Where Do We Go From Here?

When I encounter new doctors (medical, mental health, etc.) the first question I’m asked after the disclosure of my mental health history is “What is the date of your last hospitalization for mental illness?” I have never been hospitalized due to my various mental illness. Every health care worker I have told this too has the same response. They pause, look up from my chart, and say something along the lines of “Really? Lucky you.”

I guess it is lucky that I’ve never been hospitalized for mental reasons but that’s a really low bar for “lucky”. I know a lot of people are less fortunate than me and I am lucky in that regard. But it isn’t as if my mental health doesn’t have deep consequences for my daily life. I’m 32 years old. Its been two years since I held a job. The longest I ever held a job was four years when I worked on campus while in college. My college was very small and very sheltering. Had I gone to a larger school in a larger town I doubt very highly that I would have graduated. There are many barriers in my life that keep me from holding a regular job but the biggest one is my ability to be at my job on a regular basis.

Some mornings I wake up and can’t get out of bed because I hate myself so much I start to contemplate suicide. Some mornings I’ve woken up so scared of some ominous threat that my brain convinces me is real I cannot leave my house. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with various sensory challenges that I can’t process what I’m seeing, can’t understand what I’m hearing, and/or cannot speak. How can anyone be expected to stand behind a register and smile for eight hours when their brain is bombarding them with the idea that they would be better off dead? How can I stock clothing in a store when that seemingly simple task is a game of sensory Russian roulette? How do you even explain that to someone?

“I cannot touch denim because of my autism.”

Well that’s a basic function of the job and not exactly covered by FMLA or other laws. Even diseases like asthma that are covered by FMLA aren’t always covered by FMLA. There are days I literally cannot go outside because it will inhibit my ability to breath. Walking from my house to my car or my car to my job could in fact kill me. These days are not all that common but if the city declares an air quality alert day I cannot go outside. The state is telling people who are sensitive to avoid going outside and that’s me. Its not because I want to be because if there were a magic pill to just make asthma go away I’d do whatever it took to get one. Being able to drown on dry land isn’t exactly a super power. If the pollen and mold counts are too high my asthma shuts off breathing and makes my nose bleed copiously. Imagine having someone ringing up your groceries who is gasping like a fish and actively bleeding. You wouldn’t want that person near your food. Your job would send you home. But you are penalized for it. I once had to call out from work because I was so convinced that the overpass would fall out from under me when I was driving that I had to take so much anti-anxiety medication I wasn’t safe to be behind the wheel of the car.

I have atypical depression that is very resistant to treatment and even when a treatment is working there will be days that it doesn’t. I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder with chronic intrusive thoughts. I have IBS and at any point my guts will rebel against me. I may be on the toilet for 30 minutes with a 15 minute break between extreme bouts of intestinal cramping and diarrhea. Anyone with IBS-D knows there isn’t any treatment that works. When an attack starts I am simply along for the ride. At the end of this ride is exhaustion, pain, and dehydration. I have asthma. I suffer from unpredictable insomnia. I go to bed at a reasonable hour but I’m still awake at four AM. If I have to leave for a shift at 6am that’s barely two hours of sleep if I even manage to fall asleep. If not I’m going to be working in a complete daze because I cannot function without at least 5 hours of sleep every night. If I get less sleep than that it often triggers my IBS for reasons no one understands. I suffer from chronic headaches that don’t respond to treatment very well. They aren’t traditional migraines but its hard to function when your head feels likes its gone rotten and is ready to split open. I have chronic pain in my joints, particularly in my knees. The medication that helps with the pain renders me unable to operate heavy machinery or even stand without wobbling. I basically act as if I’m drunk and you can’t do that on the job for very long even when the medication you’re taking is legally prescribed to you. I suffer from chronic fatigue. My doctor is currently trying to figure out if I have an autoimmune disorder. So there’s days off for various doctor’s appointments in addition to my appointments with my mental health care team that literally take all day long. And then there’s always my autism which makes dealing with the public very difficult. Retail shops are such sensory nightmares that I can’t even do my own shopping. How can I possibly work in such a place for up to eight hours a day?

