Steel Pieces: Drop the Armor, We are Not at War

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STEEL
Amy Taylor
I’m somewhere hidden behind the conflicting angles,
In the shadow of your heart.
Growing in the darkness, expanding
With the imposing light.
My truths dance around you,
Like words reverberating, trapped in the sewer
In steel pipes, a labyrinth
Under the hard, cement streets.
Often my words are suffocated,
Choked, leaving no room for discovery.
They are lost in the void,
The space you call your soul.
Something needs to be broken,
Your love is hardened steel.
I loathe those that tempered you,
Leaving you embedded within walls,
Unchanged, impenetrable.

 

Are we one in the same, stitched loosely from the same flowing fabric of life, love, and immortality?

Can we stand, then, out in the light, our true selves, battered and bruised and point like children, wide-eyed in curiosity and compassion, asking gently: “Where did you get that one?”  And then gently stating. “It’s ok,  I’ll kiss your boo boo and make it better”.

Somewhere along our road of pain, we’ve chosen to seal ourselves up in steel tombs, resembling, the dead, instead of floating on open channels of water, accepting we are all part of the same ocean.

Can we begin to tell our stories, out loud, like the true soldiers we are and peel off the hardened layers we thought protected us, but only lead to stagnation, alienation, and paralysis?

This is the place, my spirit longs to be.  Present day realities keep us imprisoned with our own fears and insecurities.

I recall the last Decade of my life, I refer to it as the “Decade of Darkness”.

I was desperately seeking connection in desolate places.  And in those spaces, I made my share of mistakes.  The longer I stayed in that space, the more intolerable it became.  I felt hopeless, suicidal, and ashamed.  I refused to leave a destructive relationship, I gambled often and lost a lot of money, and I became ineffective in helping my family with their addiction issues.  I became emotionally unstable, and easily enraged.  Self-loathing became a ritual and I was not always open to change.  This past year was a time of complete devastation, while at the same time the beginning of significant growth and love.  The juxtaposition of pain and growth has served as an endless backdrop of self exploration.  I’ve learned healing isn’t what I initially thought.  I see healing now as accepting what is and cultivating compassion, rather that trying to desperately “fix” people or situations that are not in my control to change.  

It’s easier said than done, but once aware a landscape of love opens up before you and opportunities abound in the domains of your life that are yours to mold and influence.  It has cleared my plate, and has provided the space to orchestrate my life without the constant distractions that are outside of my control.  

I wish you peace on this journey towards self love.  I feel that it is the access point to heal ourselves and each other.  Every broken piece must be picked up in love and forgiven.  And one’s ability to do so is exponentially increased when love is present within.  So, go ahead, love yourself.  If you can love and forgive someone who has hurt you, you can love and forgive yourself. May self compassion enfold you today and always.  It’s an imperfect journey and that we will continually expand and grow, loving ourselves and others more and more with the passing of time.  Let the light and love in!   

 

 

 

Addiction, I Hate You

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Dear Addiction,

I hate you.  I hate what you have done to those I love.  You’ve taken their lives and ruthlessly thrown them into the fire, watching them burn, with indifference.  You truly are a living embodiment of hell on earth.

Addiction, I hate you.  I loathe the day you waltzed in promising my sister that you would make things so much better for her.  Rolling out the red carpet, giving her the royal treatment, and romancing her so she would get hooked.  All the lies you fed her knowing that when it was said and done, you would have stolen another soul and left your victim scrambling, sweating, sick on the floor begging for more.  All the times you gave her and others the false impression that they could easily let go when and if they desired, knowing that your physical dependence would imprison & enslave them.

Addiction, I hate you.  I hate the power you hold and what people give up when you finally have secured your place in their soul.  They give up their identity and call themselves “addicts”, enslaving themselves to a lifetime of using and shame.  You don’t deserve the vast following of individuals victimized by you.  You are not only taking lives, you are robbing millions of their potential and peace.  Their waking hours are spent fixated on you and how to remain in your good graces.  Some will steal, lie, and destroy relationships to maintain your presence in their lives.

