Dear Self Harm,

TRIGGER WARNING: SELF HARM, CUTTING

I’ve been thinking about this post, writing it in my head, for weeks. I know how it starts; I know what I want to talk about. I know the stories I want to tell. I just can’t seem to get the words out of my brain and on the screen.

I never considered what I did self harm.

I witnessed self harm in high school, which seems so long ago now. She was the punked-out, goth kid in my theater class. I’m friendly to everyone, so while I wasn’t her bestie or even a member of her tribe, she told me things.

People do. I used to think it was something super special about me, something magical that only I, and perhaps a few others, had. But that magic is my willingness to listen, offer no judgement, and care enough to help. Perhaps that’s a kind of magic all its own.

Theater-class girl had problems, which she addressed and added to by huffing spray starch and cutting on her legs. She explained that the little red lines, the little raised scars that trailed above them so neatly, gave her release. When her emotions boiled and roiled past what her body could contain, one blade and a few careful bloody cuts let enough pain escape her body, giving her something to focus on besides the original chaos and its attendant emotions.

I never put together what I did with what she did. Perhaps because her perfect red lines were so organized, so neat and orderly. My response to that overwhelming feeling of internal combustion was far more violent.

I kicked walls, bed frames, whatever. I kicked until my toes broke. I scratched at any imperfections on my skin until they bled, never letting them heal. I pounded at myself until I had bruises. Today my toes curl under from the breakage, and my skin has white, raised scarring. Only the bruises are gone.

I think, looking back, I had symptoms of manic depression. Lord knows it ran in our family. I’m not bipolar now, so … ? But then, in those teenage years, emotions were so hot and angry and all encompassing. Maybe they are for all teenagers.

Those uncontrollable emotions filled me with a bubbling, spitting brew of hate and upset and powerlessness. The only way to spew the hate, release the tears, and gain a sense of power was to kick and pound and scratch.

Cutting, self-harm … it wasn’t a thing in the 1990s, when I was a teen. People did it, but the psychobabble to explain and identify it wouldn’t trickle from the professionals to the mainstream for another ten years. Even then, what I did was never equated to cutting. When boys punch walls, do we call it self-harm today? I don’t know the answer.

I’m having a lot of trouble with depression. Getting out of bed is a struggle. Taking care of myself is a struggle. Caring about those facts is a struggle.

A few weeks ago, I found a small lump on my elbow. It bugged me, so I made the obvious decision to take a knife and slice it open. I had taken some painkillers that evening for my migraines, but I was still hurting.

The knife I used was new and sharp, but the angle to my elbow was awkward at best. It took several tries to open the bump, which then proved to be quite unsatisfying.

But by that time, I had scored several lines into the skin on my elbow. And while it hurt, the pain was so different from my migraine. It was sharp, and clean, and bright. The migraine was dull. and achy, and constant. And that new pain was a sharp punch through the miasma of my depression.

I was fascinated by it.

It hurt, dragging the knife through layers of my skin. But that difference in the pain kept me transfixed. How hard did I have to press to draw blood? How hard did I have to press to draw a long line? I criss-crossed my elbow, cutting lines over and over, a few deep but mostly shallow.

It took an external jostle to make me realize what I’d been doing. Luckily, I hadn’t caused any real damage, not then. A few napkins, some direct pressure, and all was fine.

But over the next weeks, I picked at those lines. Absently, I’d scratch the scabs off, noticing only when the raw wound started to sting or when my fingers came back bloody. And now I have scars, new lines that weave a web of white lines across my elbow.

I can’t see the new scars, which is a shame. Could they have served as a reminder not to hurt myself again?

Probably not. My old scars write large across my body, but I’ve yet to read the message.

Blind to my own braille but still,

Payne.

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Dear Bright Moments,

I’m better.

Thank you God, I’m better. The horrible dragging weight of depression has lifted some, the clouds have cleared so I can see some blue sky, and that desperate urge to hide away is fading.

