Saturday, January 28, 2017

How Quilting Saved My Life

Coping skills have never been my strong suit. I'm not sure I ever had them until recently. I work diligently to be self-aware, to let go of the negative thoughts that invade my mind consistently throughout the day, to breathe through the anxiety rather than let it overcome me. It is exhausting work, but the gift of life is worth the effort. However, the best coping skill I have adapted into my routine is quilting.

I have always been a creative type. Acting, singing, piano, guitar, writing... these are just a few outlet I've had throughout my life, but nothing compares to quilting. 

My mamaw has quilted her entire life. Her involvement came from necessity, but as time went on, it became a hobby. Her quilts are beautiful. Her stitches small and tight. She has made quilts for almost every member of our family, and our family is quite large. I received a gorgeous quilt from her for my 16th birthday. It is rarely used because I do not want it to get ruined. It's a keepsake to me. A treasure that hopefully will be passed down for generations. 

Now, I quilt. It isn't out of necessity for warmth. I have collected plenty of quilts throughout the years between those made for me by my mamaw and my mom. No, for me, it is out of necessity for sanity. 

Quilting keeps me occupied. It allows my mind to shut down the anxiety and depression and 100 thoughts per minute that plague my life daily. It is an outlet I can pour myself into without regret. Plus, I hand quilt. My mom has a machine capable of quilting. She prefers to machine quilt. I do not. I guess I get it from my mamaw. Hand quilting means it takes longer to finish a project, but it also means more down time for my anxiety. I pour myself into these quilts 100% once I get started. Most people I know who quilt prefer to make the quilt tops. That part is actually my least favorite. Cutting all the pieces and sewing them together, which I actually do on machine, is fun but I really get in the zone when I have the quilt basted and in the frame. Turn on some music or Netflix and just run stitches. 

I guess what I am getting at is if you a struggling, find an outlet. Find something that occupies your time and your mind. Something that will help you tune out the wreckage your illness is trying to cause. 

Below are pictures of two projects. One i have finished. The other is now in the frame being quilted. I have even started cutting squares for a new one. 

Peace, Love, & Creativity!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dreams: Subconscious at Work

Since being medicated, I have started dreaming again. Let me tell you, I do not dream small. I have massive, realistic, good-enough-to-be-a-motion-picture, heart-pounding-so-hard-it-jerks-you-straight-out-of-REM dreams. I always have, except when my depression is at it's deepest, darkest points. In those times, I see nothing but vast emptiness. Obviously, I prefer waking up multiple times a night because at least I know my subconscious is working. I know that things are being sorted out in the process nature indeed. 

You can also imagine that I take great stock in my dreams and their meaning. Some people do. Some don't. It's a personal belief that should not be chastised. If you don't believe dreams hold significant meaning, this post is not for you. If you do, let's take a stroll through my subconscious's way of telling me to get my shit together. Shall we?

For the past month, I have had different versions of the same dream. What do I mean? I mean, the players are the same, but the story line is somewhat different. This escalated into having 5 versions in one night. Well, now it is definitely time to look into the symbolic nature of those dreams because this is getting ridiculous.

Let me point out, that I'm not going to tell you what the dream was. You will probably be able to figure out the puzzle yourself by reading the meanings, from Dream Moods, below. I've italicized key words and phrases that connected.