Addiction, I hate you.  I have what you do to families, ripping them apart.  I hate that your destruction causes bewilderment and confusion, people don’t know wether to confront or enable.  Often, children affected by your disease will defend you and will even grow up somewhat complacent and numb to the chaos you create.  You sit back waiting, chomping at the bits to claim another victim.  Children who are raised in an environment where you reign, are particularly vulnerable.  But, you tell your victim lies and you discard the loved one that confronts the drug use to try and keep the family safe.  Those screaming in the distance are muted by the noise you cause, continually deafening and disorienting your victim.

Addiction, I hate you.  I hate you for destroying family bonds.  As the flames grow higher and the devastation reaches epic proportions, some scream louder, while other enable more and shrink back in denial. I’ve screamed so much that my voice becomes hoarse, hitting a brick wall, reverberating around this dark chamber that has become all too familiar.  I’m sent to the dungeon, cold and alone, by the loved one you have claimed as your victim.  Nothing penetrates you and you lie to the victim, keeping them in the cycle that defends you and your destructive path.  You’ll admit through the smoke your mistakes, but continue to stand close to the fire.  The fire is never entirely extinguished.  I become disillusioned and dance around the flames, sometimes raging and other times desperately trying to reach you.  And you discard me once again.  

Addiction, I hate you.  Through the years of my experience knowing you, I have doubted my own reality.  I look through the eyes of the victim and I no longer know if it is you or my sister I am staring at and this devastates me.  Her kids have been touched by your fire and one is particularly close to the flames as we speak.

Addiction, I hate you.  If one ever tries to cut ties with you, you hold on like a bitch with nails, clinging, taking the life out of them.  You torture them with beatings and lashings, as they hurl you from their body, clinging to the toilet and sinking on the floor, sweating.  “I’ll teach you never to leave me!”  You snarl and spit in their face, sometimes hijacking their minds with hallucinations and delusional thinking.  No, it’s hell to leave you.  You do not want to relinquish your control.

Addiction, I hate you.  And when the dust settles, and there is stillness, then there is dealing with the aftermath while the cravings for you are forever present, occupying a permanent space in the victim’s mind.    

Addiction, I hate you.  And as if all of this was not enough, your victims wear the label of “addict”, having to rebuild, often ashamed and remorseful.  There are some who have been sitting at your table for so long they have lost themselves.  Your presence can cause changes to the brain that may lower empathy and create cognitive issues.  I am perpetually oscillating between the extremes of trying to help and becoming angry and aggressively confronting .  I am seen as harsh and cruel, when really I am sad and scared.   I have become an indirect victim, my moods and perceptions often altered by this deadly, intoxicating dance. 

Addiction, I hate you.  Because of you, I am letting go of my family.  Not just my sister, but all of my nieces and nephews.  It’s getting too hard to keep trying, only to be devalued and discarded.  I then lose my dignity in anger and rage, saying things I know will only cause more shame.  I begin to wonder if some victims never reach full recovery from you.  And, then I hate on you some more.  

Your reign in my life is over addiction.  I have truly tried to save my sister and her kids from your very ugly, abusive ways, but it is up to them to ride this dangerous storm out.  I will remain hopeful that they one day eradicate you from every inch of their lives.  You have absolutely no place in mine.  I will be more effective letting go, healing, and remaining available when and if any are ready.

Goodbye addiction.  I’ve learned that if you are to leave from any person you have touched, it has to be the victim cutting ties.  No one can do it for them.  

I hate you.

I hope to one day stand on the other side of you, with my family, free from the pain and suffering you’ve created.

Our story is complete.  

 

 

Touched By Living Pieces of History: 6 Lessons Learned While Serving Elders

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Some of the most rewarding and meaningful times in my life were spent serving the elder population as an Activity Director in both skilled nursing facilities and retirement communities.  I enjoyed planning and facilitating events and activities that often brought joy, meaning, and laughter to those served.  We would picnic, play trivia & games, sing, and celebrate the seasons and holidays as they rolled around each year.  Providing opportunities for people to connect with others in meaningful ways was immensely fulfilling.  I’ve often wanted to express my gratitude for the “gifts” I received while serving our senior population.  I have felt “eternally compensated” for the often intangible blessings received.  Below, I share six lovely lessons learned while serving seniors that have enriched my life.  I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I was given to serve and the lessons learned in the process.

