Why Mental Illness* Sucks

1. It’s a lot of work, a great lot of work! 

I don’t just have a day. I have to be alert throughout my day, beginning to end. I must monitor my breathing, my vitality, my nutrition, my thoughts.

If I begin to obsess over something, I can lose perspective and it may begin to seem real when it’s not. If my breathing becomes shallow and quick I may have an anxiety attack and become deeply frightened. If I don’t eat a nutritious meal the action of my medications may be affected. I need all the energy I have to manage my days. If I become too tired I am unable to adequately manage all these things throughout my day.

2. The toll on relationships is high.

I cannot isolate, for consequences of that are high. Isolation leads to too much time in my head, too many opportunities to measure myself an insufficient human being.

The flip side is that interacting with people can sap my energy if it’s not friends I feel completely comfortable with. I must conduct the usual conversations that anyone does. That means I ask questions, make comments, offer responses, etc. So I’m required to pay attention to them, their words, inflections, expressions, body language, and all that makes up communication. But remember, at the same time I must do all those things in regard to myself too.

Sometimes it’s just too much. So I have few relationships.

3. The time drain is long.

There are appointments with doctors, psychologists, therapists. That’s mostly paid for through various government assistance programs because I can’t hold a full-time job. So I meet with social workers, financial aid people, and complete endless documentation. I have to procure bank statements, reports from my part-time employers, and letters from the professionals who help me function. Sometimes it seems endless.

4. The financial hit is huge.

I used to work for a living and support myself. I’m quite skilled and a quick learner, in addition to being very smart. I’m a professional in two different fields. I haven’t been able to work full-time since 2006, when I broke apart. That’s been hard on my ego and on my standard of living has dropped like a rock. I’ve been forced to pare far, far down. My current employer wants me to move into a higher, full-time position with the company, but I’m unable to do so because of my illness, so I haven’t completed an application.

5. Havoc is wreaked on self-esteem.

I have to struggle with feelings of incompetency, vulnerability and danger. I cannot live without sizable levels of assistance from the city, county and state. I remember well what I used to do and how I used to live. I sometimes feel like a failure because I can’t do that any longer. I find myself wishing I could pull myself up by those mythical ‘bootstraps’, and I feel defeated because I have no boots. Finding acceptance is an ongoing struggle that I’m sometimes successful with. But I can’t let up.

 

There. That is a non-exhaustive list of reasons Why Mental Illness Sucks. There is more and when I think of additions I’ll edit this post.

 

*Depression, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Eating Disorder.

R.I.P. Gina Lollabridgida

Gina Lollabridgida, AKA, Bean, was my third dwarf hamster. She died last night from bleeding. I’m not sure what the source of the bleeding was, but those tiny bodies can’t afford to lose much. I cried for her, and for Fuzzy too.

She was the first blondie, with red eyes. At first I thought the red eyes thing was kind of creepy, but I got used to her. In Online Hamsterdom, bloggers and videographers call them “ruby eyes.” Sounds more benign I guess.

Bean had lots of attitude. She didn’t give up biting entirely until about three months in. Rotten little varmint! While she did finally let my fingers heal, she never lost her feistiness. Bean was a fierce defender of her turf. While in the early days, she met any of my incursions with a rush and a nip of her sharp little, ever growing incisors, eventually she stopped biting. Instead her rush was followed by quickly setting her teeth on my finger tip, then instantly releasing her grip. As time went on she modified her ferocity only in degree. She still rushed out to attack the offending digit, but that meant that she touched my finger with her little pink feet, and backed up. Made me laugh every time.

I picked her up when I got home from work and we had a chat. I held her up to my face and asked her about her day.

“What did you do today? Did you get anything accomplished? Did you complete your To-Do List? Do you have a To-Do List? Did you go to work? Did you earn a paycheck? You don’t even have a pocket to carry a paycheck in?! So what did you really do? A little light housekeeping, a little cooking, a little bathing, a lot of sleeping? Yeah, you are an industrious little vermin.”

As you can see, they were pretty one-sided conversations. But Bean kept her beady little eyes fixed on me as if I were the most fascinating being on the planet. What’s not to like about that? Of course, she did get tired of the sound of my voice. It may be that she didn’t appreciate my breath in her face too. At any rate, when she got squirmy, I put her on my bed while I changed out of my work clothes and into my comfy done-for-the-day clothes.

I had a fairly small cloth bag for Bean. Little rodents such as herself don’t like to be in the open. They are too vulnerable and it’s just too risky for them. I laid the bag on the bed. It contained a small, used paper plate, dry bread crusts, crumbled crackers, seeds, scraps of paper towel, and a drdr (toilet paper tube). All Bean’s favorite things. I dropped her on the bed near the bag and she made a bee line for it, diving inside where she could root around, scratch, chew and burrow to her little heart’s content. She stayed in there until I finished changing, then I brought her down to the kitchen with me while I made my supper.

Bean had a favorite corner of the counter where I fed her an assortment of her favorite seeds. Bean was a seed freak. Fresh fruits and vegetables did not interest her. Seeds, seeds, seeds! The smaller the better. She liked millet and sesame seeds, but she was crazy for cous cous! While I nuked my soup, Bean stuffed her fat little cheeks with seeds. If she got done and ready to go before I did, she let me know she was ready to go by running up to the edge of the counter, pacing along, faking a jump. I knew there was no time to waste. I either needed to be done, or take her back to her cage anyway. Usually I was done.

