Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All I Wanted For Christmas Was My Sanity

Yeah, hi.  Merry, merry and all that stuff.

This entry isn't about fibromyalgia, but it is about pain.  Who wants to read about pain and depression right before Christmas? Not many, so, I held off publishing until after the post-Christmas blues kick in anyway.

When I started writing this blog, the one thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want an angst-filled 'Dear Diary' confessionional. Fibromyalgia is a serious, heavy topic, but I wanted to keep it light and cheery. As my blog developed, I discovered some messy and ugly truths: sorry George Bailey, but it isn't always a wonderful life.

Most of us re-hash and review the year as December 31st approaches. I came to the conclusion that my writing tasted heavily of vanilla.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with vanilla. But it can become bland after a while. In keeping with a vanilla theme, I deliberately omitted major, painful episodes of my life. I did this, partially for privacy and partly because I didn't want to scare away potential readers or followers. Mostly, I was afraid I would uncover aspects of myself that I didn't care to examine. I've been called a Suzy Snowflake writer. I adore humour and making people laugh but that's not all I'm capable of writing. Sometimes I want to get down into that sticky, messy  ice-cream banana split and expose the nuts,  the fruits and (coconut) flakes Stephen King-style.

Play along with me now for a quick game of Truth or Dare: Truth: I've had periodic depression most of my adult life. Ya get knocked down and ya try to get back up. That's the aim of that game. But, after too many body slams to the mat, it isn't so easy or appealing to keep getting back up. Now, it requires a strong will and a fistful of reasons to try it again. Truth: I'm afraid I'm running out of reasons. It feels safer to stay down for the count.

I don't know if it's karmic payback or what, but my self-esteem has been getting kicked in the metaphorical teeth on a regular basis. I'd always thought of myself as a kind and considerate person. But, with relentless shit raining down on my head, I've been forced into a self-introspective role. Not to mention duck and cover mode.

Things started to sour after my husband sustained a back injury that left him in excrutiating pain. At the time, we, obviously, had no way of knowing what the future held for us. Was this to be a permanent way of life for our family?  Or a  short-term disability? Due to recurring bouts of depression and fibromyalgia, I was filed under the unemployable category. Since my husband is the sole support of income for our family, the thought of extended disability or giving up his job absolutely terrified me. Mid-year, my fibro had settled down enough for me to live a reasonably normal life. Naturally, I assumed my husband would be waiting for me with open arms. We could now indulge in hobbies and long walks along the seaside, where my chiffon gown would billow behind me in the warm breeze. Drats - that was a commercial. Instead, my wonderful husband was bent, limping and in more pain than I had ever been. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, I raged.

I have a brother who spent the last six years living in China. I worried for his safety and he did experience rough times and bad circumstances. Recently he did return to Canada. When he did I somehow bore the brunt of an undeserved, heated telephone exchange with his ex. Her venomous attack left me with a 2-day migraine and 1-week recovery period. This toxic exchange was the beginning of my descent into darkness and depression. Again.

Two weeks later, a minor spat between friends turned into a major loss. I didn't see this one coming at all.  For the sake of brevity, I will summarize the entire incident as a foolish misunderstanding over a book club dispute. I lost a 20 year friendship because of it. Gone - in the snap of a finger, the blink of an eyeAs the club creator, I was green. I had never facilitated a book club before. I certainly had no idea that reading could turn into heckling bloodsport. In hindsight, I should have handled our frequent disagreements sooner than I did. Anyone with a working pair of eyes could see that a squall was brewing between myself and my rebellious friend. On the crucial evening, I donned (imaginary) chain metal to protect myself from her anticipated attack. I vowed to myself that she would not find a chink in my armour. But she did. She got in. She found my weak spot and I lost my composure. Kaboom. The old saying goes that it takes two to make a fight. My blow-up stunned everyone in the room, especially myself. The only person it didn't silence was my feuding friend who continued to blather away at higher and higher decibels. Sooooo, the whole scene was uber-awkward... the kind of situation where you pray for spontaneous human combustion. I'd known my friend to carry grudges in the past.  There was no doubt in my mind I had just killed a 20-year friendship: a friendship filled with memories of camping and boating together; of raising families together. We celebrated dozens of birthdays as a close foursome for two decades.
Gone.
In an instant. 
Time of death: 9:00 p.m. September 27, 2010 with a D.N.R. clause firmly in place.