Six Lessons Learned:

    1. Age is only a reflection of the length of time lived, it doesn’t define the individual.  Society has a tendency to stereotype older adults, often defining elders in ways that are simply inaccurate and, at times, even insulting.  My years of working with them, exposed me to the rich diversity displayed in the population.  I would often marvel at the fact that most of the seniors I served were more active, both socially and physically than I was.  Some of the residents I served in retirement communities were driving and very active in the community.  One gentleman even owned a plane that he occasionally flew!  Most of them regularly participated in community events such as entertainment, happy hour, and seasonal celebrations.  Many participated in trips, traveling to see museums and ball games, while some actively participated in yoga and even biking!  People often are very limited in how they perceive retirement communities and are surprised to learn that they are vibrant and busy.  Many elders were rich in their social networks and enjoyed a variety of leisure pursuits.  This not only allowed me to have better programming and rapport with my residents, but it also cultivated a sense of advocacy related to issues of aging and a voice to dispel myths and harmful stereotypes.   Those I served were an inspiration to me.  I learned to never assume someone’s limitations based on age alone.
    2. Sometimes the simple things in life are the most meaningful. I have been blessed to witness some of the most beautiful acts of kindness and love in the most ordinary ways.  When working in memory care, residents were particularly challenged and often in need of reassurance due to their cognitive difficulties. Many times these acts witnessed were between husband and wife, a spouse spending  hours reading to their loved one, holding their hand to comfort them, and dining with them at each mealtime.  Simple activities like singing, baking, and playing cards were filled with moments of endearment where residents would look after one another even when all of them were struggling.  One of my favorite moments was seeing the look of surprise, excitement, and sheer delight when Santa arrived at a Christmas party to visit our residents in the memory care unit.  Another time, a woman who had severe dementia who often never spoke, busting out in song when we began singing Away and A Manger and several of us had a hard time not losing it.  Her voice often silenced by her disease, came though in a low, guttural tune in joy and determination.  We knew the music had penetrated her, allowing recall of the tune and words.  This was pure gold to me and I still get choked up recalling that beautiful moment of joy.  It’s what we all live for, joy and connection.
    3. Providing dignity in caregiving is executed through the details.  I have been both a caregiver and an Activity Director and have always made it a mission  to ensure that the care and programs provided were executed in a way that promoted dignity.  For example, as an activity director, I would orchestrate teas for our residents to enjoy.  I had younger staff that wanted to quickly throw a tea together without paying attention to the details which was not dignified to me.  No one goes to a restaurant or someone’s home to be entertained and when they arrive things are not ready or put together.  I ensured that the table was nicely decorated with a centerpiece and all the supplies from sugar & honey to cream were ready so that they did not spend a long time waiting to be served.  This level of planning and preparation demonstrated that they were valued whether it was a tea for those in memory care or those in independent living .  As a caregiver for residents that needed assistance with their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), like showering and eating, simple details like ensuring that their shirt was tucked in appropriately so that creasing and discomfort was minimized, was one way dignity was preserved.  I learned the valuable lesson that details are important and that our dignity is preserved in the process of being aware of the “small stuff”.  I guess the saying “little things mean a lot” rings true when ensuring that a resident’s needs are met.
    4. The right recreation programming cultivates connection and purpose through limitless opportunities to recreate with others.  I’ve learned that the most successful programs are driven by the voice of the residents and offer many events where people can socialize and make new connections while maintaining old ones.  Working in cooperation with residents and cultivating an environment that welcomes feedback, will provide the steam needed for the program to grow and diversify.  The benefits will be plenty!
    5. Go with the flow, Be flexible!  While working in the busy and self-paced environment of a skilled nursing facility, I learned to let go of the unrealistic expectations that things had to go perfectly, as planned.  There were so many factors that were out of my control from dealing with inclement weather that might threaten an event that was planned, to the times events were cancelled to prevent the spread of the flu.  There were also day to day distractions from fire alarms to staff shortages.  And when serving elders who struggled with dementia, it was imperative to stay highly attuned to the mood and emotional state of the residents as some activities had to be canned to prevent agitation and to avoid escalation.  These times taught me to “roll with it”.  I learned that the journey and the connection to others in the process were more important than the strict adherence to the scheduled event.  When events had to be changed due to safety  or other reasons, I learned to “let go” in the process and accept, come what may.  These lessons trickled into my personal life and have helped me adjust to change and be patient in the process.
    6. Recreation is a motivational force in treating illness, both mental and physical.  I learned through the observation of countless recreational pursuits and endeavors, that connecting to some entity other than one’s self is a powerful tool to restore and boost the health of someone struggling.  Endeavors such as gardening, reading, or interacting with pets act as a powerful agents of change in the transformation of a resident’s life, providing stimulation and purpose.  I often remind myself when I am in a slump to engage in the recreational pursuits that I enjoy.  Working with seniors revealed to me that at any stage of our life connection is an important part of what makes us happy and alive.    I was blessed to be a part of the process that helps facilitate opportunities for seniors to recreate and connect.

