Life is an Absurdist Waterpark

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The diagram below showed up in my newsfeed a few days ago and I had this visceral, knee-jerk reaction that it was wrong. Mind you, I haven’t been the best Bible student the last few years, though there has been a significant uptick in that since starting seminary a few weeks ago.

Something that many people don’t know is my imagination is in pictures, not in words. This sometimes makes the task of putting creative thoughts to paper a little more difficult sometimes. But, as I tumbled the idea this image represented, the response I concocted was straight from the brain to the fingertips and I got some positive feedback. Granted, I have absolutely no experience as a parent – I don’t even play one on TV – but I think a lot of it was inspired by a lot of the reading I’ve been doing in and outside of my studies. I’m currently taking courses in the Old and New Testament as well as immersing myself in the works of Rob Bell and Peter Rollins. Something about them lights up my imagination more than anyone else in Christendom as of late.

I’ve made some adjustments and spelling corrections because I wrote this on the fly originally.

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This was the image that started the deluge of thoughts you’ll see below.

People who believe in an economy of responsibility like this probably end up either feeling like a failure or resenting those above them. This is likely because one or more people up the chain cannot, as human beings, perfectly satisfy their roles as mentioned above. To slap the term “Biblical” on it and Christ at the top just idealizes those roles even more which is just setting those involved up for even more bitterness when someone within this closed system inevitably breaks down.

Secondly, it pigeon-holes the roles of the parents in gender roles they may not even be equipped or developed to handle or even understand. Marriage and child-rearing are not job titles you immediately fit into. The jobs of mother and father are obtained by having and/or deciding to rear children. The roles you play in those children’s lives depend on your own strengths and weaknesses. So, you have these jobs, and, like any job, you try to do what you’re best at. So, it’s more like trying on different uniforms and, with each, you’re taking on that role. One day, you’re a baker, the next you’re an airline pilot, the next you’re a prison guard. That you’re male or female shouldn’t dictate your role in your child’s life.

What this graphic should really look like is a water park while it’s raining. Everyone in your family enters the pool by the water slides. The slides are the entrance into this world, the water is God’s grace (both in the pool and the rain coming from the sky; you are constantly soaked in it). You struggle to stay above water as a couple; that’s the struggle and doubt that we all deal with and have to learn to embrace to survive in the environment. Then your children come down the slide, and you have to take turns keeping them above water until they can do it themselves. But that’s okay, because you have rafts and water wings which are filled with your breath which is God-given, so God is in that too.

It’s a mess and it’s not as simple as the diagram you have pictured above but I don’t think life was ever meant to be that simple. Don’t rely on a system to define what your life should be like because you are separated from the culture of the Bible by a few millennia. Not even the people who wrote the Bible were able to uphold the ideals they wrote about; learn to embrace the uncertainty, the doubt, the mess, and the anxiety.

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On The Ledges

emdr-300x228It’s no secret I haven’t felt much like myself lately; my anxiety has been all over the place, my mood has been erratic, my desire to socialize has diminished greatly, and my ability to enjoy things I used to has given way to a certain level of dread. I haven’t really been able to pin down the reason or the source but it has become more and more apparent something needed to be done about it. My medications weren’t really touching it and my self-care techniques that had proven themselves in the past just haven’t been cutting it lately. Every moment almost seems like a mix of crisis and apathy which is a confusing combination of feelings, especially for someone who has problems interpreting emotion anyway.

Something had to be done.

Perusing my Facebook feed, of all places, I came upon an infographic a friend from college had posted (she’s now an LMHP) about EMDR and all the issues it can be used to treat. Anxiety was on that list and so, with a curious mind, I sent her a message and asked if it can be used to treat anxiety and issues associated with Asperger’s. She was quick to respond and gave me both information and names of practitioners who specialized in working with patients with ASD and used EMDR as a method of treatment.

What is EMDR?

