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.

 

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For Better or Worse

CW: Anonymity is so inconvenient sometimes. I can’t, for instance, tell you the actual state motto of the 9th Circle of Hell. “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here,” while appropriate, is actually not nearly as morbidly satisfying as the true state motto. If I ever write a memoir of my experiences in Hell – or, better yet, find a way to channel its traumas into some kind of a black-comedy stand-up – the title will simply be the unadulterated state motto. Some things are just too darkly ironic in and of themselves to be able to be embellished by even the most skilled satirist.

That said, the aforementioned “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” is appropriate enough as a placeholder that any post I write about the 9th Circle of Hell from now until eternity probably warrants a content warning. Keep that in mind. This post is a darkly ironic reminder that trauma really does affect everyone, whether they grew up in Hell or married into the family.

Continue reading “For Better or Worse”

Behind the Back Behavior

I feel betrayed. I’ve just learned for the first time about some truly “behind the back” behavior. I don’t mean anything from the 9th Circle of Hell, workplace bullying or even America’s President being a traitor – those are all sufficiently terrifying betrayals, but they are hardly newly discovered  – but rather something that has been quietly happening for years of which I’ve just become aware. Women, we’re all being badly betrayed…

By women’s clothing.

I’ve had to wear entirely too many dresses lately. Dresses are frustrating to begin with for spoonies, because they require things like making sure your legs are shaved every day, finding flat-toed shoes that look professional and cute (I do not have the ankle stability to wear heels), the ridiculousness and expense that is “dry cleaning,” inconsistent sizing between brands that make shopping take forever and fray the last ADHD nerve, having to buy special bras to wear with oddly shaped clothing styles, and sometimes wearing the modern-day torture device known as the “thong” under them.

They also all have zippers in the back. This has never phased me, but apparently only because I’m a mutant.

I finally pursued physical therapy for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome because it seems like, if I’m going to have to be on unpaid not-FMLA leave wearing traitorous dresses to traitorous meetings in the 9th Circle of Hell, I should also actually invest some energy into learning how not to dislocate my elbows or fall over because my ankle suddenly decides it needed to pop out orthogonally to my leg while I do so.

It took months to find a physical therapist who actually knows about EDS and who accepts my insurance. When I finally found one, the first thing he did was go through what “normal” range of motion is for most of my joints and to establish some limits beyond which I really shouldn’t be moving them to ensure my funny bone stays connected to the rest of my bones.  He will work with me throughout my not-FMLA, including designing a home program I can continue anywhere, including in the 9th Circle of Hell.

It took me until after the session to crystalize what was nagging at me about my “hyperextended” range of motion behind my back. If what I am capable of is “too much,” then how do non-mutant women ever zip up their dresses?!

I have never met a dress I couldn’t zip on my own, which is a good thing because my Partner is the first human I’ve been able to live with. I finagled my way into a single room in my sophomore year of college, and I never looked back. I am not good at having strangers in my personal living space. (Heck, it even took about four months to get used to living with my Partner.) In all that time, I have worn dresses to various functions. Now, suddenly, I’m told that the way I zip them is actually hyperextending most of my arm joints. What’s the alternative? For now, it’s asking my Partner to zip me up.

He is more than willing. (Though being a funny bonehead himself, he happily reminded me that he only has to own a handful of sports jackets, five pairs of similarly colored dress slacks, two colors of dress shoes and two suits to complete the male professional wardrobe as he agreed.) But, it made me wonder how single women without Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome handle zippers in the back of their dresses? If I’m understanding my physical therapist – and my Partner – correctly, most humans can’t zip up a zipper that extends the entire length of a dress from butt to neck on their own? I legitimately never knew this.

A brief internet search suggests this to be true. There are even devices made for single women to help them zip up their own dresses? Women, why do we stand for this? Women’s fashion is cruel and unusual punishment in so many ways, but it’s a special level of betrayal that a staple of women’s fashion for “coupley” events like weddings and first dates requires expensive contraptions for a single woman to put on. Or, that a woman could conceivably make the C-suite all by herself but still need to ask her significant other to help her get dressed for it in the morning?

There are other places that designers could put zippers. I’ve seen dresses with zippers up the side or no zippers at all. Yet, the vast majority of my dresses have had zippers straight up the back that require a range of motion that is “beyond normal” for humans. Why are women such masochists for “fashion”?  Can we all agree now that owning a twenty-piece professional wardrobe like my Partner makes much more financial and physical sense, especially for spoonie women? Can we agree to some women’s code wherein we all don’t purchase clothing that requires special equipment to put on?