I’m sure I could list many other lessons that were equally significant, while some of what I learned is difficult to express in words.  The time I spent serving elders changed how I perceived the world.  I was able to touch “pieces” of living history and listen to stories shared by those who lived in very different times.  The voices of my residents will always remain a part of me, and will be valued and cherished for years to come.

Embracing the Mentally Ill in the Workplace: We Work Too!

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Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.

Sigmund Freud 

I’ve struggled the last 20 years while working and am in a period of regrouping at the moment.  I have been accommodated at work, have negotiated severances and settlements due to discriminatory practices, and have spent time becoming aware of the resources available to me.  I also have been a recipient of vocational rehabilitation services where I was able to have my tuition paid for to complete my MS degree in Recreation Therapy.  I’m not certain what my next work endeavor will be as right now I am currently recovering.  I’m an advocate for embracing the mentally ill in the workplace and am writing to hopefully help those who are also struggling. 

Living with a mental illness often, at one time or another, will impact work performance and perhaps, threaten viability.  Life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes a stressful event or situation, will cause decompensation even with medication and treatment compliance.  During these times, work relations and performance can be compromised in various ways, discussed below.  Each person struggling is unique with the challenges they face, and often will have ways they adapt and cope.  Some individuals may need to request accommodations from their employer.  In most cases, an individual with a disability has rights through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to receive accommodations while working, absent undue hardship on the employer.  Many people struggling are unaware of their rights and the responsibilities of the employer regarding workplace accommodations.  For example, the employer has the responsibility to approach and offer assistance with the accommodations process if they can visibly see a person struggling or the employee mentions that they are struggling due to their disability.  Also, if an individual with a disability requests accommodations the workplace is obligated to engage in an interactive dialogue regarding the implementation of accommodations in order to help the person remain employed and successful in their job.  The person with a disability must be qualified for their position and able to perform the job with or without accommodations in order to be eligible to receive accommodations and they will more than likely need documentation from a medical provider.

Being aware of the various ways people struggle, will hopefully cultivate sensitivity.  A mental illness is often revealed through one’s behavior, and co-workers & supervisors may mistakenly attribute symptoms as personality traits.  This is not only invalidating, but can increase symptoms by placing unrealistic demands on an individual suffering due to no fault of their own.  Remember, that each person who struggles is unique and is doing the best they can with an illness that they would rather not have.

