Where’s Whoopsie #18/Subway Sociology #5: Mixed Martial Arts

First, for those wondering. The bad news is that I don’t have a new job quite yet. The good news is that that is because the interview process keeps getting longer each time I go through it. I’m not finished with it yet, but I’m also not out of the running yet, either. There are more stages than I expected. I’ll be making that longer commute at least one more time before I can determine if I’ll be making it permanent.

I’ll use that “at least one more time” as a chance to gather more data for my current hypothesis that one particular section of the subway line that I would need to take as part of that new commute truly has a higher likelihood of entertainment value than the earlier sections of the same line that I used to take daily. I find that, including this post, I have now written about the actions of my fellow passengers – and/or other ads and experienced events – five(!) times. These points of data make a beautiful line (bonus points if you are now singing that song along with me), and, for a would-be daily rider who is also a data analyst, a beautiful new series for my blog. I’m retroactively subtitling the previous four posts about commuting “Subway Sociology” entries #1#2, #3 and #4.

One hypothesis is that this more-northerly-than-I-previously-commuted section of the line just has more interesting passengers in general. The null hypothesis, in turn, is instead that I have just needed more distraction from my own brain while riding this particular section of the subway – and thus have been more inclined to notice the fascinating actions of my fellow passengers while riding the rails – than while making other trips. I’ll need more data to truly determine, but, either way, my fifth unofficial/first official foray into subway sociology was a welcome distraction during what would otherwise have been a solid hour for the bully-in-my-brain to psych me out before my last interview.

It takes a lot of confidence to do anything other than stick headphones in your ear and avoid eye contact with fellow passengers on a subway. It takes a unique level of confidence to do double duty during your commute and incorporate your daily workout into it as well. Yet, one of my fellow passengers on the way to my last interview had the brass balls – er, brass bars – to do just that.

There was a guy on the subway who pulled out full-on boxing gloves and was using the handlebars that standing passengers hold onto like a punching bag. He must be at least somewhat trained because he did so with a rhythm that appeared – at least to my untrained eye – like something approaching “form” or “skill.” He even made a repetitive little “grunt grunt” like he was exerting effort in time with his punches. I can’t say I’ve ever actually watched a boxing match, but the action movies that I have watched that have included boxing have instilled in my brain the idea that those are the noises of proper breathing technique. A few people looked up briefly, but no one really batted an eye. As I said, it takes a lot of confidence to do anything other than stick headphones in your ear and avoid eye contact on my subway – or maybe my hypothesis is so valid that this kind of thing is sufficiently commonplace as to barely warrant notice.

Confidence is not something that is easy with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. There will never be anyone harder on me than me. One of the ways I express that – in addition to the ever-present threat of a panic attack on the way to an interview – is that I can only really ever be a student or a veteran at something. I rarely am able to give myself enough time for a true “learning curve” for something new. I either need to be trying something for virtually the first time – and thus be given the “pass” that even if I suck at it, it’s ok because I’m a “novice” – or I need independent confirmation within the first few trials that I don’t completely suck at it. I pretty much started this entire blog on the premise that I needed to learn to be okay with being mediocre at something and keep doing it anyway.

But, other than my Where’s Whoopsies, I haven’t done a lot of letting myself be mediocre at things in the past year, shared on this blog or otherwise, because there have been too many truly scary things and too many legitimate “if I fail at this, something really bad could happen” (like whatever the Hell the 9th Circle of Hell can dream up). I haven’t had the brain space left over to try to practice self-care through mediocrity. I think I’ve actually written more about my boss’s humorous failures than my own. And, while I’ve shared honest-to-goodness failures like jobs I definitely didn’t get, those weren’t quite humorous.

That would-be boxer was kind of inspiring in a “why am I so hard on myself for being neurodiverse when this is what neurotypical looks like?” way.  My Where’s Whoopsies – aka allowing myself to self-soothe through repetitive coloring – have been a source of self-care mentally during many of those “this failure isn’t something I can laugh at if it happens” moments. I am very glad I set up the expectation that I can suck at them and it’s ok. They have been a highly necessary distraction from my own mind.

Unfortunately, they are also a bit hard on the wrists with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Coloring in mandalas is a repetitive motion that can take it out of the hypermobile wrist even with ring splints. They aren’t truly a consequence-free distraction when the crisis gets bad enough. I still do them – and will still be posting them – but I couldn’t have safely done anywhere near as many mandalas as it would have taken to tangle with the 9th Circle of Hell last year and truly called it art therapy without my wrist having ended up permanently damaged.

My partner suggested a fairly obvious solution, at least from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have RSD. What if I just bought a three-dollar sketchbook and used my squishy gel pens to draw random doodles that didn’t involve repetition? All the benefits of coloring for mental health, with none of the risk of carpal tunnel? That probably would have been great last year except for the pesky fact that, included among the many things in my life that I tried once or twice and didn’t receive affirmation for in the past, is drawing. In fact, I received exactly the opposite feedback: I was told by my art teachers in elementary in no uncertain terms that I had no artistic talent whatsoever. I wasn’t about to do something I had concrete evidence that I sucked at during the Crisis of 2018.