  • To see friends from your past in your dream points to your desire to reconnect with a part of yourself that you have lost touch with. Perhaps it is time to pick up that old hobby or put a long hidden talent to use. A more direct interpretation of this dream may simply mean that you should look this friend up and reconnect with them. 
  • To dream that you are being chased signifies that you are avoiding a situation that you do not think is conquerable. It is a metaphor for some form of insecurity.
  • To dream that you have been killed suggests that your actions are disconnected from your emotions and conscience. The dream refers to drastic changes that you are trying to make. There is a characteristic that you want to get rid of or a habit that you want to end within yourself. Killing represents the killing off of the old parts and old habits. Alternatively, the dream represents feelings of being let down or betrayed by someone in your waking life. You are feeling overwhelmed, shocked and disappointed.
  • To dream that you are murdered suggests that some important and significant relationship has been severed. You are trying to disconnect yourself from your emotions. The dream may also be about your unused talents. 
  • To see poison in your dream denotes that you need to get rid of something in your life that is causing you much sickness and distress. You need to cleanse and purge away the negativity in your life. 
  • To dream that you ingest or inhale poison indicates that you are introducing something into yourself that is harmful to your well-being. This may be feelings of bitterness, jealousy or other negative feelings that are consuming you.
  • To dream of an ex-friend suggests that an object or a recent incident has subconsciously reminded you of her or him. Alternatively, the ex-friend represents a lesson you learned from the falling out. You need to apply that lesson to a current issue, problem or relationship.
  • To dream of your own execution indicates that you are harboring some strong guilt. Perhaps there is a bad habit or aspect of yourself that you want to rid yourself of.
  • To dream that you are kicking someone represents suppressed aggression that you are unable to express in your waking life. 
  • To dream that you are being kicked indicates that you feel victimized or taken advantage of. The dream may be telling you to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Alternatively, being kicked is a way for your subconscious to push you ahead and motivate you to continue on toward your goals. Sometimes you need a kick. You need to be more aggressive.
  • To dream that you are being kidnapped denotes feelings of being trapped and restricted. Someone or some situation may be diverting your concentration and your attention away from your goals. In particular, to dream that you are kidnapped by your ex-boyfriend suggests that your ex still has some sort of emotional hold on you. (**Note: I am viewing this as an ex-friend as well.**)
  • To dream that you are wounded by a knife is symbolic of masculine or animalistic aggression.
  • To see someone holding a knife in your dream suggests that you lack control or power in a situation or relationship. Alternatively, the person holding a knife in your dream may be symbolic of a dominant male figure in your waking life.
  • To dream that you are hiding suggests that you are keeping some secret or withholding some information. You may not be facing up to a situation or dealing with some issue. However, you may be getting ready to reveal something and confess before somebody finds out.
  • To dream that you are walking through an alley represents a dead-end. You feel that you have missed out on some opportunity in life. Alternatively, the dream denotes that your reputation is in jeopardy. You feel that you are on the outside.
  • To dream that you are alone indicates feelings of rejection. You may be feeling that no one understands you. 
  • To see only the feet being chased in your dream suggests that you are letting others determine where you go or decide on your goals. You are lacking control over the direction of your own life. 
  • To see a fence in your dream signifies an obstacle or barrier that may be standing on your path. You may feel confined and restricted in expressing yourself. Are you feeling fenced in some situation or confined in some relationship?
  • To dream that you are climbing to the top of a fence denotes success. If you climb over the fence, then it indicates that you will accomplish your desires via not so legitimate means. If you dream that you are on the fence, then the dream may be a metaphor indicating that you undecided about something.
  • To dream that you fall from a fence denotes that you are in way over your head in regards to some project which you are dealing with.
  • To dream that you are in a fight indicates inner turmoil. Some aspect of yourself is in conflict with another aspect of yourself. Perhaps an unresolved or unacknowledged part is fighting for its right to be heard. It may also parallel a fight or struggle that you are going through in your waking life. If you are fighting to the death, then it refers to your refusal to acknowledge some waking conflict or inner turmoil. You are unwilling to change your old attitudes and habits.
  • To dream that someone is stealing something from you indicates that you are experiencing an identity crisis or are suffering from some sort of loss in your life. Alternatively, the dream means that someone has stolen your success or has taken credit for something you did. Perhaps you feel that you have been treated unfairly.
As you can see, there were many symbols in my dream and all of them are interconnected. Disconnect with self. Needing to reconnect with self. Feeling overwhelmed, insecure, let down, rejected, betrayed, guilty, shocked, disappointed, bitter, taken advantage of, treated unfairly, trapped, aggressive but not aggressive enough, powerless, loss, treated unfairly.