The following are some of the ways an individual with a mental illness may struggle while working.  These are only a handful of examples and the list is not an extensive one

  1. Work Attendance:  The symptoms of a mental illness alone are often severe enough to cause an individual suffering to remain at home, in bed all day.  These symptoms can range from extreme fatigue, tearfulness, anxiety, and even feelings of derealization.  It is difficult to be fully present, when unable to focus and feel a part of your surroundings.  Attendance can also be affected as an episode can often exacerbate other illnesses an individual struggles with, for instance, migraines and IBS.  Often, an episode can cause insomnia or excessive sleep both of which can impact immunity.  People who do not suffer often downplay the severity of an episode and the multitude of symptoms it can cause for an individual that may result in absenteeism.
  2. Work Productivity: Due to a diminished ability to concentrate and attend to appropriate stimuli, mistakes can be made or work may not get completed.
  3. Work Relations: Many symptoms can cause strained relationships in the workplace.  Mood disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, and ADHD all can cause impulsivity that can result in someone blurting something out that is perhaps inappropriate, at times.  When someone is episodic their perceptions may not be as clear which may cause misunderstandings resulting in conflicts.  Often times, because co-worker are unaware of the disorder due lack of disclosure, these symptoms are mischaracterized as someone’s personality, instead of attributing them to an illness.  Even with people knowing about the illness, stigma is so prevalent and illnesses so vastly misunderstood that people develop a negative view of the person suffering. This only serves to further alienate the individual often causing relapse or a continuation of symptoms.  Individuals who are suffering are often aware that they struggle and the act of hiding their symptoms for fear of not being accepted and embraced is another reason why symptoms increase.  Interpersonal conflict at work or at home is a trigger for an episode and being in an unwelcoming, hostile work environment is truly unhealthy for the individual suffering from a mental illness.
  4. Disclosure of the Illness: Many people choose not to disclose that they are suffering with a mental illness to an employer due to the prevalence of stigma and lack of awareness.  Most applications now will ask if you are able to do the job with or without accommodations and if you are requesting them at the present time.  Many people who struggle continue to do so privately for fear they will not get offered the job, especially when the job has not been landed yet.  Their thinking might be that they feel they can manage and want to develop rapport and a relationship, learn the culture, before feeling safe enough to disclose.  Even so disclosing in certain environments can be challenging, once the private information is disclosed, there isn’t a way to retract the information and people often are not sensitive, nor aware of the struggle of mental illness.  All of this aside, there are many people out there, working, receiving accommodations with success and feeling comfortable with those around them.  Many more have disclosed and have felt discriminated against and have lost jobs.  There may be a time during a severe episode where in order to save your job, it is best to disclose and request accommodations.  At this point, with an accommodations request on the table, if an employer refuses to work with you, you do have leverage.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the entity that will accept charges of discrimination and will investigate and potentially mediate for a resolution or provide a “right to sue” letter in order for a lawyer to be obtained.
  5. Work Environment: Another consideration for a person with a mental illness is if their disability is compatible with the environment.  Environments that are dark with little to no sunlight during long winters in the Northwestern part of the country, for example, may truly drain a person with a depressive disorder.  A loud, noisy office, constructed of cubicles, allowing for multiple disruptions during the day may be difficult for someone who struggles with ADHD disorder.  If a person is having a difficult time performing well due to the environment, there might be an opportunity to receive the accommodation of having an office near sunlight or one that is away from distraction absent undue hardship for the employer.
  6. Benefits/Paid Time Off: Because episodes are often unpredictable in both frequency and duration, it may be a wise idea to become aware of the policies and benefits surrounding paid leave.  Finding a company where benefits are ample, even if pay is less, may be better than struggling along from job to job that is not sustainable when suffering with an illness.