But, as my Partner pointed out, I was also told I sucked at math in elementary school. Joke’s on those teachers since I’m now a professional data nerd? It’s 2019, no longer my childhood or the Crisis of 2018. Maybe it’s time I no longer allow the voice of long-ago art teachers to keep forcing me to choose between sore wrists limiting myself to mandalas or having no safe dissociative artistic outlet whatsoever when if things start to suck again? What’s the harm anymore if I suck at art? It’s not like I’m planning to quit my day job. I’m trying pretty hard to keep doing it, in fact. Can’t “Where’s Whoopsie” be expanded to include, “This entire drawing is a Where’s Whoopsie, but it was fun to make. Suck it, critics?”

My Partner was convincing enough to get me to order that three-dollar sketchbook during this current interim period between active crises. I almost gave up before I started when it arrived and I first saw the example sketch on its cover. If the cover picture below is truly the level of “art” the manufacturer expects to grace its pages, then I failed them the moment I ordered their product. My old art teacher was harsh, but she was probably right that I will never achieve anything near that level of artistic talent.

Strathmore_Art_Cover - Copy
<Image Text>: Cover of a Strathmore Sketchbook with a scarily good sketch of a young woman wearing a scarf.

But, I’m willing to try out having a hobby I’m only mediocre at again for a bit for the sake of my poor wrists. (Or at least as a back-up distraction for my next subway ride to an interview in case my fellow passengers fail to properly entertain me.) Thus, for this edition of Where’s Whoopsie, there’s no special trick to finding the Whoopsie. The entire sketch is the whoopsie.

It is also my attempt at capturing why “relaxing” is such a foreign concept for someone with ADHD and a bully-in-her-brain. Enjoy my first attempt at drawing something freehand since my last ever required elementary art class. And, since you’ll probably be wondering: 1) the little purple things are supposed to be lavender flowers. They are not grapes, as my Partner guessed; 2) The <image text> is as much for the visually unimpaired as for the visually impaired. I know you probably will have no idea what it is without explanatory text even if you can see it; 3) I wasn’t going to sign the sketch – because who would bother to plagiarize my terrible art or even call it art – but that same Partner who thought my lavender flowers were grapes also glared at me until I did. If the signature seems a bit pretentious, blame him not me; and finally 4) regular Where’s Whoopsies will resume shortly.

ADHD_WheresWhoopsieSketch - Copy
<Image>: Girl swinging from the moon in what should be the most relaxing fantasy landscape ever. But, her brain is full of chaos anyway. <Image Text>: “ADHD: when you can think of everything except nothing…”

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

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Messages in a Bottle #11: Scheissegeist

Content warning: mentions of past abuse and medical crises. Mentions of the 9th Circle of Hell.

Zeitgeist means “spirit of the times.” It is the idea that you have to judge the past by the understanding of those of its day, not necessarily by modern conceptions. Scheissegeist…well let’s just say that is a term for how I judge 2018 by its time and leave it at that…

The following things happened (with a bit of obscurity thrown in to preserve anonymity) on March 7, 2018:

  1. My boss stated that he thought my branch office deserved to be closed and everyone in it fired. He stated at our staff meeting that “this is one of those days that I wish I didn’t have to work with any of you idiots, but, since I do, read this book for next week and reflect on why you all are so impossible to work with.”
  2. We had our meeting with X client.
  3. I practiced my statement about the abuse allegations we plan to file in the 9th Circle of Hell with my therapist because I was worried I was going to dissociate while giving it if I didn’t prep first.
  4. It was raining hard when I got back from therapy and I had forgotten my umbrella and wasn’t wearing my waterproof coat. I got thoroughly soaked on the way home.
  5. I read the management book my boss had assigned at the staff meeting that he thought would “fix” the problems with our office. (2019 post-script: the book itself was ok, but I don’t think my boss ever took any of its advice himself!)

How do I know for certain that this all happened on March 7th, 2018? Especially given that I don’t remember as much of the previous two months – including the night of a medical emergency that turned out to have been caused by the abuse I was practicing my statement for on March 7th – as a non-traumatized person would? I know because my lack of memory of the past two months was starting to seriously freak me out. How, exactly, was I supposed to file an abuse case over something so serious as medical neglect and use of medications for coercive control when I couldn’t remember large chunks of the night that my family member went into crisis as a result of that abuse? You’d think that given how close that night veered towards disaster – we were incredibly lucky we caught things when we did or I still can’t fully process what would have happened – the details would be forever seared into my brain. But, the human brain has many ways to respond to trauma. Some brains do etch every detail into their memory to the point that they can never forget any of them. Other brains, however, don’t.

Other brains survive by doing exactly the opposite. When trauma recurs, my dissociative brain falls back on the childhood survival strategy it knows best: blocking it all out because it’s too painful to remember and still function in day-to-day life.