So, this is where I’m at. My car broke down completely in December of last year but I’ve been out of work for two years so there’s no money to even buy a junker. I have so many barriers that “normal” employment seems impossible. I would love to go back to school at get a degree in Library Science so I could be a librarian but I need money for school and then I’d have to be able to be at work and not calling out all the time. I’m 32 years old and looking at getting disability benefits because I cannot function normally in society. But I have an above average IQ so even workshops that exist to give people with disabilities a place to work are not an option for me. No oneunderstands what an adult with autism needs or how to help them gain employment.

There is a void ahead of me in which I am simply incapable of existing in “normal” society and living a “normal” life with a “normal” job. Or even any job at all.

So where do we go from here?

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*screenshot taken from the manga “3-gatsu no Lion”. I claim no ownership.

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I’m so excited but…

The latest Pokemon game comes out tomorrow. I love Pokemon. I’ve been playing since Yellow, Red, and Blue. I still collect the cards and plushes and t-shirts and watch the animes. I have a great time trading and battling online with friends, strangers, and some of my siblings. I’ve been excited about this game since the first mention of it. And (hurrah!) my local game store is having a midnight release. I haven’t been to one in years and I remember they were always fun. It’s a great opportunity to get some street passes on my 3ds and start my latest Pokemon adventure.

But…

But…

But…

I don’t know if I can go. I’m scared. I’m not supposed to go places at midnight. There will be strangers there. They will want to talk. They’re excited and glad to see other Pokemon masters! Me too!

But…

But…

What if I say the wrong thing? What if, in the middle of a friendly conversation, all the talking creaks to a rusty halt, I get that LOOK, and those people I was talking with shift away from me as quick as they can? I did that thing again. Its kinda the social equivalent of ripping a huge fart. I didn’t mean too, I don’t know how to fix it, and the faux pas lingers.

So maybe I don’t go, right? Its not that big of a deal. I just didn’t feel like it right? Wrong. I did but I gave into the fear. I let the fear control me. Because it can get worse than what I’m feeling right now.

My head and stomach hurt. But if this fear gets worse I could end up vomiting. Vultures will vomit to get a predator to leave them alone. Its a low but genius tactic really. Is anyone going to blame me for not going? No. I’ve been vomiting. I could have a stomach bug. I could be contagious. I should rest in bed quietly with my books. But I know.

The vomiting is partially stress, partially psychosomatic, and partially evolution. In a sense I sort of did it to myself but not of my own volition. I would rather have diarrhea than vomit but my body, pushed to a mental and physical extreme it cannot find a way down from, expels the contents of my stomach. My brain must find a reason or release for this intense anxiety so vomiting is actually a very logical decision. Many poisons, from bad food or a poisonous plant or animal, cause anxiety as a result of the toxin’s effect on the nervous system. If something is trying to poison me my body wants to expel it as fast as possible and that fastest way is puke. Its a remedy as old as time.

But I know the difference. While I’m resting quietly in my room I’m hating myself. I might be silently crying. Maybe not. But I hate myself. Because I can’t handle something as easy as going to pick up a video game. A place I like going for a product I really, really want. I gave into the fear. I let it win this round and I hate myself. Cowards die a thousand deaths as the saying goes. And every time the disorder wins (which ever one it is) I lose a bit of myself. Next time it will be so much easier to give into the fear and the hatred I feel for myself will be that much more fierce.

So why hate myself? Right? Give me a break, me. We can’t win them all. Just go in the morning. Its cool. But what about when the clerk (which ever one it is, they both know me well by now) asks me where I was at midnight. They were sure I’d be the first one at the door, foaming at the mouth. I’ll laugh a little maybe. I’ll certainly smile.

“Oh, fucking migraine right?”

They commiserate. One of the guys who works there has migraines himself. The other has a mom and a girlfriend who have them. Those things suck. Screw up your plans and your life, right? Here’s your game. Glad you’re feeling better.

But what if I said, “Oh irrational fear of changing my routine, right?”