There are two resources that are helpful when navigating the accommodations process.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which can answer questions related to your rights and the workplace’s responsibilities related to receiving workplace accommodations. https://www.eeoc.gov//   And, The Job Accommodations Network (JAN), an excellent resource that gives specific examples of workplace accommodations for people who are struggling. https://askjan.org

Many people who have a mental illness are not affected in the workplace, or it is infrequent and not severe enough to request accommodations while working.  But for those who are struggling the two sources can be an invaluable tool in navigating the accommodations process.  One can also apply for Vocational Rehabilitation services, which is a state-funded service that helps those with disabilities to be successful at work.  Often they provide training, support through funding to attend school, and can help with the accommodations process.  There are many resources out there for those struggling with employment, the largest challenge is the stigma and lack of knowledge relating to mental health issues.   Using our voices and sharing our struggling will break that barrier in time.   Thanks for reading!  I wish you much success in the navigation of the work world!  #WeWorkToo

 

The Great Scapegoat’s Escape: When to Cut Ties

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I’ve been wandering around, lost, in this desolate wasteland, devoid of growth, authenticity, and connection for years.  I’ve been using my voice, often much too loudly, shouting to be heard, only to sit with invalidating reverberations in solitude, suffocating, choking on the stagnant air.  There were many days I toiled on the land, planting seeds, with the hope of making this landscape fertile.  My head bent down in the scorching sun, weary, I would lose myself in ambition, hopeful that one day I would be able to connect to those I loved.  Over time, I realized the futility of my efforts, and I sat invisible, scanning the horizon, in a place where my voice had lost its significance.

In this space of desperation, where I had begged not only for love, but visibility, I was given a true gift, my voice.

The last two years, I desperately clung to relationships that had long ago expired.  I wrote an embarrassing amount of letters, e-mails, and texts to keep the lines of communication open, while at the same time, putting my foot down and demanding reciprocation and respect.  I would have much preferred connection in a healthy space with those I love, but I also was aware that I would not tolerate accepting so little when I had given so much.

Two years I spent at war, demanding respect while attempting to rebuild.  I was imperfect in this process.  I often was ignored and mischaracterized which only fueled the the fire.  It wasn’t too long ago the I partially accepted the gaslighting as I was unaware of what was actually occuring.  In the past, I would doubt my reality and become increasingly sick from the starved wasteland that had become my life.  While I struggled alone, becoming more depressed and anxious, I was called “crazy” and encouraged to “commit suicide already”.  There wasn’t any real concern about the state of my mental health from those wrapped up in their own ego and importance.  I was berated for my voice and mere existence and told multiple times to “get lost”.  Albeit I was confronting some very difficult realities of the past and present and knew that this would be a difficult relationship to mend.  I wasn’t ready to completely give up and abandon a landscape that I knew needed to heal.

Often, I was muted as my words and concerns fell to the floor, overshadowed by someone who had been given more significance than me.  It was a lifelong pattern and one that has not been questioned or even see by others.  It has been easy to use my Bipolar diagnosis to dismiss the behavior I confronted and cause me to question myself.  However, things escalated over the past two years and I felt more confident and confronted the destruction that had been caused.  Ultimately, there was no real level of accountability and I received the double whammy of my credibility coming into question due to manipulation and lies.  I was now the manipulator and liar.  I’ve read enough about both narcissism and sociopathy to acknowledge that this was what I was up against.  Often narcissist and sociopaths have the ability to manipulate and charm others to believe them, even if they are not credible individuals.

It was this awareness that has allowed me to let go.  I could see that I was in a hopeless relationship and staying would only make me more miserable and in turn any work with them fruitless.  I have learned that people have to actively search for the truth and desire it.  Some individuals simple do not want to “do the work”.  Instead it is easier in confrontation to believe the story that doesn’t cause them to question the reality they have been comfortable living with for years.  I decided that I could not live wandering around that desolate wasteland of disconnection and derealization any longer.

The greatest thing I learned is when you are stuck screaming to be seen and heard in a situation for years, cut the ties.  I could stay and lose my identity and voice in order to placate and enable the devastation I see created by this individuals actions, but that would only serve to erase me.  I spent years silencing myself so that others could continue to have there, often time, dysfunctional reality supported.  Why stand in the barren wasteland, alone, when there is fertility within you.  I’ve taking my passion and love that is inside me and rebuilding my life in love with authenticity.  I will surround myself with people who acknowledge my presence and where my voice has significance.  It’s hard to believe I spent so many years wrapped up with people who did not even “see me” or know me.  I take accountability for remaining involved and losing my dignity as I fought to hang on to those I loved.  As the scapegoat, and the one who confronted, I was see as the problem and my personhood was denied in order to support their reality.

