remember how gentle they were. I was loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the trauma center, where I was placed in trauma room 24. My last memory before it all goes dark was the x-ray machine coming in to see if the pills were still in my stomach.

I awoke in a panic after some day or so had passed in ICU hooked up to a ventilator helping me breathe. I was told my Tylenol level was over 400 at the 4 hour mark. It’s a miracle I’m alive. My wrists were bruised from the restraints needed to place the NG tube to pump my stomach.

I immediately called for my mom. The first thing when I came to was me trying to yell over my breathing tube to find my mom. I don’t know if she knows that. One day maybe. Maybe not, or maybe she’ll read this and I hope she knows how much I love her. The nurses, in typical Greys Anatomy fashion, spoke softly to me informing me I had a tube placed down my throats to help me breathe. Once they removed it, I felt as if I’d swallowed shards of glass.

I have a lot of people who love me. The suicide attempt of December 2016 is one I will never forget, and one I have learned many things from. A start to the story has to begin somewhere, so consider it introduced, and allow me to fill you in on my journey of self-exploration during this trying year.

Now, as I prepare for the next step in fighting my depression, I compose myself for the scary yet hopeful possibility that ECT will make an impact on my life for he best. I will be starting this journey in the upcoming month or so. So, not all hope is lost.

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You have POTS! (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome)

I remember the doctor, a lovely, short plump lady, asking me if I got dizzy when I stood up. It hadn’t occurred to me that this wasn’t normal, I know, but it hadn’t. I was being seen at the Teen Clinic at UCSF as a requirement for the eating disorder program I was attending, where they would do a full medical assessment every week including vitals, UA’s, blood work and weigh ins. They were used to us, dispensing our paper gowns for weights and standing right outside the cracked bathroom door for our UA’s.

The eating disorder program was a step down PHP/IOP (out patient level of care) after I had resided in Oregon weight restoring (and sanity restoring, to some degree, too.)

The doctor gently held my back on the exam’s table as I swayed from blacking out. “I’m referring you to cardiology” she said gently.

I met with the cardiologist who was just across the hall, who to be honest, I hated right off the bat (though over the years I developed a soft spot for). The dreaded “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” he said gruffly. It sent me spinning, only seeing red, feeling the heat crawl up my body and soon the verbal purge of “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE AND WHAT KIND OF DOCTOR ARE YOU” slipped through my pursed lips, followed by a rush of tears.

He did orthostatics: supine blood pressure and heart rate followed by sitting blood pressure and heart rate concluded by standing blood pressure and heart rate. My vitals were conclusive- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. A diagnostic criteria of a rise in heart rate of a minimum of 30bmp (though mine doubled from 60bpm to 120bpm.)

What is POTS?

Perhaps my approach was a bit rash. I left the office that day not knowing how much I actually accomplished.

It’s now been 6 years later and after trying a pharmacy of medications including but not limited to most beta blockers, Corlanor, midodrine, florienef, salt tabs, adderall and IV Saline infusions (2liters/4hours/2X a week) I’m still less than managed though some noticeable improvements.

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