They’re cool guys. Both of them. When I go in and the store is quiet (most mornings) we chat about anime, games, podcasts, apps, all that cool stuff. I guess we aren’t really friends but we’re on more than just a customer-buyer sort of basis. I know a little about their lives and they know a bit about mine. We talk about rooting phones and emulators and other stuff. But not mental illness. That makes everyone uncomfortable. There’s this stigma and its not going anywhere. I wish it would and I hope to think that things like this blog make it easier for people to talk about a topic that used to be verboten. But here’s the unforgiving truth. If I mention that my anxiety disorder is to the point that it interferes with the enjoyment of my life I don’t have a disorder I am mentally ill.

Big difference there. And like my faux pas analogy earlier I didn’t mean to make everyone so uncomfortable, I can’t take it back, and that knowledge lingers. It changes how people see you. It changes the way they look at you. Its happened to me before and it will happen again. But the thing is chatting with the guys at the game store is one of the few social interactions I can carry out without screwing it all to hell. I stumble sure but its all cool. They’re sorta used to people with odd social skills. I recover and we’re good. I don’t want to make the game store a place I feel like I can’t go anymore. They won’t make me feel that but I will. I will get too tense knowing that I’m going to be tense. And yeah I should rip back the stigma of mental illness and fight the good fight.

But its nice to go somewhere where my mental illness doesn’t matter. Or hell doesn’t even exist. They don’t know about it and I don’t have to tell them. I just get to be that girl that likes JRPGs and anime and Night Vale and all that other stuff. I have to carry my mental illness around with me everywhere but everyone doesn’t have to be aware of it. They know I have OCD and autism down at my favorite used bookstore. Its cool cause I made the choice to tell a mom and her son with autism that I have autism too and the clerks overheard me. Also I put books back where they belong. People put them where they don’t belong and I put them back.They kinda like that about me. But I made a choice to share that about me. I get to make that choice everywhere I go. And some times its nice to just be another person. A person who is a little weird and probably overly enthusiastic at times but normal is a social construct that doesn’t exist and is boring anyway.

I’ve meandered a bit, as usual. But here’s the rub. Its Schrodinger’s cat but the outcome is all ready known. If I go I have my game. If I don’t I have my self hatred. Its the course that hasn’t been proven yet. We know that the vial will always break in the box. The issue at hand is whether I break or not. The outcome of the only two courses of action is all ready known. And it isn’t what they think or know or don’t think or know. Its me. Its what I think. Its what I feel at the end of this that matters to me.

The lady or the tiger?

Update: I went. It was super crowded but the guys were really organized so everyone was in and out fast. Had an asthma attack but I always take my trusty inhaler along. But I am exhausted. Good luck and good night.

Frustration

Right now I cannot find my wallet. It is here in the house somewhere. That much I know. But I have torn my room apart, created a whirlwind through my car, and gotten so angry that I started throwing things and screaming.

I made myself stop looking for the stupid thing. It feels like a fishhook in the back of my mind though and I want to start looking for it again. But I am still sweaty and shaky for my previous search. I do not handle frustration very well. I never have. When things do not go the way I want them to I seem to transform into a petulant child, insistent upon having my way come hell or high water. I have seen this behavior in autistic children whom I have worked with, in children and adults with ADHD, in people with no diagnosis at all, and every child I have ever met. With children with autism this behavior is sometimes refered to as ‘an autistic tantrum’.

But this is where I’d like to break things down a bit. Tantrum? If a favorite object or comfort item cannot be found an autistic child may very well have a meltdown. So might a child without autism. And why does this happen? The answer is simple. Fear.

When something that is usually very accessible in your environment is suddenly gone of course the response is fear. What is that item is gone forever? What if someone took it? Will it ever come back? Children, in general, thrive on consistency. They are too small to answer these questions themselves and are too small sometimes to understand that even if something is gone right now it may (and usually is) always found later.

Expectations are violated and no one likes that. Adults throw hissy fits in stores if the item they want isn’t there. They went to the store with the intent to buy this thing and now the thing is not available.  Expectation violated. Hopefully most adults can take this in stride and move on but having worked in retail before a large part of the adult population cannot. They scream at waiters, servers, register monkeys, and everyone they can trying to get their way. This behavior is unacceptable.