It’s ok to leave.  I matter.  I have a voice.  I am visible.  And I will rebuild.

 

Watching You Suffer

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I see you suffering and I acknowledge your struggle.  You’re dragging around this heavy wrecking ball, fearful of both hanging on and letting go.  There is a part of you that is becoming so exhausted, clinging to this shattered dream.  You spend each day searching for any signs of love, security, or hope that may still exist in this desperate situation that consumes you.  You want more for yourself, but you haven’t committed to the process that will bring you through to the other side.  Self love seems to be this elusive, unattainable reality that is easy to post memes about, but more difficult to practice or embody.

There is a stillness inside of you that will guide you to your homeport where you can seek refuge and be safe.

I see you suffering and acknowledge your struggle.  When stillness engulfs you, you flee making desperate efforts to find stimulation and solace.  You are apprehensive and uncomfortable with being still.  It is easier to remain engaged in chaos, it is what you are familiar with and what you know.   And so, you’ll seek stimulation in substances, in partners, family drama, food, sex, gambling, etc.  Those things become your way of coping and they distance you from yourself and what you think you don’t want to know.  It is appealing to engage is endless distraction.

You spend your days dealing with the problems that arise out of your preoccupations rather than accepting accountability and listening in the stillness to what your voice wants to tell you.  Often these preoccupations from abusive relationships to addiction, provide the daily drama that keeps you hooked into what you have mistakenly fabricated as “your life”.  Everything from financial woes to strained relationships with loved ones who truly care for you, is emanating from the web of deception telling you daily that you are trapped.  It took years to form the cage you feel safe in and you willingly discard the key that will set you free.  Instead you have bonded with the lies that make up the fable of your life.

I see you suffering and acknowledge your struggle.  Your voice has been desperately trying to break through to you.  It longs to sit with you in the silence and hold you in that sacred space, communing with your authentic voice.  It is ready to penetrate through the daily bullshit that keeps you hooked in the madness that you have began to identify as your life.  There are days your voice trickles over, spilling from your eyelids, rolling down your cheeks.  And still yet, with it shaking you, through violent sobbing, you get up, searching for something to soothe yourself, silencing yourself, becoming lost once again.  When will you listen to your voice?  It has so many beautiful stories to share with you.

I see your struggle and will rejoice when you finally let go in courage and create a pathway through action and intention to free yourself.  Everything you created for your safety and survival long ago is crushing your spirit and holding you back today.  There is no longer a reason to doubt your strength and ability to protect yourself.

I see you suffering and I know it’s getting harder to hang on than to let go.  It’s almost time.  You have this.  You are enough.  You always have been.

The Bipolar Bucket, Sorting it All Out

This was written a few weeks ago and I decided to post it because I felt it might help some of you that are suffering.  Often, unless you suffer yourself it is difficult to understand all the mixed emotions that come with having a mental illness.  Some days you are truly tired and just want someone to “get it”.  I hope this strikes a chord with some of you.  From my stories to the stories you share, we’ll muddle through.  I wish you light along the path.

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I’m spent.  I am honestly exhausted, depressed, raw, and realistic. 

I’m tired of the day to day “pop psychology”, “feel good” statements that make perfect sense of some level, but are difficult to implement in real life.  Don’t let the simplistic messages fool you into thinking it is easy.  Healing and managing a persistent and severe mental illness is challenging, to say the least.

I grow weary of having to defend myself against those who comment on and criticize my functional level during episodes when I am struggling.  I often have to hold back when they ask if I’ve “taken my meds”.  Every negative emotion gets thrown in the Bipolar Bucket, often discrediting daily struggles that lie outside of my illness.  I am always striving to improve and yet, my illness is outside of those parameters, it will exist despite how “good or bad” I perform when it comes to maintaining healthy routines.  Often times, mania or depression will blindside me even when I’ve been doing well and feeling lifted.  It always is shocking even though I’ve lived with this illness for over two decades now.