I also did some reading and discovered the following:

Patients with ASD are noted to have reduced hemispheric laterality, a condition that has been associated with an increased likelihood of both developing PTSD and increased severity of symptoms. The prevalence of PTSD in patients with ASD is unknown, however PTSD may be more difficult to detect in ASD given that some of the symptoms of PTSD (avoidance) overlap with those of ASD. In addition, ASD may mask other symptoms of PTSD, which in turn further hinders the patient (Kosatka & Ona 13)

If you’ve kept up with this blog, though unlikely, I’ve had some moments one might consider traumatic. If they qualify me as having PTSD I have no idea, but I have been having flashes of anxiety associated with memories of past events, including past relationships and their painful endings. So, with that in mind, I contacted the closest one and discussed the possibility of treatment. She seemed optimistic in being able to help, so I scheduled my appointment and got in two days later.

Fast-forward to two days later and I am standing at the office door of a woman who is easily more than a foot shorter than I but showed no signs of intimidation, which is always a good sign. We went through the general stuff: family history, complaints, basic evaluation, etc. She then moved to a different chair right in front of me and pulled this little device out of her bag. She asked me if I was ready to try EMDR.

I told her, “Hit me with your best shot”.

She placed two little teardrop-shaped paddles wired to a box with some knobs and lights on it. She switched it on and immediately the paddles began to vibrate, alternating left and right at a consistent tempo. We then went through what she called a “touchstone moment” which was the story of a colossal failure of a relationship I had a little over 5 years ago (Go back and read my blog from 2013-2014, you’ll see what I mean).

At first it felt like I was listening to my mindfulness meditation app as she talked me through the story I had given her previously using my own words. It was the strangest sensation in the world; my eyes ceased to focus on anything and would involuntarily shift left to right as she walked me through processing the memory while the paddles vibrated in my hands.

I could feel a transition of emotions as the story progressed, from anxiety, to sadness, back to anxiety and sadness. It was like my brain was on a ride all its own while I sat on that couch and tried to focus on what I was hearing and responding to any questions. She got tough with me at one point because I gave an answer that wasn’t concrete enough for her and pushed me. The session lasted maybe 15 or 20 minutes and then we were done.

“That was way more intense than I anticipated,” I told her.

So, it seems this is the next step on my journey. I am working through the frustrating part of getting my work schedule adjusted, which has been like anything else: never cut and dry and never simple. Based on how I felt after a short session, I knew I would have difficulty going to work after a full session so I am working on getting my EMDR days off and working a weekend day instead. That has proven not to be the simplest thing in the world but I am not defeated yet. Just frustrated.

Why am I doing all of this? I’ve been seeing a therapist for over 5 years and some of the issues I’ve been trying to address I’ve been talking about a lot of that time and still haven’t gotten over them or resolved them in my mind. I felt like I resolved at least a small piece of my years of troubles in one short session with EMDR. I want to be a better me. I don’t want to be so neurotic about things and anxious about things that don’t need to be worried about. I’m tired of avoiding triggers or having to talk myself down off the wall when one comes up.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m going to crawl out of my own skin.

This song came up when I was listening to music at work. I’ve had this album for ages but I hadn’t really connected with this song until recently:

I’ve got a lot of loose ends, I’ve done some damage
I’ve cut the rope, so it frayed
I’ve got a lot of good friends, keeping me distracted
Keeping my sanity safe

And I drink a little too much, it makes me nervous
I’ve got my grandfather’s blood
And I take a little too much, without giving back
If blessed are the meek then I’m cursed

Here, I stand on the edge of the ledges I’ve made
Looking for a steady hand
Here, I stand in the land of the rocks in the valley
Trying to be a better man (for you)

I want to learn how to love
Not just the feeling
Bear all the consequences
And I want to learn how to love
And give it all back
And be forgiven for all I’ve done

Here, I stand on the edge of the ledges I’ve made
Looking for a steady hand
Here, I stand in the land of the rocks in the valley
Trying to be a better man (for you)