My struggle to say how I feel instead of just talking about a situation and hoping someone understands, shows itself plainly in my subconscious. My subconscious is telling me how I feel. What I need to work on. There's a lot, but it is all connected to the same situations. From this I can see that yes, I do feel strong guilt. I am guilty of things, but that is not all I feel. Strangely, it is the only thing I focus on in my waking life. My friends, the handful who have stuck by me through the worst of the worst, always tell me how big my heart is. How deeply I love. How much I give and give to those I care about even if that care is not returned. I always tell them they are full of it, but I'm starting to understand that they are not. 

In my waking life, I only deal with the what I did wrong. I only acknowledge my faults. I hold those I love and care about on a pedestal of no wrong doing. I take the blame for it all. Every bit of it. The broken hearts and friendships and trust. I accept 100% of the blame. I carry 100% of the guilt, but that cannot possibly be true. If it were 100% my fault, I would not feel let down or rejected or betrayed or shocked or taken advantage of or treated unfairly. 

Now, I see just a bit clearer the aspects I need to work on. I need to not view those I love on a pedestal. I need to see them as flawed, too. I need to allow myself to acknowledge that I am not the only one to blame in the destruction of former friendships, the loss of which I am still trying to accept, process, and move on from. I need to allow myself to feel those things openly without regret or self-hatred because I am allowed to feel wronged and betrayed too. They do not get to hold the monopoly on those feelings and make me feel I am the scum of the earth. I have to stop blaming myself for everything that goes wrong and putting more and more weight on myself that isn't mine to carry. I need to let them carry their own guilt for a change. I have enough on my own. I don't need theirs, and it is not healthy for me to take it on. Plus, it doesn't change anything. They hate me regardless of whether I take all the blame or not.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Words vs. Actions

I hear it all the time: "I do not trust words. I trust actions." I understand the sentiment, but I wonder if these people understand that the act of reaching out to you with words is also an action. I also wonderful they realize that for me, reaching out with words, is one of the hardest actions I will ever do.

  1. Saying "Thank you." Having had my medications adjusted and some time to work on my recovery, I have found myself wanting to tell people "thank you." The ones who called the cops. The ones who sat with me while I sobbed. The ones who didn't leave when it got increasingly dark. The ones who did leave for their own sake. Why? Because I honestly owe them my life. I was that far gone. I saw no signs, no way out, just an all-encompassing darkness ready to consume me. I do not say thank you to these people out of need or necessity to have them in my life or to come back into my life. I say thank you because I truly, sincerely mean it, and for nothing else. And usually it comes to me to say it when I have just finished meditating or a behavioral worksheet. It comes in the moments when my mind is most clear and my heart the most open. 
  2. Telling you about how I feel. I still struggle to say how I feel without describing the situation that led me to said feeling or speaking in circle because I am unsure what the feeling is, but I know it is there and needs to be expressed. So, I chose you. I actively chose you. If someone picks up the phone to contact you about something important to them, that is an action. They chose you, out of everyone else they know. They chose you. They trusted you. Have faith in that.
  3. Apologies. This is the real kicker isn't it. I mean, you may not see me curled into a ball on my kitchen floor, my head pressed against the side of the cabinets to keep me from falling over, sobbing my eyes out because I know I have hurt you. All you see are the words I text you in that moment. To you, I could be out at a party with my friends like "Watch this!" I can guarantee you, I am not. If I am apologizing to you, it's because I have beaten myself up about it for minutes, hours, days, weeks, sometimes months and years. 
  4. The biggest one for me, however, is that I am a creative person who uses words as her outlet. I use words to express myself in all facets of my life. It's hard to consider yourself a writer without it. Hell, as an actor, I needed words. Words were the foundation. Take the words the playwright gives you, assess them for text and subtext and throughlines, use the power of those desires to drive your actions, and speak the words provided. I read a lot. In reading you are interpreting the words into a story and relating so honestly with the MC at times that you feel you are her/him. Words are an undeniable part of my life, like breathing and my mental illnesses. They are an inherent way of how I express and relate. If you tell me you do not trust my words, you might as well tell me you do not trust me, because I use words to tell my truth. Words, to me, are a gift given to us to allow us to connect. 
Besides, people can talk about action all they want, but when you need them, and I mean really need them, where are they? 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

More Than Overthinking

I have spent a lot of time trying to determine what my next post would be. I tossed around a few ideas that I hope to get to; however, sometimes the weight of the illnesses is too much for the happy stuff.