Some people seem to think IF ONLY I exercised, ate better, slept, and engaged in healthy leisure pursuits, I wouldn’t suffer so much.  I feel I would be able to do those things if did not have an illness that by definition causes deficits in those areas.  Do these same people realize that I was athletically at the TOP OF MY GAME, the MVP and captain of the swim team and a lead in the school musical, when my illness first reared its vicious and ugly head stealing chunks of my life, my potential, and my peace?  My first episode occurred when I was in my teen years.  I was physically strong, in shape, and full of potential when this illness RIPPED my world apart.  It was then when I STOPPED SINGING.  I was frozen by this illness for many years.

It is exhausting when people, even family, use my illness as a weapon and a way to gain leverage in an argument.  For years, my ex-Narc would use my illness to avoid discussing  our relationship by stating I was “getting sick again” each time I pushed him to discuss our concerns.  I get tired of my symptoms being mistaken for my character.  My essence is not my illness, although I do acknowledge that having symptoms that affect my behavior lends to a confusing mess, even for me!  It has taken years for me to separate my identity from an illness that relentlessly tries to steal my sense of self and identity.  It is heartbreaking to have to sit on the bench and watch others compete and perform, knowing that my potential is being held captive by an illness.  Without this illness, I would have been able to manage my emotions and perceptions with ease and have the gift of taking it all for granted along the way.  Such bliss!

I get so fatigued from the process of trying and then later failing at work due to the symptoms and stigma of this illness.  It’s difficult to be raw and vulnerable, disclosing a stigmatized illness and requesting accommodations only to feel discriminated against in the end.  It was devastating losing jobs to an illness which meant an increase in symptoms from being triggered by the event and often times loss of housing, medical insurance, and medical providers.  This meant that my care was not consistent and my treatment was disrupted again and again.  

And as hard as that all is, it’s harder to hold all of that within you and know that people do not believe you, think you are not doing enough, making excuses, and just not taking control over your life.

This illness has stolen my potential, my credibility, my peace, many relationships, my health, my perceptions, my moods.  It has hijacked so much and yet, it is so misunderstood that we are still fighting stigma today.  When an illness affects your emotions and perceptions which alter your behaviors, how much of your performance is yours and how much is the illness? It is a beast to manage.  I reign it in, only to realize it’s dragging me down the road that I was certain I had closed.  Consistency is truly difficult to establish when your perceptions and emotions are continually held hostage..

THIS LIFE.  And AH, the windows!!  Those beautiful, crystal clear windows, where clarity is provided.  That picture is taken away and forgotten more quickly for those of us who suffer than those who do not.  When the windows of clarity are no longer in sight, it is so much harder to retrieve during times of decompensation.  Those beautiful windows disappear and are inaccessible even if someone on the outside is desperately trying to find a way inside to provide reason, clarity, and calm.   

I’m teasing it all out, right now.  The weight of this illness is crushing and it is a burden most will not understand.  It is like traveling a long journey with an 80 lbs “invisible” pack and because of the weight, you have to set it down sometimes.  There are times you lament about it, wish it were not there and possibly talk of giving up and not finishing the hike.  Others will fly by you, weightless, and they wonder why you have to take so many rests, why you gripe so much.  Given that it is invisible and not something you talk about openly, many will not understand how exhausted you are and some will discredit you, causing you to lash out in defense.  Others will blame and shame you, stating that perhaps you didn’t train as much as the others and will call you lazy.  No one is able to see the load so they are not able to understand your reality.  Thus, you suffer on, in a silent prison, with a weight you are unable to let go of while others share the many ways for you to “shake it off”.  All of these ways of which you have tried without success, but no one listens or believes you. The world gazes upon you with expectations that are unrealistic and it becomes a maddening and disillusioning experience to live through.

If people only knew… and some of you do.  

Today, is one of those days, I just want to sit it out.  I’m a bucket full of complex and conflicting emotions.  I just wish it were easier.