I promised last week to share how I stayed sane without regular access to therapy in the 9th Circle of Hell during an entire year of fighting against abuse that ultimately went much deeper than even that first statement I was practicing for on March 7th, 2018. The above is my single biggest resource. On March 7th, 2018, I started what I now call my “reality journal.” I’ve experienced enough gaslighting and abuse in my life – not to mention pesky time loss from dissociation – that I have come to fear my brain’s ability to give abusers what they most want by pushing its own delete button. The fact that my boss was already making comments like those above routinely during staff meetings was further blurring the lines between the 9th Circle of Hell and my daily life last March in ways that I also recognized weren’t good. It’s hard to hold on to critical details during dissociation. I knew I had to, though, to fight back against the 9th Circle of Hell. My own dissociative memory has always been one of my secret Achilles’ heels in fighting that place. It’s hard to speak to what my brain wants so hard to never remember. My Partner figured out the reality journal workaround that is the best way I have found to date to help with grounding. On March 6th, 2018, he bought me a simple three-subject lined notebook from the nearest CVS and suggested I literally write down what happened to me each day 1) simply 2) linearly and 3) devoid of emotionally triggering language.

Writing simply, linearly and neutrally is much harder than it seems.

ADHD is known for a very non-linear conception of time. We can perceive “now” and “not now” – and pretty much all other emotionally salient times we have ever experienced get lumped into one or the other dichotomously. Whatever emotion is activated in the “now” concurrently activates all the other similar emotional times we have ever experienced all at once. If the emotion is the same, it’s in the “now.” And, anything emotionally different might as well have never existed. It’s in the “not now” that might as well be “never was and never will be.” That sort of sucks when the emotion currently activated is trauma, as it means I don’t just activate current trauma, I effectively relive every single similar experience as though it is all happening at once. I have had a lot of traumatic experiences.

I’m also rather verbose. Left to my own devices, my reality journal would contain all the minutia of the day to the point where I exhausted myself too much to keep up with it regularly. When I did manage to keep it up, it would inevitably be too detailed to actually pick out the important bits from the rest of the mess.

The point of my reality journal is to have it available to rely on when either my own brain tries to push the big red self-destruct button on my memories or when some asshole abuser tries to spin reality to protect themselves from retribution for what they have done. It helps, then, to write my cheat sheet without any language that could possibly trigger me enough to further encourage my brain to zone out when it is supposed to be keeping me grounded. Thus, the final guideline of non-emotional language. Despite my very best attempts at keeping my language neutral, many of those entries still make me cry to read. Some of them I even had to fill out with my Partner’s help because my brain had managed to push the delete button before the day even afforded me enough downtime to write my notes. But, every day is in there.

I have filled my reality journal out every single day since March 7th, 2018. It is now February 3rd, 2019. That means for almost 11 months – through Hell and occasional rain water  – I have written down what has happened to me in that same no-nonsense way. And, because I’m paranoid and have been in an apartment fire or two, I’ve backed that journal up every month to my trusty Evernote account. One of these days I will spill coffee on the thing, but I have a plan for it.

And, as horrible as 2018 was, there are some good things in that simple linear record. The good things are rare, but they are there. If I am to believe my own reality journal, the majority of the good things that happened to me in 2018 involved my Partner cooking for me! I wrote a lot about the various meals he made, including one time when he perfected Chick-fil-A knockoff sandwiches with homemade Chick-fil-A sauce. (Their sandwiches are pretty great, but their corporate morals are icky. They deserve to be plagiarized.) Left to my own devices, I’d probably only remember the bad news we got while eating those sandwiches, but, thanks to my reality journal, I also remember that he did make them and they were good. (I can also remember to pester him to make them again.) My ADHD brain may have overwritten the positive emotions from that dinner date with the terror from a later phone call, but at least I have written evidence that I felt them at one point.

I also suck at self-care, but there is something about seeing a “ledger” that is so far into the trauma red that it makes me want to at least try and add back in a rare good thing to fight back in black. Which brings me to the second important thing that kept me sane in the 9th Circle of Hell last year: I brought with me proof that I have a life outside of it.

The reality journal technique is something a person can start at any time. February 3rd, 2019 is as good a day as March 7th, 2018. (It might even be better. If I had it to do over again, I’d have started my journal on January 1st, 2018, when I was still in Iceland!) My second technique took quite a bit of advance planning, but when I finally pulled it off, it helped me enough to be worth recommending to even my brain fogged, ADHD or otherwise forgetful readers.

There are a lot of benefits to mindfulness meditation for mental health. However, as I have mentioned before, standard meditations don’t work for me. I don’t do “aspirational” or “gratitude.” I’m not awesome at emptying my mind, and I want to throttle most guided meditation leaders and mantra chanters. The only guru I apparently trust is myself. So, I made my own guided meditations.

I wrote out a play on a mountain meditation/envisioning a generic “peaceful happy” place meditation. Then I rewrote it to incorporate my usual mental snark. And, I took it a step further by making it actually visual instead of just “guided imagery.” The closest thing I have to a truly “safe place” is on the opposite coast. But, it is a place my Partner and I only ever return to once a year for a special event. I had to plan pretty far ahead to record my guided meditation there in 2018. Yet, it was worth it, because going there in 2018 might be the only time I can truly say I was “happy” – not just “not sad” or “relieved” – that year after the night of that first fateful medical near-disaster. (Iceland was pretty great, but that was pre-Crisis!)