But here’s the dilly and the sweets. People with autism have, by the very definition of their diagnosis, dependence upon on sameness. I thrive on consistency. I hate and fear change. Why? Because expectations are violated. When the world around me does not act in the manner that I expect it to (my wallet being easy to find) I do not know what to do. The world suddenly makes no sense. Everything is wrong. Nothing is right. Anything could happen! If my wallet can disappear then the couch can spontaneously turn into spaghetti and my dog could teleport to a new family in Canada. (Country chosen at random, no hard feelings right Canada? You guys are so nice there.)

Now logically I know these things won’t happen. My wallet will turn up. I can ask for help looking for it. The world will not end. My dog will not teleport to Canada (if she did her new family would automatically love her cause she’s so cute). But when you depend on sameness to keep both our inner and outer world in check anything that rocks the boat is a horrifying reminder that anything could happen at anytime. The living room furniture being rearranged doesn’t really bother me. Its that things are different. Now the living room is no longer the living room. It is living room 2.0 and I will have to learn how to navigate it. I will bump into things. I will not like sitting someplace different because it changes how the TV sounds, if I get enough air from the air vents and fan to stay cool, where the dogs are going to chose to lay down. Integrating the new living room isn’t easy for me. I can and will do it. But I don’t and won’t like it.

And that is because I am afraid. I have a voice, the Imp maybe, yammering away in my head that this is bad, this is new, this isn’t what it used to be. It will never be the same, it will never be what it was, it will never be home. If the world outside me changes the world inside me is forced to change too. And the world inside me is very resistant. The world inside me that I have carefully built is what helps me navigate and understand the world outside of me.

The inner world of most people seems more resilient to change. But for those with autism even expected change is difficult, frightening, and exhausting. If we meltdown or breakdown because of this we are not petulant, we are not having a tantrum, we are not being willful.

We are scared. So very, very scared. Scared that the world will never be as it is. And exhausted all ready at the idea of learning this new world and making it a part of our inner world. I have the ability to express myself in words through both speaking and writing. I have an IQ that allows me to use logic to help me get past these moments. But right now I am still thinking about my wallet and I am still very angry at it for not being where it should be.

Side note: I found my wallet. I dropped it at the grocery store and a very nice person turned it in. Thank you nice person!

You are always on my mind (and I hate you)

There is a voice in everyone’s head that tells us we are terrible, unworthy, useless. It says things that we don’t want to think about. Its louder in some people than others I think. Usually its called self-doubt or negative thinking or negative self thought or catastrophic thinking. My voice is very loud and I gave it a name a long time ago. Usually I just call it The Imp but sometimes I call it Asmodeus. For those that don’t know Asmodeus is a king demon mostly mentioned in the Book of Tobit.

For clarification I don’t believe a demon is talking to me in my head. Its just that the thoughts I have sometimes are so polar to view of myself that I (at the point that I named it) could not believe these were my own thoughts. The Imp started talking a long time ago. For as long as I can remember I have had these thoughts that I do not want to have. I named The Imp when I was a small child. My mom used to work overnight as a book keeper for several years. I used to worry that something terrible would happen to her because she would be out in the dark.

My worry was validated by my dad and my grandmother telling me (and my siblings) about the dangers of being outside AT NIGHT. Terrible crimes happened AT NIGHT. Children were kidnapped AT NIGHT. Robberies happened AT NIGHT. Murder happened AT NIGHT. Rape happened AT NIGHT. Doors must be locked and checked AT NIGHT to keep the bad people and things outside.

My mom should not be outside AT NIGHT. In order to keep her safe I used to make precise grids of marbles over and over again until she got home. I didn’t sleep much as a kid so I had a lot of time to make grids. I also had a lot of marbles. If the marbles were too close together or too far apart in a row or column I would have to start over again. If I could get it perfect then I could stop. At least until I started worrying again. I very rarely got the grid perfect. My gross and fine motor skills were very underdeveloped and marbles are tricky things in the glow of a flashlight. Also the number of marbles, rows, and columns needed often changed. So there I was under the bed or in the closet making row after row usually until my mom got home. I could put the marbles away after she came inside and locked the door. She would peek in on us kids but it wasn’t uncommon for me not to be in my bed. Sometimes I pretended to be asleep under the bed and other times I would give my mom a hug and welcome her home. Sometimes I would make her a sandwich so she could have a snack before going to sleep. My mom was troubled by my being bright eyed at 5 am when she got home but there was little she could do. I had never had a great need for sleep and she had learned long ago that if I were left to my own devices with a flashlight and books and my toys I would not wake anyone who needed sleep. She was glad I think sometimes that I was there to greet her when she got home. She worked a lot back then and there was little to see for it. I think she was very lonely and I know for a fact she worried.