Well, this certainly doesn’t look ADA accessible.

The upswing feels so good. This was the worst major depressive episode I’ve ever had. But climbing out of it feels like a miracle.

Yesterday, I laughed at something — I guffawed. Today, I gave myself a manicure and a pedicure. I cared enough to take care of myself. I got up early and took the dog for a long walk. All these signposts tell me I’m headed in the right direction.

While I was stuck in depression’s pit, some good things did happen. Two specifically I want to share.

About two weeks ago, I was curled up on the couch when the front doorbell rang. When I went to answer it, I was boggled. It was my sister — who lives in Colorado and had no business just showing up on our doorstep.

After the exclamations of surprise and delight, she clasped her hands to her chest and said, “Clifton asked me to marry him!”

We grabbed at her left hand, but the silly girl wasn’t even wearing the ring! She had it stashed in a box in her pocket. It’s a lovely ring, a family heirloom. She was glowing with happiness, and we were thrilled for her. She and her guy have been together for a very long time, so a chance to celebrate that is a grand and glorious thing. Wedding plans have begun in earnest.

Perhaps my biggest news, and the coolest thing to ever happen, was that I had brunch with one of my all time favorite authors. She was in town for a big writer’s convention. When I saw that on her blog, I emailed her and asked if I could come by and get my books autographed. She responded and suggested meeting for a meal. I swooned.

And so I had lunch with AMY LANE. She’s an award-winning author of a lot of male/male romance, but I love her best for her Little Goddess series: Vulnerable, Wounded, Bound, and Rampant.

The next in the series, Quickening, is coming out at the end of the year. It’s only been 10 years since the first book was published. I have waited faithfully, and only hounded her a dozen or so times a year asking about progress on Quickening.

If you’ll remember, I was a professional writer and editor, so mistakes in self-published books can ruin a story for me. Too many and I’m done with it. And Amy’s first self-published book was a disaster in that respect. But her story, her characters … I loved them and had to know what happened next, even if I was mentally reaching for a red pen.

The whole series is being polished up and re-released by an actual publisher. If you haven’t read these books, I whole heartedly recommend them. Go find the re-released Vulnerable right now.

Anyway, we met up at a brunch hot spot near her hotel and spent an hour and a half chatting about all sorts of stuff. But the best part was talking about how much we loved these characters; how much I love the heroine Cory. How Cory’s strength and power make me feel some of both on days when my body feels nothing but pain and sadness.

I was so happy to tell one of my very favorite authors how very, very much her work, her stories mean to me. And it was the coolest, niftiest thing ever.

And the next day, she mentioned me on her blog!

So good things are happening in Payneville, where the mayor is

Payne.

Dear Mental Health Month,

You suck.

It’s been a really rough go of it of late. I’ve had a major depressive episode, the worst I think I’ve ever had.

This is why the Greek gods don’t get invited to all those big tent revivals anymore. A guy tells a few too many lies, and boom, Sisyphus has to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. That happens today and we’ll never find enough boulders.

I’ve tried to explain it, and the closest I’ve gotten is that I’ve been doused in tar, not allowed to sleep for a week, and drowning in manufactured sorrow. And I’ve felt like that all the time.

I talked to my person, Jill, at the pain management office about it all. I actually broke down and told her all of it: two weeks without taking a bath, hit or miss on brushing my teeth, wearing bits of pajamas all day, not leaving the house unless forced to, eating nothing but desserts and other garbage.

She said the Lexapro, and this is her technical medical term, “pooped out on me.”

So I’m in that fun bit where I’m titrating off Lexapro and on to a new antidepressant called Brintellix.

And today I felt better. I cared enough to put on some mascara. I laughed out loud at things. Getting out of bed didn’t feel like a Sisyphean task.

I’ve still got another week of titration to go, but I’m feeling some hope.