I'm not in the throws of it just yet, but I can feel it coming. The tightening of my chest. The desire to sleep all the time. The inability to force myself to sew for more than just a few minutes. (There will be many posts about my use of quilting as a coping mechanism. I promise.) The sense of dread that I feel deep within my bones. But, the biggest warning sign for me, the one I'm learning to pick up on the fastest, is the rapid flipping from content to emotional disaster to numb.

Take today at work:

I was fine. I was doing my job, knocking out a massive project. Not happy. Not sad. Just content with my work when suddenly I am crying because I miss someone so much. Completely out of nowhere, the thought came into my mind, the panic crept into my chest, and before I could use mindfulness to gain some sort of control, I was sobbing. It happened in a matter of seconds. Of course, then I proceeded to get frustrated at myself because

  1. I was crying.
  2. I wasn't able to gain control in time to stop it.
  3. I missed the person.
  4. I felt guilty because my illnesses are the reason the person left, as far as I know.
  5. I don't actually know that 4 is true so I was assuming.
  6. It doesn't matter if it is an assumption, the person left and it fucking hurts.
  7. It shouldn't hurt the person left.
  8. But it does hurt and there's nothing I can do to fix it.
  9. I should be able to fix it.
  10. If I talked to the person I could fix it.
  11. I've tried talking to the person, the person isn't interested in fixing it.
  12. I don't actually know that the person isn't interested in fixing it and am making assumptions again.
  13. I need to stop making assumptions and just accept that the person left.
  14. But I need closure.
  15. I'll probably never get closure.
  16. I have wasted so much time upset about this and dwelling on it. Now, I'm going to get behind on my work.
  17. Does it really matter if I get behind? It's not like I'm probably not getting fired tomorrow.
  18. I probably am getting fired tomorrow.
  19. If I get fired, I won't be able to pay rent.
  20. Where will I live?
  21. How will I survive?
  22. Why is this happening?
  23. Damn it! Calm down! Just breathe.
  24. It's ok. You are ok. You are just sick. This isn't you.
  25. But what if this is me?
  26. No wonder that person left! I wouldn't want to deal with me either.
  27. That person seriously doesn't give two shits about me. 
  28. But what if he/she does?
  29. If I could just get better. If I weren't sick, that person would still be part of my life.
  30. FUCK! Stop crying! Stop thinking about it! Just work.
  31. Work.
  32. Work.
  33. Work.
All of those thoughts went speeding through my head in about 2 minutes. That's what it is like. Not every day hits that level, but this was a fairly "normal" day. This is my normal. I have better days. I also have worse days... far worse, and I am so thankful it wasn't one of those days. 

Depression is sinking in quickly. I know it is, and I am fighting it with all my might. It just exacerbates the BPD symptoms and leads me down a path that I recognize and do NOT want to tread again. 

If you see me in one of those moments... If I reach out to you for a hand, try to refrain from saying things like, "Stop overthinking it," or "You are better off without him/her," or "Just calm down." It is far more than simply overthinking or not knowing my worth or being out of control. It will pass. I'm finally grasping the fact that those moments do, indeed, pass. Sometimes, I just need someone to sit with me in the dark until it does. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Challenge Accepted!

Meet Me on the Road to Recovery

2016 has been a rough year for everyone. I am not sure I know a single person who has not faced a major struggle this year, myself included. However, with struggle comes growth... or at least that is what they tell me.

The truth is, I have grown exponentially this year. I met people who truly cared about my well-being. People who wanted to see me get help. 

See, I have fought mental illness the majority of my adult life, but I had always been too afraid to seek professional help. Too afraid to be diagnosed. Too afraid for people to see me differently. In reality, no one needs to know my diagnosis unless I choose to tell them, and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses had help me back for too long. So, here I am, telling stigma to fuck off, and professing my diagnoses loudly and proudly to the world. It's a long story, but I hope you will stick with me until the end. I say this not because I need people. I am learning to let the need for validation go. I say this because the more we educate ourselves regarding mental and other invisible illnesses, the more we can do our part to lift the stigma so others do not do what I did for so long... refuse to seek treatment.

Let's start with a little background information.

November 8th, 2007: I moved in with my best friend. I was in love with him, and he was in love with me. He told me once, honestly and openly, but he said we would destroy each other if we tried to be together romantically. He was right, to an extent. We did destroy each other, but we were never romantically involved.

April 20, 2008: We were evicted. He packed up and left without a trace. My heart was shattered. At the time, I didn't see that I had been a pawn in his con. All I knew was that the man I loved more than anyone else in the entire world got in a U-Haul, drove away, and did not reach out to me for almost a year. When he did reach out to talk to me, I was so angry. I told him I could forgive everything, but I couldn't forgive him for the icy wall I had built around my heart in his absence. He told me that was my choice. He was right. The icy fortress I had built around my heart and my soul to protect myself from feeling the pain of his leaving, the drugs and alcohol I used to numb myself... all of that was my fault. I had done it to myself. Eight years ago, I blamed him. Eight years ago, I loved him. Eight years ago, I was trying to hang onto him in any way I possibly could. I refused to believe he was gone.

Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one... and we're here. 2016. Well, we are technically one hour and thirteen minutes from 2017, but stick with me.

This past year, I forged friendships with two co-workers. These people saw through my facade, saw the damage and the sickness that lived within, and wanted to help. They earned my trust. I told them more than I had told anyone, including my former roommate of seven years, up until now. They convinced me to get help. They wanted me to be okay. However, their story is not my story. They were as supportive as they could be. Mental illness can be just as taxing on the members of the patient's support system, as it is on the patient. (This is something I learned the hard way.) All the same, I will always appreciate and never forget the part they played in my story. They will always have a place in my heart, even though they no longer have a place in my life.

In March, I developed a crush on someone I never should have developed romantic feelings for. It happens, even to the best of us. I have never been able to read social cues. One of the downfalls to borderline personality disorder. I became really invested, but not so invested that I was willing to wreck this woman's current relationship. I have morals. I may misread social cues on the regular, but I understand the difference between feeling something and pursuing it. It dissipated around the end of July. No romantic feelings for this person since; however, I let myself feel. See, the aforementioned people had earned my trust, and I began to break down that icy exterior. I had no idea there were so many suppressed emotions hidden inside me, and I definitely had no idea what would happen or even how to begin to cope when they all came bubbling to the surface.

April, May, June: I spent almost every free moment I had helping a myriad of friends through their own emotional garbage. I thought I was doing good. I thought I was helping them. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn't. Their stories are not mine. What I do know is that I was in no way helping myself. I was merely distracting myself from a mountain of emotional garbage, through which I did not want to sort.

Sometime in mid-July, the exhaustion of running from myself and my emotions began to take control. I felt worthless and empty or I felt so much pain I couldn't breathe or move. I believed everyone would be better off if I did not exist. My illnesses told me they didn't even notice me, that they didn't love me, that I was a burden. My brain told me I should die, and I wanted to. I wanted to build my icy fortress back around me to shut off that voice in my head, and at the same time, I didn't. This wasn't the first time I had experienced depression, but it was the first time I had fallen this far in such a relatively short amount of time.  I finally went to see a counselor at the urging of the aforementioned friends. The counselor immediately referred me to a PCP to be prescribed anti-depressants. I would say they worked for a while, but that would be a lie. I wanted people to believe I was okay. I wanted them to think I had changed because I was terrified they would tire of me and leave. Another BPD moment: fear of perceived or real abandonment and frantic efforts to prevent that abandonment which, in turn, usually causes the abandonment one feared in the first place. It's a vicious cycle.