I recorded myself in my “happy” place reading my own version of a guided meditation to myself. In the grey void of depression – especially with my non-linear ADHD brain – it can be pretty hard to believe I have ever felt any emotion other than mute horror. It helped to have the visual and auditory proof of myself sounding happy in the one place that is the most decidedly different from the 9th Circle of Hell that I can think of. It also helps that I recorded a “safe space” meditation for myself in a place that also isn’t quite the everyday world I live in, either. I like the East Coast. I like my life here on those days when I’m not talking to my bully-of-a-boss or anyone from the 9th Circle of Hell. But, the same townhouse in which we have made homemade Chick-fil-A in and watched dumb action movies with a bottle of wine is also the same townhouse where the phone has rung in the middle of the night and where I regularly speak to that bully-of-a-boss via webcam. There are many emotions permeating the air of my every day, where the place I recorded as my “safe” place is just…happy. It isn’t a trauma place, and it isn’t a complex “real world” place either. It’s a place where there was one dominant emotion, and that emotion wasn’t trauma.

If you have experienced trauma or depression for long enough, I will admit “happy” might feel too hard to come by to aim to record on a personalized guided meditation. I also acknowledge that traveling to the opposite coast is a bit pricy for a safe place. But, if you do happen to have a day or a place or a time when you feel any happiness – or even if you just walk through a new park that has no negative emotions associated directly with it and looks pretty – I recommend you pull out your phone and push the record button on your camera and record yourself telling yourself that things don’t suck right at that moment. The best evidence I have found that the past isn’t forever and that there is a world outside of the 9th Circle of Hell is my own voice telling myself that in a place that isn’t it. If “happy” seems a bit much to hope to capture on film – and, well, if I didn’t have years of memories associated with that one “safe place” I probably couldn’t have pulled off “happy” last year post-Crisis even there – “relieved” or “vaguely interested” would probably do in a pinch. The main trick is to record yourself in a moment when you sound and feel something other than emotionally numb. Those moments can be few and far between, so it takes pre-planning to capture them. But, once you have them, you have them for the next period of numbness.

I know the inherent nature of the 9th Circle of Hell and trauma itself means that I probably will return to numb as my baseline, but my reality journal and my guided meditations have at least helped me remember that there is a world outside of my own personal Hell. I fully intend to keep on filling out my reality journal ad infinitum and to record additional personalized guided meditations whenever I travel, go to an amazing new restaurant, or just have a moment when I am sitting somewhere visually interesting and realize “hey, life doesn’t suck right now.”

It helps to hear my own prior self reminding me to consider the full Zeitgeist of a Hell year like 2018, with all its complexity, instead of just its Scheissegeist and the various even older ghosts of my past that came before it in the 9th Circle of Hell.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

 

Trust in Mental Health Treatment (Part 4): Choose Your Own Adventure

So, I potentially have good news. I’ve gotten to the final round of the interview process for a new job in my same city. It’s what I do now but with a different organization. I’ll update eventually whether I got the job, but talking about it right now feels a bit too much like tempting fate. I’m not a fan of pure CBT, but even I’ll admit I’m engaging in a bit of magical thinking by staying silent. I know, I know. However, PTSD and its sense of foreshortened future mean talking about anything positive that hasn’t happened seems like it will only make me look like a fool when it doesn’t happen.

I have no such qualms, though, about talking about my fears of what will happen if I get the job. C-PTSD is fine with that. The commute will be just far enough that I won’t be able to make it to my therapist during her normal business hours. She was able to do a limited number of phone sessions while I was in the 9th Circle of Hell last summer because she knew that was an active trauma crisis, but she can’t, unfortunately, do regular phone sessions. I’ll also have to go to trauma yoga on Saturdays instead of during the week. That’s…not terrible. But, it will mean a bigger class in front of which to modify my yoga-for-hypermobility. There will probably be social anxiety compared to the three people that regularly go to the class I currently attend, but I guess I can live. How unsettled I feel not being able to attend weekly therapy, though, is one reason why I never fully wanted to develop trust with a therapist in the first place. Not all therapists are the abuse-permitting social workers of the 9th Circle of Hell, but, in the end, they are all running businesses. They’ll only modify so much, so my brain (bully and other parts) says don’t depend on someone for whom helping me lasts only as long as I am convenient. (Alongside the issues I wrote about in the first three parts of this series.)

Forget attachment. I’m still a survivor of enough systemic abuse that I’m shocked I even got to trust with anyone who is part of a system. But, shockingly, I did, and I don’t see myself being the kind of person for whom lightning strikes twice. My therapist attempted to suggest there might be others closer to my potential new workplace whom I could trust, but she shut up quickly upon seeing my look. She then switched to, “Ok, I think you are strong enough that you could do more like once a month. I think you’ve been through enough with irregular support during the Crisis of 2018 that you can manage in 2019.” I’d be willing to take a half day to see her once a month during her hours. I’ll admit to being scared of tapering therapy, but not scared enough to contemplate finding another therapist. The legacy of systemic abuse runs deep, and the system she is in – and the others that both my insurances have covered for outpatient therapy – are really not trauma-informed. She’s the rare exception in a clinic I’d otherwise bitch about. (My psychiatrist, who is not necessarily trauma-informed for most but likes me, has Saturday hours. I could keep seeing him.)

I’d actively choose once a month therapy over trying again with anyone else. But admitting out loud that therapy was an important part of my support system during the Crisis of 2018 was terrifying. What if I’m not really strong enough yet to taper? Last year was pretty damn re-traumatizing.