So I’ll be clinging to that feeling, and I’ll still be,

Payne.

Dear Depression, you bastard,

Well, I’ve been a long time gone.

I thought I’d crawled out of the pit of despair, but my depression still has its claws in me. Why is it so hard to see it when it’s happening? So hard to put a name to it as I slide down that slippery slope into the pit? It wasn’t until I was curled up in bed, taking Xanax so I could breathe without twitching, that I realized I might have a problem.

And here’s my conundrum: last month, my pain management doc upped my Lexapro — by 50 mg — to deal with this. It worked for less than two weeks, and then I crashed again. Once I finally figured out what was going on, yesterday, I started taking an extra 100 mg. So how much can I take? When do we decide it’s just a band-aid, and realize that band-aid keeps coming off?

I’ve got a pain management appointment on Wednesday. I really need to go in and spill all. I need to tell the nurse person (Jill) who refills my prescriptions that I’m in a bad place. A bad, bad place.

I didn’t take a bath for two weeks. I was hit-or-miss with brushing my teeth. My hair was in a ratty ponytail that occasionally got fixed. I have six loads of laundry that need to be done. I’ve run out of underpants, and I bought a ton so I’d never run out. I didn’t walk the dog (We have a yard, but … ), and let others feed and medicate him. I laid on the couch and read books that would make me teary.

I know I need to tell Jill what’s going on, but I don’t think I’ll be able to get the words out of my mouth. I have serious issues about asking for help, about admitting weakness and failure.

I need to, though.

I’m not suicidal, but over the last few weeks, I just stopped taking care of me. I just stopped caring.

I hate feeling like this. It’s the most horrible feeling. I’d rather deal with the migraine pain at its worst than this. Sadly, I didn’t get a vote.

More updates from the pit later. Until then, I remain

Payne.

Dear Rising from the Ashes,

I’ve crawled out of the depths of despair.

Depression is so strange*. I don’t realize where I am, how bad it’s gotten until I’m at the bottom of the pit. Then I recognize the claw marks on the wall, the nest in the corner, and realize this terrible place is one I’ve been many times before. It’s rock bottom, emotionally. And I didn’t see the edge of the pit. Didn’t feel myself fall down the slope. Didn’t even feel the impact when I hit the bottom. Didn’t know until I looked around and saw my own graffiti on the walls, my own shit in the corners to know this was a place I was held captive before.

The good thing about the bottom of the pit is that I’ve seen it before. I know it’s shape and feel. Once I landed there, it only took me a day or two to realize exactly what was going on and what I needed to do to get back out.

Not that doing those things were easy. Serious depression, real depression, chemicals-in-my-brain-are-unbalanced depression is like being dipped in lead. It’s hard to move. Every thought is weighted down by thousand pounds of nothing.

You could ask me in a kind, loving voice, “What’s wrong?” I’d have no answer. Nothing is wrong. I’m not sad. I’m not dictionary-definition depressed.

You could yell at me, scream and demand. I still couldn’t answer. I would desperately want to shake off the weight, to help you. To fix things. To be who I really am. But she’s buried under tons and tons of nothing, her brain trapped in a mix of chemicals that freeze and weaken, that suppress and drain.

Two things help me when I find myself at the bottom of the pit. My meds have to change. Without permission (don’t try this at home, kids.), I started taking an extra 50 mg. of Seroquel; I had extras, and it worked like a charm in conjunction with the other part.

I had to get out of bed, off the couch. I had to move. My savior from depression is walking. I try to walk more than a mile every day when it’s nice out and I’m not in hideous pain. Lately, that pain, weather, my sick dog, and then the depression kept me inside.

The day the Seroquel started kicking in, I was determined to get myself out of the house. It’s funny, Mom (sainted, wonderful, best thing in my world, SWMBO), came home from getting her hair done determined to drag me off the couch, because she also knew the keys to my depression and was determined to rescue me. How lucky am I to have such a wonderous person taking care of me?