She worried about my brother’s asthma and how to pay for his meds. She worried about the cars breaking down. She worried about the toilet that would either never stop running or would remain clogged for weeks. She worried about my grandfather (her dad) who was then a full blown alcoholic in the hellish throes of untreated PTSD. She worried about the cells in her breasts and if one would ever decide to turn against her one day, leaving her four children half orphans as her own mother’s had done. She worried about the bills. And I know she worried, worried, worried about me. I was such a strange child and why did I vomit so often? What if something were terribly wrong with me and the doctors just didn’t know what yet? And why was I so different from my siblings?

I swore in my heart that I would never, ever, ever tell her how afraid I was almost all the time. What could be done about it? I swore I would never, ever, ever tell her about the marble grids. What if she took my talismans away? I swore I would NEVER, EVER, EVER tell her about the terrible thoughts in my head. I did tell her, not very long ago in fact, about my secret nightly rituals and a little bit of how terribly often I was afraid as a child. But I have NEVER, EVER, EVER told anyone about the terrible, terrible thoughts in my head. And so the awful things The Imp would yell or whisper or chortle at me stayed right there in my head.

The Imp because much worse after puberty, not uncommon in women with any kind of disorder or illness. For about three years I was convinced I was a psychopath. I did all kinds of research about psychopaths. My parents had long since stopped monitoring what I read and I was very good at keep things secret. It was during this time that we got the Internet (alas AOL). One of the first things I learned to do was delete the history. So why was I convinced I was a psychopath? Well, I didn’t have feelings. Or at least that’s what people told me. Lots of people. Teachers even. I was cold and detached. I had no friends. I was a loner.

I knew all these things but that wasn’t why I was pretty sure I was a psychopath. It was the thoughts I named The Imp that convinced me. You see the awful, terrible thing I never told anyone was that The Imp didn’t just tell me terrible things were going to happen if I didn’t advert them. The Imp told me I wanted to do terrible things. I wanted to stab my teacher in the hand with a pencil. I wanted to push my sister out of a moving car. I wanted to force my brother to have an asthma attack and watch him suffocate. I wanted to stab my beloved dog with the sharp knives from the kitchen. I wanted to set my house on fire with my family in it and watch them all burn. I wanted to kill random people I saw in the grocery store. And I would like it. In fact I would LOVE to do these things. I would do them all and I would never be caught because, as my research told me, women were very rarely ever psychopaths. Or at least murderous ones. I would do them all and I would ENJOY it.

These days I know that the proper label for The Imp is intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are the defining characteristic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My particular flavor (sub-type) of OCD is Harm OCD. I have intrusive thoughts of a harming/violent nature (the obsession) and the response I engage in to alleviate the discomfort of these thoughts (the compulsion). I have thoughts of hurting the people and animals I live with. I have thoughts about hurting complete strangers. I worry that I could unknowingly do something or fail to do something that results in someone being hurt. I worry that I don’t find these thoughts disturbing enough. I worry that I enjoy what The Imp tells me.

I have told doctors and my friend R about some of my intrusive thoughts but not the worst of them. Lately my anxiety has been worse. A change in meds has helped but my depression has been worse. But worse than that my intrusive thoughts have been so much worse. I had to stop playing with my goddaughter and leave the room because I became convinced that if I remained in the room with her I would hurt or somehow “infect” her, thereby harming her. When R asked about my sudden departure, I lied saying I had a bad stomach cramps which I eventually did end up having as a result of the emotional upset my intrusive thoughts cause. I have thought about hurting our sweet, sweet dogs because they shouldn’t love me as I am a terrible person and they just don’t know it yet. But they will once I have hurt them. I have thoughts about hurting my youngest goddaughter, an infant who cannot defend herself. And I want to hurt someone so that everyone will know just how aberrant I am and they will lock me away where I can’t hurt anyone ever again. And maybe then, finally then, the thoughts will stop.