Afterward, I found myself experiencing shock and the five stages of grief following a loss. Different people reacted in varying ways to the book club debacle. Some shrugged it off. Some raged. Some took their anger out on the wrong people. Some people were ostracized and the club imploded on itself.
I openly admit I have emotional issues and this is where I go off the beam, just a little. I not only take on the entire blame of a confrontation myself, but I inhale from so it deeply that guilt wafts from my pores. Self-blame, self-abuse and unhealthy helpings of guilt are often hallmarks of childhood abuse. Where am I going with this?  In my case, this self-sabotaging behaviour developed from childhood sexual abuse. I must make it clear that NO ONE in my family was involved in my abusive history. At any rate, when abuse continues unreported, unresolved and most damaging of all, unbelieved, a child will likely go on to develop P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder) or some variant among a host of other emotional and physical disorders.

My point is: I experienced a highly stressful event after losing a friend. Like most people I found it to be deeply upsetting. Unlike most people, I went on to blame myself for ALL of it. I took on a Costco-sized portion of guilt. I felt deeply ashamed of myself. I'm talking about abnormally excessive shame. After many years of therapy, I've come to learn the point at which my feelings [of guilt and shame] reach a critical stage. At this point, a shame spiral is triggered and the shame becomes out of control. I'm at risk of lapsing back into harmful 'coping' mechanisms developed in childhood. During abusive episodes, victims commonly tune or zone out as a means of self-preservation. Feelings of shame, guilt and self-hatred can often be assauged by a strange, dysfunctional 'coping mechanism' which can  include harming oneself. It seems to act as a pressure valve, of sorts, letting off the emotional steam. Emotional pain can be by-passed or distracted by physical pain. Harming oneself by cutting, burning, self-mutilation is a common, misunderstood practice used by many victims of abuse.

Fast forward to present day: fibro still kicking my ass and having increased headaches. My thyroid gland has been fiddled and diddled, palpated and patted down something akin to an airport security check. The new drugs they've thrown at me can worsen depression, I'm told. If that wasn't so ironically tragic, I might find enough mirth to shove my head into the oven and share a chuckle or two with the FDA. One drug can cure problem A only to cause problems B and C. Coping with major illness and pain is difficult enough for the average person to handle, yes? Start adding in repeated unprovoked attacks and a person doesn't get the chance to regain any kind of resilience. This can further weaken the immune system and coping skills, leading to worsening depression and many other nasties.  Folks, that was my 2010, in a nutshell, pun-fully intended.

Last week, I was hit with friendly fire, once again, from a person well aware that I was dangling from the abyss by my hangnails. That was the final take down. I could tolerate no more and down I went. TKO. I didn't even attempt to get up this time. I didn't even want to try. It was safer, easier to stay down. I'm now very gun-shy around people. I've developed an anxiety about being alone in a public place, due to a few embarrassing meltdowns in Superstore. Doctor's orders given to me include rest, peace and quiet and to avoid stress as much as possible. Hey, I've been attempting to do just that all year! I've been laying low but folks keep lining up at the door to pump buck shot into my ass. I cannot regain emotional equilibrium when under fire. I'd like to put in a request for solitary confinement! In a 5-star hotel with a pool, room service, a spa and a masseuse so gifted I'd weep at her touch. It doesn't take much to reduce me to a salty puddle these days..If I lay any lower, I'll be doing a belly crawl, combat-style around my house.

A few nights ago I had the occasion to mingle with the book club foe at the home of a mutual friend. The reception from her was colder than a witch's tit, as I expected.. That didn't include the awkward tension or overt hostility. It was a mistake to go and it set me back. Sooo not what I need right now.

Recently, I was stunned to hear of the sudden death of a not so distant acquaintance. She had just turned 50 years old and cancer took her. She had two kids, she was too young.

I told Santa I didn't need two front teeth this Christmas, despite having them punched out repeatedly. I wondered if he carried any sanity in his sack. Just a little to spare, to help get me back on track.

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