So we did. We lassoed the dog, and headed to the park. My dog is a Anatolian Shepard/Rottweiler mix; he’s a mountain dog. He’s recently decided that he’s not; he’s a water dog. He’s taken to walking into the little pond as far has he can go, scaring all the turtles off their sunning posts. Then he lazily splashes the edge of the lake while I hold the leash and trail him from the shore.

IMG_1168

Well, I can’t say anything here other than my dog is the most handsome, sweetest thing in the whole world. And he’s eating something that when I purchased it, I did not realize it was made up of the penile region of an herbivore. Pizzle my ass.

Watching that silliness, walking in the sunshine, and getting those bloody damned chemicals in my brain back in some semblance of order was like magic. My world evened out.

And I’m back to being

Payne.

*P.S. If you have not read Allie Brosh‘s explanation of depression and how it is like dead fish, it’s worth a read. She explains it in a way that makes so much sense, and is funny as hell. It’s also a great way to help friends and family understand what you’re going through, how they can help, and how they’re not being helpful.

Another great writer about depression, who is also funny as hell, is Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess.

Neither of these women need me to pump up their volume; they’re both quite famous, and each has a book published in the last few years about their blogs and life experiences. But when we’re talking about surviving depression, it’s all hands on deck, people.

Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Dear Migraine Link Roundup,

I thought I’d try to do a weekly link roundup with a theme. Migraines are making the timing of this a little loosey-goosey; however, it is appropriate that this week’s theme is migraine news. There’s some important stuff going on, so I’ve put it in a handy-dandy list with summations for your viewing pleasure.

There’s so much about this chart that makes me want to say, “Duh.”

 

Newest Theory on the Why of Migraines

Nordic scientists say it’s not about blood vessels anymore:

“Contrary to what has previously been believed, we found that the arteries on the outside of the skull did not expand during migraine attacks,” says Amin.

“Arteries inside the skull were only slightly expanded on the side where the headache was felt, compared to the other side where no pain was felt.”

Updated Assessment of Medications to Treat Acute Migraine 

An updated assessment of the best treatments to use when a migraine attack occurs was recently published, forming the basis of the new American Headache Society treatment guidelines.

Neurology Then and Now: How our understanding of five common neurologic conditions has changed in 30 years. From Neurology Now, December/January, 2014. Volume 10(6), p 32–35

In a small section, the author looks at how migraines have been treated over the past 30 years. Once treated simply as a pain disorder to our current understanding of the “sensitive brain,” and genetic testing, she explains that migraine treatment is now focused on treating a “constellation of diseases.”

New Treatment for Migraines

This Time magazine article focuses on a new study of a lidocaine treatment used for chronic migraine sufferers that can offer prolonged relief.

10 Secrets of Successful Chronic Migraineurs 

The secret to surviving with chronic, debilitating migraines is to accept that the life you had is gone, and to build a new life. Impossible? No, but hard, yes. Check out the other secrets to finding a happy life with chronic, daily migraines.

New Painkiller is Coming

 Because stronger opiods are always the answer, there’s a new one coming. It’s called Zohydro, and it’s super-dooper-ooper addictive.

New Study Rates Migraine Medications

This study was surprising; some standard migraine drugs were rated as less helpful, while others (combination medications) rose to the top of the list.

NPR’s KERA Think Show: Paying Mind to Mental Health podcast 

Lots of migraineurs suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. This podcast focuses on how we think about mental illness and how we can better help those who have mental illness.

And now you all have my linkety love,

Payne.

P.S. If you want to talk about anything up there that interests you, or if you don’t want to read the whole thing but want to ask me questions, make a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

Dear Disability,

Disability, disabled … these are loaded words. These are words that change a life completely, forever. They move a person from the category of “everyone,” and put them into a misshapen, ugly box that confounds both the disabled and the everyone.