Kosatka, D., & Ona, C. (2014). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in a Patient With Aspergers Disorder: Case Report. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 8(1), 13-18. doi:10.1891/1933-3196.8.1.13

Shut Out the World

Closed-4167Woke up today and my apartment was too small; there was too much stuff in it and it was cranking up my anxiety. Not that burning-in-the-gut anxiety but the “excited neurons bouncing off the inside of my skull at a speed approaching that of light, nearly avoiding collision,” kind of anxiety. This is not real common for me but it’s in those moments I become hyper aware of the things that should get done around me and not necessarily right now but will need to get done eventually. I need to start sorting through my bookshelves for things to sell, I need to move all the stuff off my couch so I can throw it away, I need to pick up the floor…

 

I need to
I need to
I need to

Breathe…

The last few weeks have helped me realize I do not discharge and recharge like a battery and not those fancy Lithium ion batteries most things use these days. At the beginning cusp of my childhood, there were a lot of things that ran on Nickel-Cadmium batteries that could be very unpredictable in their charge and discharge. They’ve since been discarded for most things because they were wasteful and harmful to the environment.

Sometimes life feels like that for me

I don’t like to tell people that.

There is this persistent worry built into my DNA that feels like a disappointment to family and friends, even though I shouldn’t, because I fail at communicating, that I’m not good enough or I’m not around enough or I’m just not… enough. To some degree I’m sure a lot of people think like that and recognizing that, I’m sure, is helpful somehow but I’m not really seeing the benefit of that level of empathy right now. I feel tired, worn thin, and near the edge of what would be my second meltdown in three days and I don’t write all of this for sympathy.

Most of what I’ve put in my blog in the last week or so is a product of learning I can sometimes make more sense of my reality if I slow down enough to write it out, or maybe it will make it more real if I put it out there for eyes to see it rather than shutting out the world and let it go through the tumble cycle that is my brain over and over again. I’m in therapy, so I am intimately familiar with the reasons why having a go-to for catharsis is a good thing but I also know I’m facing obstacles that may be much bigger than I’m capable of handling, mostly my anxiety.

Unfortunately, the same anxiety I need people to know I have makes it very difficult for me to explain to people because anything I could perceive as negative, in my mind, is automatically my fault. So, if someone is having a bad day, the accusatory finger is in my face. I read Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond by Judith S. Beck (daughter of its innovator, Aaron T. Beck) and taught myself most of the skillset I have to try and reframe my thought process. It’s telling other people; I feel guilty if I tell them but I feel guilty if I don’t because then there’s the “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I don’t even know if that makes sense. My brain is already tired and I’ve been awake for less than 4 hours.

It’s times like these I remember some lines from Buddey Wakefield’s poem, Information Man:

… I can feel the rumble between dusk and dawn
As if the chance to come clean with myself will be outlawed unless I relax

I have heard, that if you pull a bent breath
Through the second hole of a harmonica
Tuned to the key of Georgia
While a train moves by on the tail end of dusk
There is a good chance you will finally know what it means to rest
I have not yet rested

A Perpetual Case of the Mondays

It’s just  understood that you should be in a foul mood on Mondays, or at least that’s the trope that we often see in media and everything else. It makes logical sense if you work a Monday-Friday job and you spend your weekends doing things that aren’t work and, one would hope, something that is relaxing and/or fun. There’s plenty of truth to it, so I’m not trying to rail against this particular stereotype.

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Garfield always despised Mondays

Unfortunately for me, the feelings that follow the weekend don’t really depend on the day. I try really hard not to resent the fact that I was not diagnosed Autistic when I was younger because I could have learned coping skills while my brain was still developing rather than trying to figure out how to cope with an adult brain. Being resistant to change with a brain that does not change as dynamically as a still-forming one is a disadvantage, but I’m trying to work with it as best I can. So, when I have a good weekend like this past one and I wake up on Monday feeling like I’ve been hit by a car, well… I’m not the most excited about it.

I spent Friday through Sunday with people I enjoy and spent a good portion of it laughing so hard my face hurt. Sunday came along and I could feel my ability to cope just pour out of me like sand between my fingers. I went home Sunday afternoon unable to focus on anything. I just kind of laid on my bed for a while trying to figure out what to do with myself. I decided, eventually, to take a nap.

I woke up to a cycle of anxiety which I’ve come to recognize as a precursor to a meltdown and just tried to prepare myself. My whole body tenses and what emotion I do understand stampedes to the fore with a lot of rocking and fidgeting. I can’t keep my eyes open for too long because the stimuli is too much. I usually take a hot shower at this point just to drown out the noise and any other stimuli. I just wait for the storm to pass. Afterwards, I’m so exhausted I don’t want to move and I wish I had a better water heater in my apartment.

To make something perfectly clear, this is not anyone’s fault by my own. This is the product of my own choices and not realizing my own limits and my attempts to stretch them further and further. It’s hit or miss, I’ve found, not necessarily something I can change.

Regardless of the days or series of days I go through this, the next day I am irritable and impatient. And, almost inevitably, it’s a day I have to come to work. I finally qualify for intermittent leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if only my healthcare provider would get the paperwork finished and turned in.

The conclusion is, I do not especially like feeling like this and I’m still trying to understand how everything works. It’s stressful in itself but, I have found, writing is a good outlet. Some days I make connections I never would have made otherwise. Sometimes, it’s just another means of distracting myself.

In any case, I really just want to go home right now.

Bad Days, Birthdays, & Ice Cream

choc-chip-icecream

Some days it feels like I should just lock myself away from the general population and live like a monk for a while. This is really for the sake of others and not myself. There are days when even the most innocuous of statements will touch a nerve somehow and I feel like I’m extremely short with everyone, despite their having done nothing wrong. I call these my bad days but, really, “bad day” is a spectrum of foul moods and exhaustion. It’s quite rare that I will admit to having a “good day” because they happen so rarely as happiness is almost illusory (I’m more prone to anhedonia and/or lack of affect) and, when I do have one I don’t want to risk spoiling it by making it known to the rest of the world. It always seems the more the real world tries to jump in and ruin it.

I should be much more used to days like today.

I’m not even halfway through my day and already I’m feeling the effects of burnout and fatigue. My nerves are raw and I’m impatient. Things that would not normally bother me are just burrowing their way under my skin and I can feel the muscles in my back tense. To clarify, nothing too terrible happened today to sabotage my ability to control myself and how I perceive things. Some days are just worse than others.

Right now, I would like to throw on some wrestling. I’ve been dying to watch Progress Chapter 70: 1978. I caught a glimpse of it and it looked hilarious. That’s just one of escapist means of entertainment I enjoy. Lately, though, I haven’t been able to stay entertained by much on TV. I used to sleep with the TV on and now it drives me nuts to have it going. I sleep better in the dark.

Have you ever wondered if your soul, subconscious, or however you understand events that are not consciously perceived are connected to events in your life and cause you to react before you consciously remember them?

Today would have been her 44th birthday and I can’t help but think of ice cream. When she left this world so quick and unexpectedly we celebrated with ice cream. I remember the green and black mix of mint chip. I remember I so many people packed into the basement of Kingsway Christian Church I had to step out and have a cigarette with a fellow introvert. I wore as much purple as I could muster, including my eye makeup at the time because you loved Prince.

I’m wearing myself out thinking about it. I’m not in a place where I can just let go and feel whatever it is I’m trying to contain and perhaps that’s the reason for my irritability today. I’m notoriously terrible with remembering dates but, thankfully, Social Media is a fabulous reminder for things like this. So, I always ask around these times if, perhaps, there’s a part of me that knows these things before I am conscious of them.

Right now, it’s hard to hold back tears.

Oh, Heather, tell me where have you gone? Are you still dancing to, “Purple Rain”?

Don’t Be Sorry

Capture

One of the things I have been experimenting with lately is just how I adapt to being overstimulated or how well I can keep moving when I’m around people a lot. As both an introvert and an Aspie, social interaction can be both stressful and draining but I have not discovered a set formula or amount of time it takes for me to want to crawl into a ball in my apartment to decompress. I discovered earlier this month there is a lot to be said about talking through major social events afterwards, usually with my SO, to process the events.  After a particularly people-filled July 4th celebration, I found talking through things I was thinking about was monumentally helpful. I recovered faster for the next day and, though I carry a lot of stress in my body, I did not feel as beat in the morning.

I began to wonder if this was a muscle I could stretch, if I could build a better tolerance to the stress of socializing. The answer is not definitive by any means but a lot of it has to do with the people I’m around. I have friends I consider family and spent the last two weekends hanging out with them with various company, including my SO, her parents, and other friends. I can handle this with a decent amount of grace and very little fatigue.

I still don’t do well with surprises.

People who know me well tend to apologize for surprises. I certainly appreciate they care enough to make sure I’m doing okay because, sometimes, my ability to cope with my surroundings can be diminished and I end up staring off into space, fidgeting (stimming), and I stop talking. I’m not always aware of this but, once I do realize this, it generally results in a lot of negative self-talk which only makes it worse.

So, I gave up and just gave myself permission to just feel what I’m feeling without judgement. This has made coping a lot easier. Once I realized neither I, nor anyone else, has any control over the situation or how I’m going to react, it made the bumpy ride go a little more smoothly. Negative self-talk is something I have always struggled with and it is part of the reason I’m writing this now. There have been a lot of upheavals of stressful situations for me and other people lately and, honestly, after the shock and initial stress wears off, I am okay.

Sometimes, though, no matter what I do, everything still compounds and knocks me to the floor.

I could barely get out of bed this morning. My whole body hurt and my energy level was extremely low. It was just a long day that triggered memories and feelings I thought I had rid myself of. Stress has a way of opening old wounds you thought had had scarred over, I guess.

Therapy was difficult because I had to process through a particularly difficult event I was witness and party to this past weekend. It was the first time I really talked about the difficulty and my affectual response to what happened. That proved harder than I thought and I left the office feeling emotionally drained.

A surprise visit that ended up lasting 3 hours and way more conversation than I wanted to handle.

Smeared mascara was mistaken for a black eye and, thankfully, someone had the presence of mind to ask before jumping into protective mode and probably beating the hell out of me.

Socializing when I was already down to the bone when it came to my energy level.

Little kids.
Little kids yelling.
Little kids crying.
Little kids crying because they found out their uncle, whom they really liked, was no longer living with their aunt.
They really liked their uncle.

That last one. I recognized it very well and it filtered into the rest of my night though I’m not sure I realized it. I knew that feeling all too well and I thought I had overcome it. That feeling of abandonment and loss is hard to explain to people who don’t know what it’s like.

I have abandonment issues. I react very poorly when people decide to exit my life for no reason and I’m deathly afraid that those in my life whom I care deeply about are going to do the same. Couple that with a high level of anxiety and proclivities towards catastrophic thinking and obsessive thoughts and you get me. I have spent a very large portion of my life by myself and being okay with it because no one can hurt me when I’m by myself.

The problem is, humans are naturally social creatures, and eventually loneliness comes knocking.

This is the conflict: the thing I want most is human companionship. When I get it, I will work hard to get it but, when it gets too close for comfort, I start pushing away for fear of getting hurt again. It’s a cycle I’ve repeated many times and, essentially, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a big reason why I haven’t had a serious relationship in a decade. It’s why I don’t trust many people unless they’ve proven themselves worthy. I call it setting up boundaries to make it sound healthy but, most of the time, it’s not.

This is my struggle now: all the times and all the people who have stepped out of my life came flooding back into my memory and I am not afraid to admit I had a bit of a meltdown. I went to bed after discussing this a bit and they apologized. I don’t want people to feel guilty for things neither of us can control.

I believe I can work through this as I have everything else in my life.

Sometimes memory is overwhelming, especially painful memory.

I care too much for you to let you blame yourself for things over which no one has any control.

These obstacles were built for overcoming. One day, people will know they don’t have to apologize to me for how overwhelmed I get sometimes.

Tears are sometimes meant for healing as much as an expression of grief and sadness. I don’t always know why I fight them.

Do not be sorry.

Interstate Pain Clinic

interstate-highway-82501963-2When I was in my mid-20’s, I went through a period of mourning after going through an attempt at a relationship that failed because the other person did not know what she wanted and, ultimately, we were too soon for each other.

That’s not what’s important.

My proclivities towards depression at that age were much stronger and so were my tendencies to isolate – not that they’ve improved any – were very pronounced. I may have had friends but I was working 3rd shift then so everyone was in bed or elsewhere. There were Friday nights when I was in my dorm alone with the lights off with nothing but the glow of my laptop screen playing YouTube videos of theological debates by Dr. William Lane Craig. It sounds like punishment to some people, I’m sure, but the intellectual stimulation was keeping my head above water.

A friend came into the room and asked me if I wanted to drive the country roads with a couple other guys in celebration of someone’s 21st birthday. Where they came from, tallboys of beer and cruising gravel roads was a way to celebrate such an occasion.

I paused Dr. Craig and we went for a drive and chucked our empties at the stop signs. The autumn air felt nice for once.

When I got out of high school I still lived with my parents while I attended my first semester of college – one of many attempts at the academic life – and there was some friction going on in my family I was not aware of. I was pretty much oblivious to the goings-on in my house either willingly or because it was kept from me. It doesn’t matter.

The thing about holding tension for too long is it tends to snap unexpectedly.

The details of what happened aren’t important. Tension lead to anger which was unleashed on the wrong person. In this case, it was me. Being very averse to raised voices and anger from other people and even more anxious then than I am now, I ran out of the house and to my car, and sped away as fast as possible.

I didn’t go far.

I just had this sudden urge to run.

At the tail end of a relationship gone wrong I suffered a complete breakdown. What followed was three years of depression, medication changes, and anxiety. I shut myself off from almost everyone, including my family. I did not want to experience people; they were exhausting. In hindsight I think I had lost my faith in what humankind had to offer. I had accrued a large amount of vacation time from my job and this ever-persistent need to get away from everyone and everything.

I disappeared into the Western portion of the United States for 2 weeks. I drove everywhere and stayed in cheap motels along the way when I needed sleep.

I arrived back at my apartment 3,000 miles later.

I can’t always explain the reason why I do things. There was even a period when, though I can’t remember the reason now, I would go out to my car at night and drive. There’s a stretch of interstate on the East side of the city that is almost always abandoned at night. I drove that a lot in my 20’s.

I don’t remember why.

I’m not sure it matters.

What I’m realizing is I have spent a lot of time moving when overwhelmed.

It’s human nature to try to avoid pain. We are created with these pattern-recognition systems, reflexes, and nerves that all warn of us of danger or when we’re experiencing pain. Pain exists to warn the body of damage both in location and severity. We’ve all touched the hot stove because we were told not to or just because we were curious. We’ve had paper cuts and stubbed our toe on furniture. Emotional pain is more difficult, I’ve discovered, because not only does it persist well beyond the time of physical injury, it also seems to have a life of its own.

I’ve spent a lot of time staring down dark roads trying to escape this kind of pain.

I’ve come to the point where I can’t run anymore. I don’t have the capacity to stay a step ahead when I’m stressed out, when I’m anxious, and the rare occasion I’m depressed or angry. I’m so tired by the end of every day that I just let it come to rest on me and pray to God that I can breathe my way through it because it’s so intangible, so existential in nature that I can’t explain it.

I just know it’s there.

There are days when I tell other people it’s there. Thank God for those who don’t try to figure it out and just sit with me in it.