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a minimalist wardrobe for some time, but “minimalism” for women still requires being creative so that the same small number of clothing items are worn in continuously inventive ways that look like they are many more items. That takes creative commitment for which I don’t have the mental energy. Owning fewer clothing items additionally means more of that most feared task for anyone with ADHD: laundry. Laundry is the bane of the ADHD existence. I can’t quite embrace minimalism simply because of its laundry commitment. However, I am now seriously considering boycotting dresses with zippers up the back. I trust my Partner to always be there to give me a “hand up,” but I resent that some designer I’ve never met could force me into a situation wherein I have to either spend additional money or rely on others. I’m not scratching their backs with any more of my money unless they scratch my back and make their clothes fit within my new “pretending not to be a mutant” human lifestyle.

My PTSD Awareness: Currently Subject to Mental Health Austerity Policies

PTSD_Awareness

Trauma_is

PTSD sucks. I have previously written 48 posts to this effect. (But who’s counting?)

Today is National PTSD Awareness Day. I’m still generally too overwhelmed in my ability to cope from ongoing 9th Circle of Hell trauma and PTSD symptoms – oh the irony! – to muster up my usual witty commentary on my awareness of awareness months at the 11th hour.

Instead, have some humor (with a grain of real truth in it) courtesy of my Partner instead.  This conversation took place tonight in regards to whether I should still go to open mic night knowing I have to deal with the 9th Circle of Hell again on Friday. I felt guilty for not obsessively staying home and continuously preparing, even though that was liable to just end with me a dissociated puddle on the floor.

Partner: “Remember how austerity was a resounding success for the world’s economies during recent economic troubles?”

Lavender: *Crickets*

Partner: “No? Well, mental health is the same way.”

Take care of yourself. Austerity in economics and/or mental health care is rarely a sustainable solution for long-term shocks.

Improv #9: In-city-cure attachment

I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life. Enough that I’ve only ever stayed put long enough in my adult life to be called for jury duty once, during graduate school. I’ve lived on both coasts and in the middle. I’ve lived in cities I’d go back to in a heartbeat if a job presented itself, and I’ve lived in cities that I ran from as fast as humanly possible.

I’ve said repeatedly that any place I live in that isn’t the 9th Circle of Hell is home, but I’ve also said that home is nowhere. Each city has been a steppingstone. It has been something impermanent to be enjoyed for a few years and moved on from when career or family beckoned ever onward. I’ve never fully believed that I’d ever stay in one place long enough to truly settle down, even as I carefully chose my current city with the stated hope of finally finding a way out of the 9th Circle of Hell for my family situation for good. I look forward to the day in a few years when I can legitimately say I’ve lived away from the 9th Circle of Hell more years than I’ve lived in it, but it would take a very long time to be able to say I’ve lived in any one place longer than I walked the cursed ground of my childhood.

Continue reading “Improv #9: In-city-cure attachment”

Heavy Subject Matter (Pt. 2: Physically Heavy)

Warning: heavy material ahead. No, not a content warning. (If you want that, see Pt. 1). Though, I suppose the book has some of that in its characters’ backstory. I literally mean heavy subjects ahead.

For anyone who is super adept at remembering my life:

  1. Why? It’s not that interesting?
  2. Can you please teach me how?

I need a journal to remember what happens to me on a Tuesday. Seriously, there’s a little journal in my Health Storyline app entitled “Things that Happened Today.” I need it.

But, if you do remember my life, you may remember that I was recently diagnosed with EDS. I also wrote about how challenging it is to remember what I read in books. This is unfortunate because I’m having a particularly hard time getting through Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. It’s a good book. It’s a good enough book, in fact, that my Partner wanted to read it, too, and he rarely reads fiction books. The fact that he also wanted to read it means that we bought it in hardback. He is weirded out by Kindle books.

We bought it the day it came out. He finished it shortly after that. I’ve been struggling since then. For anyone keeping count, the book came out almost six months ago. Partly, I’ve been struggling because of my brain fog and a need to go back and refresh on sections whenever I set it down for a bit. But, there seems to be something more. It is more than just more than mentally taxing to read that book.