But I don’t hurt anyone. And I am not insane. I am not a psychopath. If I were these thoughts wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t engage in the compulsive behaviors because I would feel no distress. I had this belief, this delusion, that if I told someone they would hate me because who couldn’t hate something as vicious as me? Who wouldn’t stare at horror in the fullness of my violent thoughts and fear me?

But last night I told R and here I am now. I am not a murderer. I am not violent. I do not want to hurt anyone. The Imp talks and laughs and dances. It tells me terrible things and I perform a mental ritual to take away the distress. But The Imp is not real. The thoughts I have are not representative of me. The more I try not to have them the harder they are to ignore. If you have these thoughts tell someone. Don’t suffer alone. This terrible secret has a name and can be treated.

OCD can cause suicide. OCD also kills in small measures, taking a little piece of you with every intrusive thought. Get help. Get support. Get education. Get an advocate. The Imp is not right. The Imp is not the truth.

Look here for some excellent articles:

ocdla.com

Harm OCD: Symptoms and Treatment

Feelings

I’ve been having a lot of feelings lately. And I don’t like it. I haven’t always had feelings. Or at the very least the ones I had weren’t very complicated or intense. It wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 that I realized people had feelings. I had always assumed that everyone was empty like me. I started to suddenly experience emotions around the age of sixteen. I’m not a neurologist but I assume emotions just don’t suddenly turn on like a light bulb. But mostly I just remember psychosomatic reactions instead of feelings previous to this emotional awakening. I didn’t feel angry, my stomach hurt. I wasn’t frustrated, I had a headache. I wasn’t scared, I had diarrhea. Then emotions came on strong around the time I had more than one friend who had more than one friend. I remember feeling like everyone else’s friendships had something that they didn’t have with me. I was dismayed and jealous and confused but couldn’t logic it out so I just put the whole subject in the bin. Then I went into my first major depressive episode and my emotions went away again.

My second major depressive episode is in remission and I have been depression free for nearly 14 months. I’ve had a lot of feelings in that span of time and they are exhausting. I can’t understand how people function with emotions all the time. How are they even still alive? Most of the time I wish I didn’t have emotions. Or that I wasn’t as aware of them. I’m more aware of my emotions now than I have ever been but I understand them no better than I did when I was a teenager. I’m 31 years old and I don’t know what to do when I’m sad, or lonley, or anxious. Most of the time I don’t even know why I’m experiencing any of those things.

Generally, R has always told me what I’m feeling and what I should do about it. She’s been doing this since we were teens. In return I’ve always redirected her when her ADHD leads her stray. R has grown as person and is a wife and mother and I’m a 31 year old with the emotional intelligence of a second grader. Before R had kids I’d go to her, say something like “I feel bad”, and boom! R does her emotional magic. She’d figure out what I was feeling, some possible reasons for that feeling(s), and some functional plans to help me process the feeling(s) and move on. Rarely was she ever wrong. Maybe because we’ve known each other for so long (and in no small part because we were both more than willing to be in a codependent relationship) R usually figures out fairly quickly what’s going on with me emotionally. She does it (I think) by taking my emotions and making them her own and I know that’s not healthy for either of us. It was just easy and it made sense.

But R has kids now and neither of us wants to our relationship to be codependent again. She can’t be my emotional Sherlock Holmes cause she needs to be teaching her 2 year old daughter how to deal with her feelings and not her 31 year old autistic friend. I don’t want to be a burden to her anymore than I can help so I’m stuck with my own stupid emotions and I hate them. I want them to jump back into whatever Pandora’s box I unwittingly let them out of and leave me the hell alone. And, contrary to popular media portrayal, the medications I take don’t medicate my emotions away. They just get rid of the self destructive extremes.