The disability box is a bit like Pandora’s. All sorts of things spill out, many completely unexpected. And when you’re overwhelmed and wondering why the hell you bothered, look to the bottom of the box where Pandora found hope. There, you’ll find yours: the disability parking permit.

Despite being a certified genius, creative as hell, having a monster of a work ethic, being able to meet deadlines anyway, migraines destroyed my career. I was a professional writer, editor and graphic designer.

I’ve had migraines for 18 years; I worked for 14 of those in seven different jobs. Of those seven, I was fired from three and left two others because of my migraines.

But for many, many years, the thought that I was disabled never crossed my mind. Sure, by job three the migraines had grown to be blinding, I vomited constantly, and I had both severe depression and anxiety disorders. So, I was fired from that and the next job.

It was so important to look perfect on the outside. Make-up? Check. Hair? Check. Outfit? Check. But that meant no one knew what was going on, that I needed help, that my pain was real. If I had been able to ask for help a million years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Poor Barbie. I squish your head just to make me feel better.

It wasn’t for two more jobs that I finally took the word “disability” out and looked at it. I was about to be fired again. It was just after the tech bubble burst. I needed to keep that job, even if that job was horrible, destructive, and making my migraines worse every single day.

The organization, the Texas Society of CPAs, was the most abusive, crooked place I’ve ever worked. It took five years of therapy to build back up what they tore down. I still dream of a meteor crushing the building so I can dance with glee on the burning ashes. I still hope they get a painful, drawn-out cancer and die. I still hope everything they did to me is visited upon them threefold. I name them so that anyone applying for that position might Google the organization and be warned.

But I digress.

To keep that job, I looked at that word. Disability. Disabled. Was that me? I was missing a lot of work. I was still hitting my deadlines. If I could work at home sometimes, I thought I’d do better. There were some other, minor accommodations that would help. TSCPA said no.

I have mad research skills, so I figured out what the next step would be: I would file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC. There was paperwork, then an interview with a woman crumpled in a wheelchair who looked at me like, “Seriously? This is disabled. Go home.”

But I had evidence. Back then, blogging was just starting to be a thing, and I was venting and grousing and bitching and whining on mine. The company had documented my rejected requests for accommodation.

So the EEOC said my claim was valid; I had the right to sue. Which left me boggled. What the hell did I do next? My husband at the time, now affectionately called “that idiot,” and I made reasonable money, but certainly not enough for a lawyer to fight this out.

It turned out the threat and the weight of the EEOC was enough. They couldn’t fire me for my disability.

Instead, they made my job as miserable, as unhappy, as impossible as they could. They did everything to make me quit. A day wasn’t finished if they hadn’t made me cry.

But I was made of some tough damn stuff. I was raised to believe that You Do Not Quit. So I hung in there and fought. And my migraines spiraled out of control.

I ended up in the hospital for 11 days with a migraine they couldn’t break. CT scans, MRIs, two spinal taps … they were sure I was dying. But I didn’t. And as soon as I was on my feet, sooner then the doctor wanted, I was back at work.

And work was worse. And the migraines were worse.

My neurologist finally told me he wouldn’t give me any more painkillers unless I went to a pain management doctor. Kicking and screaming, I went. That first intake interview …

He asked about my job. I ended up hysterically sobbing about how I had put out the magazine alone that month, and the only error was in a caption. Someone’s title was wrong. And for that, they were writing me up, putting it my personnel file.

And the good Dr. Cohen said, “If you don’t take some time off from that job, you’ll be dead within two months.”

It was a miracle. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was my saving grace.

Someone finally told me it was okay to quit. Someone finally told me it was okay to stop.

What constitutes reaching the light? When exactly do you say, “Yes, I’ve made it out of that tunnel, and I’m fully in the sunlight. No more dark tunnels for me, sir.”

More on this later. I suppose that makes this Part I.

It’s okay to stop, so I am,

Payne.