What if I shouldn’t even be looking for a new job at all because I don’t have the spoons? The commute isn’t just too far to make therapy: it’s also a commute at all. I’m currently a remote worker, and that saves a lot of physical spoons. It doesn’t save mental spoons, though, I’m only a remote worker because I exist within a limbo wherein my boss finds me too useful to purge, but too much of a hassle to talk to.

When I started to panic-think maybe I should just stay with my current company, my therapist very quickly shut me down by reminding me how many of my boss’s communications she has read while I cried. As she has stated, she “can’t ethically diagnose someone” she hasn’t met. But, while she can’t speak clinically, she did suggest that I do some serious research into the various presentations of narcissism and think hard about why my current boss was able to trigger full-scale PTSD episodes when I still saw him in person. 2018 wasn’t the first time I had to testify to ongoing abuse in the 9th Circle of Hell. I testified against the Thesis Defense Rests Stop the same week as my thesis defense (hence the moniker). Yes, each successive trauma adds a straw to the camel’s back. But my boss…also reminds me of someone who abused me personally in a way no one outside the 9th Circle of Hell ever has in my entire life.

The day of my end-of-year-review – which perhaps I will eventually write about – was a perfect example of my the way my boss can start the day in such a towering temper I wonder if I will still have a job at the end it, but then whiplash to being conciliatory to the point he asked if I could use more physical accommodations. What changed in between? A combination of a) something I produced being very well received by clients on a call between the beginning of the day and my review and b) letting him take all the credit for it. With my history, my instinct is to roll over and hand off intellectual credit for anything I do to anyone who scares me because C-PTSD says “stay safe by staying out of sight.” That…works with my boss. It’s probably a big part of why I got concessions and the rest of my office got fired last year.

But, as my therapist notes, he exacts a cost in mental spoons that is likely more damaging to me than the cost of the physical spoons from commuting. It’s not generally a smart idea to work for someone who pings your PTSD to flashback to childhood abuse. Even if I hadn’t experienced childhood abuse, working for someone who can flip moods so drastically and so quickly is not a great idea, period. Nor is working for someone who has flat out stolen the academic work of all those who are under him in a field that typically recognizes subject matter experts as experts. There’s also the pesky fact that I still have the gut instinct that the company itself isn’t financially stable, and I could lose my remote job by 2020 even if I’m able to keep my boss perfectly happy until the day the doors close for good. I’d rather choose my own adventure now, while it still is a choice.

Therapists don’t usually tell you what to do, exactly, but mine seemed worried enough by the prospect that I’d not take a job if I got it because of the fear of losing one piece of my support system that she ended with “we’ll work out what happens with therapy, but I really don’t think you should trust your boss longer when you have another option.”

We’ll see what happens. I don’t know if I will know yet by next week whether I’m their final candidate. Whether or not I do, next week’s post will be a review of the strategies that kept me sane while testifying to abuses in the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 without consistent access to therapy. Maybe if I write out what helped me then, it will help others unable to access good therapy now, whether because of a therapy break, because they only have access to those horrible therapists in their area that are the reason I’m so afraid of ever starting over with someone new, or because they can’t afford decent care. (The U.S. sucks at mental health, did I ever mention that?) And, maybe it will also help to reassure myself that I can eventually return to working in a real office – with its increased physical demands upon my EDS/dysautonomia – because the mental benefits from reduced anxiety, depression, PTSD and panic are worth it. Maybe it’ll convince me that I can be strong later since I was strong enough before.

Also, if I flat out state that I won’t be writing about what happened with the job next week, then perhaps  I won’t feel internal pressure to “follow up” with the “bad news” my brain thinks it will inevitably receive. I write a lot about failure on this blog, but I’m trying at least this week to tell myself someday I might also write about success.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

 

Written on the Prophetic Plates?

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
<Image>: Smug cat on a ledge with a broken vase on the floor. <Text>: This is why we can’t have nice things.

My Partner and I are going to a game night tonight hosted by someone I met through an ADHD support group. So, of course, I had a dream that the hosts kept serving me party food on real plates, and I kept progressively dropping them. I desperately tried to explain, “Please stop giving me nice things. I drop things constantly,” but somehow the china I was handed just kept getting progressively finer…

On the one hand, I hope that doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is wet and slippery out today. I also didn’t sleep well – no thanks to that dream.  And, it would be nice to actually make “friends” with people before I break something (of theirs or of mine) in front of them. On the other hand, if there will ever be a household where, “I know I’m clumsy, but I forgot to put my plate down before my hands got too tired” might actually make for an understandable explanation, perhaps it would be a fellow neurodiverse household?

I’m sure this dream has nothing at all to do with the fact that I read the Ehlers-Danlos Society’s “Mental Health Care Toolbox” on Facebook yesterday or the fact that it noted that people with EDS and HSD have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Or the fact that I have fallen down in public places twice recently. Nothing at all…

I'm Not Clumsy. It's Just That The Floor Hates Me, The Tables And Chairs Are Bullie And The Wall Gets In The Way T-Shirt
<Image text>: I’m not clumsy. It’s just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies, and the wall gets in the way.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

 

Subway Sociology #3: Of Cigarettes and Criminals Who Are Idiots…

CW: mentions of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve that did not result in any injuries or financial loss. Mentions of past acute traumas, including a threatened mass shooting, that I have experienced, fortunately also without injury.