Continue reading “Heavy Subject Matter (Pt. 2: Physically Heavy)”

War and Piecemeal Memory

Have you ever lied about reading War and Peace?

Me neither. At least, I don’t think I have ever lied about reading it. I mean, it’s not like I’d remember, or anyone could tell the difference between my lying about having read it or my actually reading it.

I have read it. I just unfortunately remember virtually nothing about it. I’ve read most of the classics (including 1984), and I remember just as little about the majority of them.

Continue reading “War and Piecemeal Memory”

Improv #5: Meta-Analysis

Image result for I rarely have a thought by itself ADHD
Source (as best I can tell): GAGfm

This post was supposed to be about physicality in Improv. It was also supposed to be titled The Body Keeps the Score. It is neither of those things because it turns out even a girl with ADHD can’t truly have an original thought. My brain can’t stay inside the box, but it certainly can stay within the bounds of the total accumulation of all of the centuries of human thought. Unless the author is writing in their native cuneiform, even the next Great American novel will most likely share overarching plot themes with thousands of other plot elements throughout history – and that’s okay!

As my new Improv teacher describes it: “You remember that movie about that guy and that girl? And they seemed like they were good together and you thought they’d get together? Then something happened, and they didn’t get together – but then they did and it was okay? What was that called?” There is nothing original under the sun, and we’re encouraged in Improv to tap into universality for comedic effect. Improv encourages us to mine tv tropes for concepts to explore in a pinch.

Realizing I’m not that original after all is why this post is no longer about physicality in Improv, which was the topic of the first session of the next series of classes that I finally started this week, but is instead about the use of call-backs, Chekhov’s gun and strategic use of Breaking of the Fourth Wall to meta-analyze my own motivations for talking about physicality in Improv (and/or life) instead of exploring physicality in Improv (and/or life.)

It’s also a good example of why you should never look a gift call-back in the mouth, of what stream of what unedited stream-of-consciousness ADHD thinking looks like, and, of course, of pressing the punchline in general.

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Data Minding

I first intended to post about the fact that statistical algorithms can pick out individuals with various mental health diagnoses from the type of language they use on social media last November, but I lost my hyperfocus on the topic almost immediately after I read the original media blurb about a new study. I also forgot to ever read the study itself, which was sad because it should have been right up my alley. (In my defense, I was probably exhausted at the time. I usually am.)

I suppose in hindsight there was nothing stopping me from writing the post after November – when I finally remembered it existed – but I’d have felt like a failure as a blogger. I mean, aren’t bloggers supposed to produce semi-current content for their readers? I’d also hate to disappoint any of my readers who might be statistical outliers, but apparently statistical algorithms can also pick that out.  At least online, I’m not the only one with the attention span of a gnat. Articles over a month old are ancient in the blogosphere. Got to play to my audience and pretend I’m aware of the passing of time.

I truly thought my chance had come and gone. I could have cried with relief when another article came out this month referencing similar research about the language used by individuals with mental health diagnoses on social media. Sometimes I do get a second chance to make a first impression. (I will confess my own self-regulation of my own science ideals vs. science practice hasn’t improved since November. I haven’t read the original research cited in this new article, either.)

I managed to get a timely post up, and I know that – this time- I won’t disappoint my readers. I posted extremely relevant content and I intentionally set myself up to succeed…

…by failing forward. I mean, after all, I did just manage to write the most statistically obnoxious – I mean “optimal” – example ever of a social media post by someone with ADHD above. It should trigger as many automated flags as possible during data mining that I truly have the diagnosis that I know I have. I was, however, only diagnosed in adulthood.

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Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne

Today’s winter storm event – Winter Storm Liam – is turning out to be a non-event for my area. There are two more potential snowmakers behind it, per my favorite bedtime story,  aka The Weather Channel. Maybe those will live up to the hype that Liam didn’t.

The blizzard we ran into in Iceland in the final installment from my holiday trip was decidedly not a non-event. I assume it was the same bomb cyclone, aka Winter Storm Grayson, that caused our complications as the one that caused problems for most of the U.S. Either way, this entry is dated 1/2/18. Its lessons include a) always scan your important documents into Evernote if you have ADHD, even if you are on vacation, and b) get the winter damage rider on your rental car if you visit Iceland in January. The pic of just sheets of white is a road. If you don’t believe me, look for the road signs as hints. We drove in that.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne”