Good-bye, Robin. I’m Sorry.

I’m sure people will be posting ad nauseam on here about Robin William’s apparent suicide…and that’s okay.  It has occurred to me more than once how Facebook and other social media have come to play a big part in our grieving process, from sharing memories, to revelling in our loved one’s presence for just a bit longer, to sharing our grief with others…

But I just want to say one thing, and it’s about mental illness…depression….anxiety.

It’s amazing how many people do not have a full understanding of what true clinical depression and anxiety are like.  These illnesses are diagnosed now more than ever before, and I’m sure their inevitable over-diagnosis leads some people to believe they are not that serious.  True clinical depression and anxiety are not situational.  “Why are you sad?  Why are you anxious? Did something happen? Are you unhappy?” or by extension “What reason do you have to be depressed?”

As someone who suffers from both anxiety and depression since early childhood, I don’t mind answering honest questions, but I am tired of the stereotypes, and especially tired of the use of the term “mental illness” as a buzz word or scapegoat for every dirtbag that would walk into a school with a gun and blow through a clip before shooting himself, thus putting us out of his misery.

This, what happened to Robin Williams, is the true face of mental illness in this country.  For me personally, having grown up always with this man in the periphery, his voice talents, his acting, always with good cheer and humor, (not to mention the fact that he reminds me of my Dad in some ways,) the idea that someone so warm and (by all accounts) genuine and caring, felt low enough to take his own life is unutterably sad.

Yes, he left behind a wife and grown children who will grieve him, but he didn’t take it to a public place with the intent to harm others or to garner attention or fifteen minutes more in the spot light.  He went quietly, and in the end the person who suffered the most was him.

Not with a bang but a whimper. 

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It’s A Beautiful Day

Days like this have a strange effect on me.  It’s beautiful: about sixty five degrees, bright, breezy.  The pretty little weeds that look like tiny flowers are all over the grass.  Birds are chirping loudly in the trees.  Weather like this, days like this, make me feel energized and uplifted.

photo credit: jennahsgarden.com/

photo credit: jennahsgarden.com

And yet they also make me feel nostalgic and strangely bitter-sweet.  The sights, the sounds, the feel and smell of the breeze drifting in my open window– are all like ghosts of my childhood, sneaking into the house of my mind through my five senses.  It’s subtle, because there’s not necessarily any one specific memory.  It’s more like a general and pervasive mood.  And it’s slightly depressing.

There’s some truth in the saying “You can’t go home again.”  I’ve thought about it before; in terms of my family, I can never go back to being that little girl that didn’t know that Uncle Jimmy* was an alcoholic or that Uncle Mark* used to beat Aunt Maggie up.  I can’t go back to being the little girl that picked violets in my grandmother’s huge backyard; that house was sold many, many years ago and my grandma died last May.

I’ll be 32 next month and sometimes I feel like my college and high school days were just yesterday.  Today I was outside watching my toddler run around in the grass.

It’s scary.  I blinked and got “old.”  What if I blink again and my daughter is grown up?  Blink once more and I’m old and about to die?  Maudlin thoughts like these remind me of my preteen days.  These thoughts are like a throwback to the confused kid I used to be, the one who stood looking out the window, with a vague feeling of seemingly no origin, a feeling of “something’s not right”– It was a time when my thoughts were often ruled by a nameless anxiety I didn’t understand.  I was preoccupied with the passage of time and how untenable it was.

And though I’m medicated and therefore better at being the master of my anxieties and fears, rather than the slave, it’s still something I think about.  And days like this seem to bring those feelings back in a very nonspecific, formless sport of way, almost more like an association than a complete thought.

But no amount of worrying or melancholy will change these things.  Time passes, things change, people grow old and die.  The best I can do is live every moment and live in the moment.  And today is a beautiful moment to live.

Service to Animals, Service to People

So today I took the first concrete step towards my future.  Hubs and I invested in my future, and put a down payment on my continued education.  Only it has little to do with the degrees I already have.  But it is for something I’ve always enjoyed, and that is working with animals.  As soon as the enrollment process is completed, I’ll be starting coursework with the Animal Behavior College to become a certified dog trainer.  But I don’t want to work at the local Pet Smart teaching people’s ill-mannered pets to behave (though no disrespect if that’s your passion!)  I’d eventually like to work with animals that help people– chiefly service dogs or police dogs.

police-dog-training

Service animals are no longer just seeing eye dogs.  Animals of all species are now being utilized for all types of disabilities, both physical and mental.  Cats, dogs, monkeys, ferrets, goats, and even pigs are being used as companions to physically disabled people, people with agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders, and even bipolar disorder.  To me this exemplifies a more holistic and harmonious turn in the treatment of many severe and often debilitating health problems.  Simply put, I love how animals and the bonds they forge with their humans can help surmount even the toughest challenges and just make people happier.  

Then there are the police dogs, the bomb sniffing dogs, the cadaver sniffing dogs, the war dogs…   These dogs truly are service dogs, and they are heroes!

And I definitely want to be a part of this.  I love animals…   People, meh…  I don’t care for people as a whole, although I do generally like being around people on a more individual level.  I have a lot of interests in my life– art, writing, music, forensics, sports, horseback riding, my family…  It’s hard to give time to everything in my life that I enjoy, and even harder– for me– to settle on a career path, but I think this is something that can make me happy…

Which in the end is more important to me at the end of the day than any other considerations like money or prestige.

orlando-police-dog-training

i-service-dog-sharif

“Death is a Door…”

“… we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that doesn’t mean that we are alone.”  (Hans Fallada, 1947)

“Every living creature on earth dies alone.”  (Donnie Darko, 2001)

Donnie Darko and Roberta Sparrow

Donnie Darko and Roberta Sparrow

“Everybody dies alone.”  (Firefly, 2002)

“Son. Everyone dies alone. That’s what it is. It’s a door. It’s one person wide. When you go through it, you do it alone.”  (Dead Beat, 2005)

Are you afraid to die?  It seems like a simple question, but it requires you to be brutally honest with yourself.  What are your beliefs?  Are you religious?  Do you actually believe your religion’s tenants on death and afterlife?  

I suppose it could make a difference to you if you genuinely felt God will be with you when you shuffle off the mortal coil.   But I imagine some people clutch to their ideas of an afterlife specifically to keep at bay the terrors of death.  What happens when we die?  Do we just cease to exist?  I for one can’t conceive of not being aware, not being able to think.  

Have you ever had a serious illness or injury and felt that black stab of panic?  Am I going to die?  Maybe you’ve just been in a significant amount of pain and felt like you would die. (If you’ve ever had a migraine, you might sympathize with the thought of wishing for death, or at the very least, a long narcotic induced oblivion.)  I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks sometimes as well, which can make even a non-life-threatening situation feel exponentially worse. Suddenly, you think that migraine may actually kill you…just give you a stroke or something.

In these moments, that’s when our true feelings about death surface.

I’d like to think if my family was on a plane and it was going down, I’d be okay as long as my last moments were spent with those dearest to me, my husband and child.  But it’s been my experience that when you are in that moment of fear, panicked, you are completely alone.  

Don’t get me wrong.  Not every death is untimely or traumatic.  You may die of old age, going peacefully in your sleep, or surrounded by loved ones, but death is a door and it’s only one person wide.  We all walk through it alone.

My Love/Hate Relationship With Monk

I can’t remember if I ever mentioned it before, but Hubs and I don’t have cable (which around here, you need even to bring in the major broadcast channels.)  We’re pretty used to it, managing with our extensive DVD collection, games, and rented/borrowed TV series.  In fact, it’s kind of spoiled me in terms of TV, because I have even less tolerance for commercials than before, and if I get into a show, I’d hate to have to wait a whole week between episodes (damn instant gratification.)

Anyway, recently we acquired access to Hulu and whole new worlds of TV series have opened up to me!

hallelujah praise the lawd

Right…so, anyway, I’ve been watching re-runs of Monk, a show I had watched before, but not on a regular basis.  Here’s the basic premise, if you’ve never seen the show.

Adrian Monk (Tony Shaloub) was a brilliant detective for the San Francisco Police Department until his wife, Trudy, was killed by a car bomb in a parking garage.

Trudy’s death led Monk to suffer a nervous breakdown.  He was then discharged from the force and became a recluse, refusing to leave his house for three and a half years.

Monk’s compulsive habits are numerous, and a number of phobias compound his situation, such as his fear of germs. Monk has 312 fears, some of which are milk, ladybugs, harmonicas, heights, imperfection, claustrophobia, driving, food touching on his plates, messes and risk.  The OCD and plethora of phobias inevitably lead to very awkward situations and cause problems for Monk and anyone around him as he investigates cases. These same personal struggles, particularly the OCD, are what aid him in solving cases, such as his sharp memory, specific mindset, and attention to detail.

Talent Names - Tony Shalhoub

Well, I like the show.  I mean, I don’t ask much from my television and movies, usually.  Mostly I just want to be entertained, distracted.  Monk is pretty much your typical crime drama, except with an added element of dark humor based largely on the antics of the main character.  And it definitely has its funny moments…

But it’s also irritating to me, on several levels.

The same thing that makes the show funny in one moment can make it borderline infuriating the next moment. Monk’s inability to perform even the simplest task without making a mountain out of a mole hill, and his tendency to alienate every other person he meets with his paranoid and compulsive behaviors is often cringe-worthy.  It’s no wonder Sharona (his assistant until season 3) threatens to quit every other episode.  The man can’t function without her, yet he’s often ambivalent or oblivious to her needs or feelings.


(I think that clip is in another language, but it was the only one I could find of the beer race.)  Note the dudes are chugging straight from the pitcher, while Monk is insisting on pouring Sharona the perfect cup of beer, until she yells, “It’s a race, Monk!” and snatched her own pitcher, gulping it down, and putting her opponents to shame.  WIN for Sharona!

Aside from the small annoyances, there’s another reason this show bothers me, and that is the treatment of OCD in the series.  One thing I noticed is that although one of the early episodes makes a point of mentioning that Trudy’s death pushed Monk over the edge (perhaps implying that Monk’s behavior is extreme even for OCD,) I have yet to hear Sharona actually use the technical term/diagnosis when attempting to explain away Monk’s odd or downright rude behavior to people he’s offended.  I haven’t even heard his therapist use much actual medical terminology.  As I am not even past season two episodes yet, there may well eventually be some more direct discussion of his diagnosis, but I haven’t seen it yet.  The point is, it seems like they want to use OCD as a comedy prop, but almost like they’re afraid to actually name it.  Could it be that the show’s writers are attempting to cover their asses should they offend any actual people with OCD (like me?)  But I’m not even offended, really.  I can take a joke as well as the next person.

What bothers me about this is the stereotype it spreads.  Maybe it would be different if they were writers were to make a point of specifically detailing the idea that Monk’s OCD is an extreme version.  See, half my life I’ve heard people carelessly self-diagnose themselves as “being OCD”, or having OCD simply because they have a few idiosyncratic habits.  That’s not OCD.  OCD is an anxiety disorder wherein the patient feels significant anxiety from consuming thoughts and ideas, usually only finding relief through the performance of rituals, rituals which may or may not have any logical link to the fear.  Being a little germ phobic and washing your hands often, or checking the stove a couple extra times is not OCD, not unless you feel so anxious and upset about these things that you can’t NOT perform the accompanying rituals.  So when a person in casual conversation claims to “be” OCD, I kinda have to restrain an impulse to bitch-slap them.  That’s like a person taking some Excedrin for their “migraine” and feeling better– if you feel better after some Excedrin, you didn’t have a migraine; you had a headache.   Until you are cowering in a dark corner or kneeling in front of your toilet, until you feel like you might stroke out from the pain, until your vision is affected or you’ve been to the ER, you probably haven’t had a migraine.  You wouldn’t tell a person with skin cancer you know how they feel because you’ve had a sunburn before, would you???

You see my point right?  Anybody who has seen some ridiculously false and misinformed status repeatedly re-posted on Facebook knows it doesn’t take much to fool misinformed or uneducated people.  I wonder how many people watching Monk think that all people with OCD are like Monk.  I wonder if they’d call us freaks.  And I wonder if they truly understand, as they watch this show that treats OCD like some goofy little character flaw, how truly horrible it can be for someone who does not have their symptoms under control.

Having All Your Ducks in a Row

I’ve contemplated this post before, but I wanted photographic evidence.  I know depression and anxiety disorders can be hereditary.  My maternal grandfather often had severe depressive episodes as he aged, requiring hospitalization on more than one occasion.  My mother suffers from depression and anxiety, and I seem to have gotten a full blown anxiety disorder.  I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 12, but can recall, in retrospect, episodic evidence of the problem as early as eight years old.

My husband also has some issues with anxiety and depression, although I’d wager not all of his issues are due to chemical imbalance like mine, but also partially stem from loss and abuses he suffered in his past.

So my poor kid has got her work cut out for her.  I have often wondered and worried about if she would inherit these issues from us.  It seems possible, if not likely.

And now I have the evidence! Two years old and already obsessed with lining things up!

Hold on, don’t get your knickers in a twist.  I’m just kidding.  I know she’s likely just exhibiting normal two year old learning behavior when she lines up her little rubber ducks, or our shoes, or her diapers…  I mean, I’m assuming that’s the case, because even though I was a psych major, I didn’t study kids specifically, and as this is my first time raising an actual child (as opposed to an imaginary, fictitious, or counterfeit child,) I am learning a lot about child development as I go.

But in all seriousness…  I’m going to be watching my kid like a hawk as she grows up.  Luckily, I felt comfortable enough to talk to my Mom (who actually worked for a shrink for many years) and to her credit, she got me evaluated when she began to recognize in me patterns of obsessiveness and sadness.  I often felt abnormal and guilty.  Still, in my mind, memories of my childhood often come with a painful bittersweet twinge.  I had way more worries than a child my age should have had.  I don’t want that for my daughter, and you know what they say…forewarned is forearmed.  So as she grows, I’ll try to foster the kind of relationship where she knows she can tell me anything, no matter how weird it may seem.

Mommy’s got your back, baby girl.  I’ve got this shit under control.  I’ve got all my ducks in a row on this one!

I’m More Messed Up Than I Thought

You know that satisfied feeling when you pop a big pimple?  Or maybe that urge you get to scratch at a scab when you know better?  I was lying in bed last night thinking.  (Do I think because I can’t sleep, or can I not sleep because I am thinking too much?  Oh the mysteries of the universe.)  So anyway, I was curious about where that urge, that sense of satisfaction, comes from, so today I started to Google my question about scabs.  Predictive text had the related pimple popping question out before I was even done, and through the few pages I selected and read, I learned a disturbing thing…

I have Dermatillomania.   Great, something else to add to my list of things that make me a dysfunctional human being.

The simplest definition is basically compulsive skin picking, often to the extent that damage is caused.  A lot of people can’t resist popping a giant red zit on their face when it’s sitting there like a beacon calling attention to itself.  But have you ever passed by a mirror and leaned in to look for something to pop?  Do you feel compelled to pop on other people ? (I don’t, but I am totally grossed out when I see huge blackheads on other people’s faces.  Okay, maybe I pick at hubby a little.)  Do you do it in spite of the fact that you usually make things worse?  Does your skin cause you a lot of anxiety?

Dermatillomania has been regarded as an Impulse Control disorder, compared by some to Obsessive Compulsive disorder or even substance abuse (Wikipedia.)

Some of my followers and friends may have heard me mention my OCD from time to time.  Until recently, I never really thought much about my need to pick at my face.  I hate having plugged pores and when I have a subcutaneous zit, I often irritate it to the point where it’s much worse than it has to be.  Reading up on Dermatill… oh, hell… picking…today I realized with some dismay that my need to pick is a little excessive.  It’s not as bad as it could be.  Apparently there are a few different “levels” of the disorder, and I while I do actively look for pores to “unclog,” I’m not to the point where I can’t leave the house because I look like someone suffering from leprosy.

Some cases however have been severe enough to cause infection and even require surgery! The face is the most common place people pick, but the scalp, arms, back, legs, and pubic region may be affected.

English: Skin Picking pattern and effect on th...

English: Skin Picking pattern and effect on the skin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, from what I learned during the course of my studies for my Psychology degree and also in the course of my own treatment for OCD, there are certain behaviors that may be obsessive or compulsive, but assuming they do not cause you anxiety or physical harm, they are regarded as OCPD rather than OCD.

Differential diagnosis between OCD and OCPD was described in Wikipedia thusly:

Unlike OCPD, OCD is described as invasive, stressful, time-consuming obsessions and habits aimed at reducing the obsession related stress. OCD symptoms are at times regarded as ego-dystonic because they are experienced as alien and repulsive to the patient. Therefore, there is a greater mental anxiety associated with OCD.

Just thought I’d put that out there, as it particularly annoys me when anyone with a simple penchant for neatness or a distaste for germs describes themselves as “having OCD”, and since compulsive skin picking is considered related, these are things that may be relevant.

http://www.ocdla.com/dermatillomania-compulsive-skin-picking-test.html

Saying Goodbye

I just called the University of Maryland hospital to speak to my grandmother for what will likely be the last time.  She was not awake.  I don’t know if she heard me or not, but I had to try.

Approximately two years ago, as I lay in the hospital in labor with my child, she lay in a hospital 12 hours away, after having passed out and fallen in her bathroom the night before and having lain there all night.  Despite our concerns, she largely recovered from that episode.  She even eventually went back to her own home, despite my family’s concerns for her being alone.  Then last week or so,  she fell again and hit her head.  Come to find out she had something wrong with her carotid that when she turned her head a certain way, she would pass out.  While she was in the hospital this time as the family and doctors decided what course of action to take, her health began to decline.  She has gone from lucid, although understandably depressed, to what basically amounts to comatose.  She has a cyst and fluid on her brain.  Now she is having difficulty breathing.  She will likely not live out the weekend.

And I really have no feasible way to get there to see her.  Even if my mother bought me a plane ticket (because my husband and I can certainly not afford one much less two right now,) the last experience I had taking my toddler through airport security without the benefit of my husband’s help was harrowing and stressful enough that I swore I’d never do it again.  The thought of it makes my stomach feel icky.  Nevertheless, my mother really wants me and the baby there for the funeral…needs us there.  She is emotionally incapable of handling the impending  loss of her mother.  Even if my grandmom lived to be 100 and died peacefully in her sleep, I think my mom would be incapable of handling it.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the people I have known and loved, the “old days,” when I was a child.  As a child, I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, so I was almost never completely carefree, but those days were probably the closest to carefree I’ll likely ever be.  And when I think about those old days and how they are over for good, it’s something I am not completely at peace with.  Everything changes.  That’s life.  Nothing can stay the same.  It’s just the way of things, and the old adage “youth is wasted on the young” is fairly accurate, in that children generally do not have the emotional or mental maturity to be fully present, “in the moment” so to speak, as they grow and experience life.  I mean, they definitely live life in the moment in many regards, but do they stop while they run, while they play, or even while they sit bored in church, to appreciate the moment and realize how fleeting it is?  I doubt it.  That was something I myself first discovered around the age of twelve, and my anxiety over the passage of time and the retrospect way we experience life in general has been a source of anxiety for me ever since.

Well, I feel I have digressed from the original subject.  But then again, maybe not.  This is all related in one way or another, and as I got off the phone with the nurse who held the phone to my grandmother’s ear, and the tears pricked at the back of my throat, I just felt like I had to write.  And there is so much more I could write.  Like how my grandma will never get to see my daughter, her great-granddaughter, again.  Like how my mom’s health is not good either or how my cat is dying.  About my cousin who died tragically six years ago or my uncle who we lost in ’99, and how it’s still hard to believe he’s gone sometimes.

I’ll just say one more thing.  Right after Christmas, only days after my daughter and I returned, my husband’s grandmother succumbed to a stroke brought on by hip surgery she had right before Christmas.  I am very thankful that I made it a point to take the baby to see her on the night before her surgery.  That was the last time I saw her as well.  My husband and I could not make it back to Maryland in time for her funeral either.

Both his grandmother and mine were (are) wonderful ladies who were, in many ways, the heart of the family.  In the case of my mother’s side of the family, my grandmom is likely one of the only things still keeping a strained family together.

But like I said before, resistance to change is futile and will only end in anxiety and fear.

I don’t know what beliefs I subscribe to at this point in my life.  That’s been another source of confusion and anxiety for me for a long time.  But I do hope that peace will somehow find my grandmother and the rest of my family during this difficult time…and maybe there will be some peace left over for me.

My Dirty Secret

No, not dirty in a good way.  Just not something I discuss a lot…or at all.  And not something I really want people to think of when they think of me.  Why?  Not because it’s disgusting, or people won’t want to be near me or talk to me or even admit they know me.  I don’t smell funny or have some weird fetish (well, i do, but I’m not telling you!)  But because it’s sad.  Kinda pathetic really.  But I’m not sure what I can do about it.  But I am willing to bet I am not the only person who feels this way and isn’t sure why.  “What is it, already???” you may be asking.  Just this: Continue reading

Being a Mom has Turned Me into a Total Wimp!

I was not born to be a mother.  I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a princess in a castle and marrying a prince.  I didn’t spend a lot of time cradling babydolls, and I didn’t play house all that often.  I had Barbies for awhile, but they were oversexed weirdos.  In fact, by the time I was about ten years old, my make believe games often had aspects that were distinctly weird.  When my cousin and I would hang out, we’d pretend we were a bickering old vagrant couple and we’d speak continuously in cockney English accents (it used to really flip my mother out). Continue reading