Does acute trauma add to the mental trauma load if you’ve already experienced the 9th Circle of Hell? I know that every experience of abuse – past and present – in the 9th Circle of Hell has been one more piece removed from the fragile Jenga tower of my mental health. I know that 9th Circle of Hell trauma compounds, but should I count non-9th Circle of Hell trauma? Does something that I would definitely call traumatic if it happened to others – but that will never take up residence in my nightmares because the price of that mental real estate was set too high by the 9th Circle of Hell – count as part of my “trauma narrative?”

I read a post recently from a blogger with a severe trauma history who witnessed a guy open-carrying a gun in a coffee shop. She was triggered, but she had her coffee there anyway. She had to ask if she should have left or if she was overreacting. Go through enough childhood trauma and your perspectives can get very skewed on things. I commented that the statistics on mass shootings in the U.S suggest that it is wise to leave such situations as soon as it is safe, and maybe even to hang out down the block to call 911 if shots are heard. I almost added that I am very wary of guns “even though guns aren’t a part of my trauma history.” Then I stopped and realized I might be being an idiot. I do have a prior scary history with guns, though I don’t think it is contributing to my PTSD symptoms. I briefly considered writing a future post about whether it is possible to be “triggered” by something while thinking you were unaffected by an event. Then I promptly forgot about it, because ADHD, until my Partner was on the receiving end of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve.

We both recovered from the fear within hours, but I wonder – given that other post – if that’s completely accurate, or if we’re just a bit too numbed from the 9th Circle of Hell to respond normally to things that should shake us up for a few days. The robbery wasn’t successful – or I guess very successful – but threats were involved. My Partner did take them seriously until he was able to get into a place with others around to not take them seriously anymore. It was a scary situation while it was happening, even if it ended ok. What is considered “normal” for recovering from acute scares – as that other blogger similarly asked – if your baseline isn’t Hell?

We were heading home from dinner on the subway. Our subway system isn’t accessible in many places. In some places, it’s only “accessible” if you get off at a stop on a line close by, take an elevator, and walk through an underground ramp at a gentle grade that can handle a wheelchair at least a block to the other station. The alternative to walking a block is to have to climb what I unaffectionately refer to as “Stairs of Death.”

Continue reading “Subway Sociology #3: Of Cigarettes and Criminals Who Are Idiots…”

You’ve Been Catfooded!

Don't you love when your dog looks at you like that? Or your cat? Little shits! I am your master, I am here to serve you...
Image: Two cats sitting on a sleeping human in bed. One cat is shaking the human awake with its paw. The cat tells the other cat, “the food is good, but the service is slow…”

Did I ever mention that my Partner and I are weird people? Like “gallows humor” and “eat anything on the planet at least once” weird? Or that we’re advocates for social justice? If not, you have officially been warned.

I may have mentioned before about how my kitty has PTSD from being abused, starved and abandoned before we got her. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that she also has kidney issues, old injuries that limit her mobility, and even more allergies than I do. If the abandonment anxiety alone wasn’t enough to prove she is my spirit animal, then the rest ought to guarantee it.

We suspect that her complicated medical issues might, unfortunately, have been the reason she was ultimately abused and abandoned. I mean, we’ve seen it done to vulnerable humans. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to assume it happens even more frequently to vulnerable kitties.

We didn’t know about her issues when I first started fostering her. I was just told to shove as much food and liquid into her as possible. She was too sick to eat, so anything I could tempt her with was automatically approved. I fell back onto gold-standard kitty addictions: tuna water and Fancy Feast. She ate both with gusto, and my Partner and I both quickly realized never to combine cheap cat food and smelly tuna in her tummy again. Let’s just say what she produced was thick enough to mortar a bunker and lethal enough to weaponize to use to clear out the bad guys holed up in that bunker at the same time. She put my two-ply lullaby to shame.

Nothing says a “third date” like an emergency trip to the grocery store to buy every possible form of air freshener in the aisle at nearly midnight. I say she’s “our” foster failure. And, in her mind, she is. She met both of us on the same day. But, technically my Partner and I hadn’t even DTR’ed at the time I got her, and her adoption papers are under my name alone. She’s “our” cat in hindsight, but, at that time, I think my Partner really showed his character by helping clean up after her when he had no official responsibility towards her, or me. I don’t regret it. That experience didn’t require half the strength that actually marrying me and handling my caregiving responsibilities demand. Heck, by the standards of my life it was humorous. It even had an actual resolution, which is particularly unusual in my life. One veterinary specialist, some kitty Prozac, and a lifetime commitment to buying her expensive allergen-safe cat food later, and her tummy troubles cleared up. (However, if her special food ever goes off the market, please send gas masks. We’ll need them.)

That experience has become a running joke for the trajectory of our relationship – and spawned another running joke that our kitty eats better than we do. How many people can read right on the can that their pet’s food is safe for human consumption?

We also watch a lot of Food Network, and while we were dating my Partner dared me to make him a meal that “highlighted” her wet and dry food in the same dish, Chopped-style. If I could successfully fool him into going back for seconds, he’d fork over for a Michelin 3-star restaurant willingly. I never quite remembered to do it when he’d remind me. We’re now married, so any gourmet meal would be funded out of pooled money anyway now. But, the challenge has always stood. And, I’ve always had on my mental bucket list – at least I have every 6-9 months or so when something reminds me of it – to undertake it anyway.

Continue reading “You’ve Been Catfooded!”

Messages in a Bottle #10: Random Acts of Baked Goods Generation

It’s that time of year again: end of year reviews at work! As my trusty Passion Planner reminds me, this year has mostly been a trash fire. Also, I’m only “self-reflecting” upon nine months of work, because I spent three months on leave. Yet, I did fill out the monthly reflections for those three months because I did “freelance” work during that period. That “collaborative” spirit (aka running away from one set of problems by digging deep into another) turned out to be some of the best work I did all year. Strong enough that it may have saved my job when my mental-health-stigmatizing bully-of-a-boss fired the rest of my team. It sucks to re-read those months of “self-reflection” when there is so much 9th Circle of Hell crap alongside it, but there is no way I’m not reminding my boss of how pleased he was with the work I did on leave when my next year’s salary is being determined.

Unless you are a data analyst or are an avid gamer, the concept of RNG probably doesn’t mean much to you. I am both. I don’t believe people are inherently good. (Sorry, I’ve seen too much. We’re neutral at best like every other species. We can choose to be otherwise, but it is an active choice.) I don’t believe everything “happens for a reason.” I do, however, believe in RNG and the Central Limit Theorem. If you roll the dice often enough – even accounting for psychological phenomena like streakinessrecency effects and/or salience, which violate true statistical independence – sometimes jerks give you positive accommodations amidst a general office purge. Sometimes, truly random events happen that even the best statistical analyst – or the bully-in-my-brain – could never have predicted. Being granted the greatest accommodation my ADHD/C-PTSD brain could ever ask for – the right to be left alone – is something I could never have predicted.

If the same set of circumstances happened to 100 people, likely 99% of them would be fired (within my office alone, in fact, as I was the only survivor of nearly that percentage of purge!) Somehow, though, my boss never stopped loathing the visible indicators of my multiple diagnoses, but he realized during my leave that he could avoid having to deal with his employee-in-crisis and still get work out of her by just never speaking to her again. We meet as little as possible, I submit my work remotely, and somehow we’re both satisfied. Somehow the RNG that is life rolled such that I think I am actually more confident in myself during this review than last year.

My boss is a bullying arsehole, but I found a way to make it work? My Passion Planner really missed the mark there. About a month before I went on leave, it included a quote for the week that read “If you need a sign, this is it.” I made a little note in the margin that even my planner wanted me out of the company! The base set of variables (horrible boss, layoffs, financial instability as a result of the instability of the government we rely on for contracts) have not changed. Yet, I’m still employed. My end-of-year review seems like a perfect example of how you can’t always expect the worst, but it would be equally naive to conversely expect the bad to be rewarded with an equal amount of the best. The best you can remind yourself during Depression is often simply that RNG exists.

And that irony magnet superpowers violate randomness in blog-worthy ways. Today is National Cupcake Day. I learned that from another blogger who wrote about Random Acts of Kindness and receiving a cupcake during a rough day at work. I did not receive a cupcake from anyone at work the week my Passion Planner told me to expect a “sign.” All the good people who would have bought me one had, sadly, been fired already.

I did, however, stop into a corner market the first week of my leave. It was summer, the heat had been getting to me, and I had been an idiot to try and walk to my doctor’s appointment. Dysautonomia doesn’t care that I needed to move to avoid thinking about everything happening. I tried to buy a Gatorade and beef jerky, but I didn’t meet the minimum $10 to use a credit card. I had no cash. It triggered a bit of mental panic at the cost. It was, after all, my first week without salary. I tossed some filler Hostess cupcakes by the register onto the pile anyway. I needed the liquid and salt.

I must have looked as panicked as I felt at that moment, spending money I wasn’t sure I could replace and wondering if I’d ever get another paycheck from my company. I was thoroughly befuddled when the cashier suddenly nudged me to take my stuff and move along. The guy behind me had paid for my entire purchase. He had told the cashier I looked like I needed something to go right, then left before I surfaced from my spiral to thank him. I wrote that incident down in my planner with the note, “People think East Coasters are jackasses, but I bet nobody in the 9th Circle of Hell would buy me a cupcake while they screwed my family over.”

My Passion Planner, my own stats training and the bully-in-my-brain all couldn’t predict what my job would look like in December 2018. RNG can be a comforting surprise. However, my Passion Planner’s note from the week of June 10th, 2018, about signs also wasn’t entirely for naught. I’m an East Coaster now, by choice.

Things don’t happen for a reason. People aren’t inherently good. It’s a choice. I never got – nor expected – any cupcakes in the 9th Circle of Hell. My planner and that other blogger remind me, though, to keep being better than the 9th Circle of Hell or my boss. I probably owe a stranger an RNG cupcake…

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…

memorial quotes for son | Share Inspirational Picture Quotes About Life - On Facebook
Image text: “Pretending to be normal, doing your best to act like you’re ok, day after day, week after week, month after month, it’s just so exhausting” over a woman crying.

For anyone wondering, the Thanksgiving turkey turned out great. Cooking a turkey is like cooking a whole chicken. If you want to practice before next year’s big day, cook whole chickens. Then, do the same thing on Turkey Day for about 3-4 times as long. (Also, turkey enchilada stew and buffalo turkey sandwiches feel much more like a “change” from a week of all-turkey, all-the-time than the standard turkey pot pie and stews that are usually recommended.)

Unfortunately, my Partner sent our only photos to his parents when he last spoke to them. Now there’s a remote chance they could someday identify me as the author of this blog if I recycled those pictures. I used an herbed-butter rub and baked the bird with roasted vegetables for aromatics. The pictures, through the magic of Google image search, could theoretically be vaguely identifiable. Every picture of the same natural feature looks about the same. (I did some digging to prove that to myself before posting Iceland pics last year.) As long as I pick out different photos for his parents and my blog, I can share travel photos here and still keep my worlds separate. But, I can never share the same photos, or my worlds might collide, right?

Not really. All Thanksgiving turkeys also look about the same, so there’s nothing truly stopping me from posting the same pictures here except my ingrained need to keep my worlds separate. There’s nothing except my ingrained need to control to whom and in what situations I reveal just how not normal I am. I am still masking in most of my life, and, though it sucks, I don’t think I’d know how to fully unmask in daily life if I tried. Unmasking hasn’t been safe in childhood, in my workplace and in advocating for my neurodiverse sibling within a regressive, systemically abusive state.

Continue reading “Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…”

Candy Canes

Image result for pokemon go pikachu santa hat
Image: Pikachu in a Santa Hat from Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go had a super event this weekend, in which all their previous special events were combined. Increased spawn rates for all prior Community Day Pokemon were available all weekend, but, within the weekend, there was one three-hour period wherein all the prior Community Day event bonuses (including double candy and stardust) were also available at once.

Because it is winter, everyone is sick, and I’m still destined to catch every acute illness that I am ever exposed to, I was getting over being sick and the concomitant flare this weekend. I was aware of the spoon cost to participate fully, but self-care sometimes means caring for my mental health even when it costs my physical health.

I’ve considered mobility aids before. There’s probably some residual feeling that I’m a pretender who doesn’t deserve one wrapped into my prior avoidance. It’s hard to get over a lifetime of ignoring your own needs because someone else has it worse. Mostly, though, I haven’t used one because I haven’t seen how it would help.

All the canes I’ve ever been exposed to are sturdy, wooden things that have to be held onto like an umbrella.

Continue reading “Candy Canes”

The Trolley Persecutor

CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, descriptions of child abuse, discussions of death and systemic abuse, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.

I’ve said before that I’m open to being challenged on even very sensitive topics on this blog, as long as basic trust and safety is maintained. One blogger I really respect, Mishka of Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting, challenged me with her comments on my last blog post exactly because she never doubted me when I said that, in the 9th Circle of Hell, a profoundly disabled minor child in the foster system would probably have died without a protector. If that same disabled adult nearly died from systemic abuse as an adult even with multiple guardians attempting to protect him, what hope would the same child split up from his sibling have had?

And, since that is true, what choice really did any “family” member have but to stay silent about my own abuse – the same way I did – to protect him? I was struggling with that question in the post itself, and, knowing more now about Mishka’s history, I can see why she was struggling. The stereotype of the “abused child” is that they become the abuser. But, really, that is quite rare. The vast majority of us only abuse ourselves. And, well, was that adult who warped my reality by not only staying silent really not also destroying herself? How do you “choose” between one child’s possible death and the warping of another child’s soul, sense of self and continuity of memory through denying what is true until they have to fragment their reality into a dissociative disorder to survive it without tearing off pieces of your already tattered soul too?

I struggled with that question when I wrote the post. I struggled again when I thought how to answer Mishka. I – who has written on her own Glossary of Terms that ADHD’s one upside is that it enables me to think so far outside the box that I “don’t know where the box is” – couldn’t think outside of “pick one abusive situation or another.”

Trauma keeps us in a box of our abusers’ making. We are ever so good at convincing ourselves that we are both all-powerful and powerless at the same time. We are so powerful that somehow if we’d just said the right thing, done the right thing, recognized the tells, and played the game, we could have prevented what happened to us. We are so expert at controlling others that if we fail to keep them from abusing us, we believe at heart that we are to blame. Yet, we are simultaneously so powerless that when an abusive system sets up two abusive choices, we are too powerless within our abusers’ reality to ever question the foundations upon which it was built.

My Partner, who has no ACES, has no such coercively imposed limitations, and no such moral doubt as to whether my “family” member should ever be excused. My Partner called my life the ‘Murican Red State version of the good-old philosophical “Trolley Problem.” If an out-of-control trolley is going to run over five people if it stays on the track it is on, but you could flip a switch and have it only run over one person, would you? Most people would say yes, but the vast majority of people never even consider any of the other options. Most people never think outside the box to realize that staying within two fundamentally abusive choices is victimizing to the switch-thrower as much as it is to the six people on the tracks and that perhaps the only solution is to break the rules themselves. A person could throw themselves in front of the trolley. They could daringly leap aboard the train and try to speed it up to the point where it derailed when it hit the track switch at a dizzying rate of speed. (I live in the Northeast. More than one Amtrak train has derailed by taking a track change at too high a speed. It could work!)

Continue reading “The Trolley Persecutor”