And to make things more complicated I have emotions about my emotions. I’m afraid to feel any level of sadness because for me sadness only comes in one flavor: depression. So I’m afraid to feel sad but then I feel stupid for being afraid because my 2 year old goddaughter can handle being sad. Then I feel like I should accept how I feel because my feelings are valid dammit and eventually the noise in my head becomes so loud I start to have a panic attack. Then I take my medication and hide in my room with the lights off for several hours, willing my heart rate to go back to something that feels like it won’t kill me. And I still have the psychosomatic reactions too. Fevers, blinding headaches, blurred vision, selective mutism, stomach cramps and pains, heart burn, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and asthmatic attacks. They resolve and/or can be medicated away but the core problem remains.

I don’t know what to do with my feels. My culture and family have taught me to medicate my feelings with food. Its hardly a surprise that as I’ve become more aware of my feelings my weight has steadily increased. i found myself finally able to verbally articulate this dilemma (my mouth is a notorious traitor) during the dying embers of my disastrous attempt at graduate school. I told all of this to the head of the psychological services center, a psychologist with over 30 years experience and more research papers to his name than any person should physically be able to write. With my file in his lap, he looked at me over the rims of his glasses (me red faced and sucking on my rescue inhaler) and intoned, “Wow. It sounds like you have some kind of emotional disorder. Have you tried Zoloft?”

I think filling out the mountains of paperwork required and going to his office reaching out for help was my last desperate attempt to salvage my graduate school education. He was unmoved and I guess I gave up. Agoraphobia became queen of the kingdom and I lost my financial aid, my job, and finally my apartment. (Side note: I’m not sure why agoraphobia is female but it/she is.) Because of course I had been on Zoloft. It was in the file he was holding on his lap. The file he was supposed to have read. I loved Zoloft. i was at my most functional on Zoloft. I graduated college with the help of Zoloft. But it stopped working as those kinds of drugs sometimes do.

But I didn’t really give up, I don’t think. I just ran out of resources to give. Everything kept taking form me and I had nothing left to give. So I slipped back into hypersomnia, selective mutism, and eventually depression held sway over all. The winter of my discontent came and my feelings went into hibernation.

It is now the summer of my mental state and my emotions are ready to run amok. They’re like undergrads in Cancun, drunk on their own sense of importance and always read to overreact.

Today’s emotional overreaction: self hatred.

Why?

Because I couldn’t go to lunch at a restaurant. The thought of it made me have a panic attack and I stayed home. Not a new scenario for me. It happens fairly often. I don’t like loud, noisy, crowded places. I know this, R knows this, and anyone who will listen knows this. Its my thing. But today it is making me hate myself. I can’t do something as simple and commonplace as have lunch in a restaurant. What the hell is wrong with me?

Stupid, pointless, useless emotions.

Be not afraid

Got a call from my Mum today. She has this way of telling me bad news. She asks how I’ve been, listens, and sighs heavily when I finish. That’s how I know its going to be bad news. I don’t often pick up on social/emotional ques but Mum is a creature of habit (like the rest of my family). Its nice (in a way) to know that bad news is coming before its said.

My grandmother has (probably) less than a year to live. She’s 85 years old and for the last ten years or so her health has been failing. Its only been in the last five years that she’s begun to actively die. It started with a heart attack that led to a stroke that lead to her losing sight in one eye and experience full body muscle weakness. She has low blood pressure and osteoporosis. The osteoporosis leads to abnormally high levels of calcium in her blood which is not just bad for her bones but also her heart. Three years ago she was diagnosed with a kind of cancer of the blood. The only way she will ever be cancer free is if she has a bone marrow transplant but she wouldn’t survive such a harsh procedure. Her heart muscles are atrophied and her heart is actively leaking blood. A pace maker could be put in but it would only stop sudden cardiac arrest. It wouldn’t really solve any problems. It might extend her life but no one can say for sure. She doesn’t want to have the surgery and I respect her decision.