It takes constant effort on my part to prevent that cycle and many other cycles my brain wants to force me to accept as reality. Multiple times a day, every single day, I have to employ mindfulness and tell my brain to shut up. I have to recognize that the thoughts are only thoughts. That what other people think of me is in no way a reflection on me. I have to remind myself that recovery is a process. It isn't easy. For anyone without a mental illness reading this who thinks, What's the big deal? I have to do that too. Yes, you do. Everyone has to do that from time to time. It's a normal coping mechanism. It is usually such an insignificant part in "normal" every day life, that you don't even realize you are doing it. My brain chemistry, through major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, does not allow me to function in that way. Everything has to be at a heightened state of consciousness. In an 8 hour work day, I typically practice mindfulness 96 times. For those of you counting, that is an average of once every five minutes. On top of that, I am performing my work duties, which, not to sound prideful, but I'm pretty damn good at. It's mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. So, for those of you still in my supportive system, please understand that I am doing the best I can. Practice makes perfect, but if you invite me to do something, don't be offended if I cancel. Also, please please please do not automatically think I have experienced another breakdown that led to hospitalization. Most of the time, especially now that I am properly medicated, it is just that I am exhausted and just want to relax with quilting and Netflix.

Back to the year...

August through late October was a downward spiral. Most of which, I only remember bits and pieces. People kept trying to get me to say what I felt, and I couldn't.

I'm now learning how to do that. I consciously use "I feel" statements. I hate them. I hate the way they feel in my mouth, but I make myself say them anyway because when I look past the stereotypical therapy aspect, they do work. I feel like a tool, but if it helps me in my recovery, I will do whatever it takes.

Anyway, I tried to tell people how I felt, but situations were all I could talk about. I thought if I explained a situation enough time, they would somehow figure out what it was I was trying to say, even though, I didn't even know what I was trying to say. Then, at the end of October, I broke over and over and over again. "I want to die. I want to die. I want to die. Will this kill me? Will this? What if I did this?"

I had a similar breakdown in July to one person. I trusted this person more than I have trusted anyone since the best friend I loved in 2007/2008. I still trust this person. However, our friendship ended shortly after my birthday in August. I blamed myself. I took all responsibility because I always feel like everything is my fault. I am now learning that I cannot be responsible for all of it. His choices are his. They are not a reflection of me, regardless of how I feel about it.

I said those words to the right people apparently. For the first time since July, someone reached out to authorities for help. In fact, I got to see the police twice in a 24 hour period. This led to my 3-day hospital stay, which I will never EVER do again. Maybe some of those places are nice or even close to helpful, this one was not that for me. However, the moment I sprinted out that doorway, I tried to jump right back into my life like normal. That was a mistake they had warned me about. When they say, "Take it slow," you should listen to that advice. This led to a terrible breakdown in the middle of Red Lobster.

November 8th, 2016: My last major breakdown occurred. External forces beyond my control plus facing the anniversary of the day "the best friend I was in love with" and I moved in together, which also happened to be his birthday, for the first time in 8 years, mixed together into a breakdown that flowed right into a breakthrough.

I'm not saying I have perfected any of this. I haven't. Maybe my meds finally interacted in my brain chemistry in the correct way. Maybe I became more determined to beat this. Maybe I accepted the fact that I had lost enough and wanted to fight. I'm not sure what caused the shift, but I know it happened. Here I am, and I want to share this journey with you, the readers I may or may not have. I know I won't post everyday. I'll try for once a week. I may only achieve three post in one year, but I want to share my journey. I want others to know that they are not alone in their journey. Each of us has our own unique journey to walk, but we do not have to do it alone, even when the ones you thought would be there aren't, you cannot take it personally. You must keep fighting. You must keep pushing. You are strong. You are enough.

My name is Sarah, and this is my road to recovery.