My grandmother has been a fixture in my life since the day I was born. I was very jaundiced at birth and had to be put in a light box immediately. No one could hold me. My grandma prayed and sang to me. Both my parents worked long hours and if me and my siblings weren’t at school we were at my grandmother’s house. When we’re sick she gives us Sprite and eggs and refried beans. Tortillas were her specialty. Her tamales were a Christmas treat I looked forward to all year. Spanish rice, picadillo, and conchas overflowed at her house. She’d bring home a peppermint for each of us when she came home from work. She never forgot and she never miscounted. She was the first person in my life to respect my food sensitivities. She’d make my portion without onions. It took a few minutes more but it wasn’t a burden for her. She knew what I liked to eat. She would challenge me to try new things.

“Try a bite mijita,” she would instruct. “If you don’t like it I make you some eggs.”

Sometimes I liked it. Sometimes she’d make me eggs. She never got mad at me for being a “picky eater”. As long as I tried and didn’t waste food in her house everything was okay with her. As long as I was eating I was healthy.

“Jita,” she would say. “Don’t shake your hands at the table. You’ll get food on the floor.”

No yelling about quiet hands. Just a direction and a very logical reason for it.

“Jita,” she would say. “You need to listen at school. You need a high school diploma to go to college and I want to see you walk the stage.”

I was still mad at my teachers and confused by my classmates but Grandma wanted to see me on my special day. So I learned to put up with it.

“Mijita, when others are mean to you show them your beautiful smile,” she instructed.”They want you to be mad or sad. If you smile you confuse them. Then you come tell Grandma about your hurt.”

And it worked. Bullies stop picking on you if you just don’t care. I would tell Grandma if I was hurt or mad at their words. And it would be okay because Grandma loves me. And Grandma would always love me. There are so many of us (me and my siblings) but she had a way of talking to you that made you feel like you were the only one in the world. Because to her, you were. There was no other granddaughter like me and she thanked God for me every day. My birthday is in December but she would always buy me two presents. Because my birthday was as special as everyone else. Sometimes she would buy me a small one person cake. it would have reindeer and Christmas trees on top. It was my little cake. Just for me. Only for me. And she always remembered my favorite was chocolate.

When I left for college she was sad and scared. But she smiled and cheered me on. I was going to get my degree, the first in my family. She prayed to Jesus that my “school mind” would be open and that the library would be too. The first time I came home from university I went to visit her as usual. She looked so much smaller than I remember. So much weaker, so much sicker. For the first time I realized that my grandmother was going to die. That one day she simply wouldn’t be there anymore. I was so sick with the knowledge that I could hardly stand to look at her. My grandmother had been strong her entire life. She raised her sons alone after my good-for-nothing grandfather abandoned his family. In a time when women had no voice she and her sister worked menial jobs to buy their own home. Any obstacle could be overcome with hard work. Everyone had a skill that was special and could be used. Everyone’s life was important because they are a child of God.

She is a very, very religious woman, my grandma. Pious and as true a believer as there ever was. But her belief was never a weapon. She never tried to put the “fear of God” into any of us. Not even the time I nearly burned her house down. She just reminded us that God loved us. She wanted us all to be Catholics but she loved us no less if we never joined the church. She prayed her rosary quietly while we would nap when we were young. She thanked God for each of us by name. We were the sum of all her prayers, her reward for faithfulness, and proof, if only to her, of the loving God she leaned upon.

I joined the Catholic church in my early twenties. It is a fact that surprises many as I am generally logical and rational and religious beliefs tend not to be. Grandma brought me to the church. I saw the peace and joy it brought her. I saw the comfort religious beliefs could bring. I hoped to find that for myself and I very much did. My faith wavers often but that is just the nature of the thing.

My grandmother faces death with a serene smile. She is comforted by the love of God and His promise. She has lived all her life to be able to go home to His Kingdom and knows that the family members who have gone before her wait for her there.

I want her to go there. I know that she is tired of being in pain and she is tired of being sick. She is tried of hospitals and doctors and needles and pills. I want her to be at peace. Much of who I am today is because of her. Much of the peace I find in my life is because she so patiently taught me how to get there. She has always accepted me exactly for who I am. I have never been strange or weird or tiring to her. I have always been her Janna and I always will be.

I just really, really wish she could stay here with me always. Because I’m not done needing her to remind me that I’m perfect and wonderful and that I am a precious gift from God. I’m not done being her granddaughter. I don’t want her to go. But I know she’ll be waiting for me.