With Bean in one hand and my supper in the other, I trudged up the stairs. Bean used to climb those carpeted stairs, but she got tired of it. Still, the Big Doofus, an overweight cat that didn’t belong to me, waited at the landing, hoping Bean would be afoot. Sometimes I put Bean down beside him, staying there myself to keep her safe. Big Doof was confounded by Bean. She didn’t run away from him. She ran around him, under him, beside him. He seemed to regard her as a play toy. He liked to swat her around. I made sure to keep any violence to a minimum. He never tried to bite her.

When I got to Bean’s room, where her cages rested on the table top, I put her down in front of a drdr. She ran through the drdr and to the little tray where I scattered seeds. She stuffed a few in her face before climbing into her cage to deposit the load in her cheeks into her carefully located and protected food cache. She usually had a big drink of water too, before re-emerging on the table top. There was a cracker box on its side on the table that Bean favored. It was another safe location where she engaged in endless grooming, in addition to wrestling matches with chunks of seeds glued together with honey. She adored those treats. They were her faithful daily adversaries, never failing to be worthy opponents.

This fall I learned that Bean really loved squash! Who knew? Baked squash. What a goofy rodent. Bean made me laugh a lot. Like my two previous hamsters, those squishy bodies, very short legs, beady eyes, pointy nose, hairy asses, rolly polly running . . .  well, what’s not to laugh about? Dwarf hamsters just look funny. That she was so fierce in that utterly vulnerable body was wonderful. She didn’t know she was utterly vulnerable. She had a great understanding of personal boundaries and size was not a cause for compromise. What a rodent!

I will miss her, as I miss her predecessors. The only problem with dwarf hamsters is their damn short life spans. I haven’t had one make it to three years yet. I think that’s common.

RIP, my little Bean.

I’m animal-less for the first time since 1997. I won’t stay that way.

The Pleasures of Fuzzy

I’ve been thinking about Fuzz Butt since her death. I found some old photos of her as a kitten. She was six month old  when I picked her up from a shelter.,

She really was a good girl. As a kitten, I remember Fuzzy tearing around the house just for the fun of running. (I lived in a large, three bedroom house most of her life.) She was buddies with the Big Eunuch, a cat of the same age that I got at the same time as Fuzz. They knew each other from the shelter, and got along well.

Fuzz was always a lap cat, cozy and gentle. When she got old, around 13 or 14, she slowed down and became even “lappier”.

The last few years, Fuzz waited for me in my bedroom. (Now I share a house with two other women. I fed and watered Fuzz in the bedroom, and spent most of my time in the adjacent sunroom, which was also my private space.) As I neared the door I called out to her. Though Fuzz had lost a great deal of hearing, she usually responded with meows. It made me laugh, because I knew dinner was at the top of her list of things to meow about. I came into the room, put down purse, bag and anything else I might have been carrying, and removed my coat and shoes while Fuzzy waited impatiently, periodically reminding me that she was waiting and her starvation was imminent. When she saw that I was ready, she preceded me into the sun room, where her food dish awaited.

I had brought her canned food up from the refrigerator as I passed through the kitchen when I entered the house. I picked up her food dish and put it on the table while I dug out Fuzzy’s 1/4 can of food. I talked with her, and with VeraWang, our dwarf hamster who lived in her cages on the table. When I had the food in the can, much too slowly, I lowered it to the floor. Fuzzy was ready to dig in! With that finished, I could go on with taking care of myself and VeraWang.

When I got up from my chair, Fuzzy had to get up, and she usually did. In fact, she knew exactly what was happening. She walked in front of me through my bedroom, around the corner and into the bathroom. She knew my routine. Heck, she knew my bladder as well as I did! That was just one of the things she did that made me laugh.

Fuzz and I really were like an old married couple. We lived together for 17 years, with the exception of a few months several years ago. She knew my routine as well as I knew hers. Observing our intertwined behavior often made me laugh.

Fuzz usually did not sleep in my room with me. Although food and water were in there, the litter box was not. I preferred her out of my room too. She could be a bother in the bed. When I awoke in the morning Fuzz began calling to me with the first sound I made. She knew the sound of my alarm clock and she could feel the air stop moving under my door. I used a fan for white noise and, while Fuzz did not spend the night sleeping outside my door, she did move there when it became light outdoors.

I opened the door to her every morning. Then I fed her the dry food I kept in the sunroom before I did anything else. Fuzz had her priorities! When I left for the day, Fuzzy was usually dozing on my bed.

In the evening I sat in my recliner watching television, reading, working electronically, or something similar. Fuzz was intimately acquainted with the functioning of my recliner. If I was sitting in it, but not reclined, she did not jump up on my lap. Not reclined meant I was probably getting up, or not staying there long at all. As soon as I reclined she jumped onto my lap. After she got old and could not jump that high, I put a small cardboard box next to the foot of the chair. She stepped onto that and then onto the chair.

Most of the evening found her on my lap. On the occasion that I laid full back in the chair, Fuzz crawled up under my chin, next to my face. She loved that spot. In the evening when I went to bed, I usually read for about 30 minutes before turning out the light. Fuzz delighted in those times too, resting her head next to my cheek.

When I think of those times with Fuzz, when we were so near and she was so cuddly, I smile and feel warmer. Fuzzy really was a very sweet and gentle cat. She relished warmth and comfort. What a wise animal. She never tried to bite any person.

Fuzz was very athletic. That showed not only in her hunting, but in her races through the house. The Big Eunuch was very smart and he was a klutzy cat. He was the knock-kneed feline equivalent of a nerd. Even though he was bigger than Fuzz, she could beat him in any cat play contest they devised. Once I took in a stray cat for a friend. The cat was a very big, black, neutered tom. Moosey was the biggest domestic house cat I’ve every seen. He was long legged, tall and weighed 25 pounds! He was not fat. Fuzz and the Big Eunuch were about 10 when Moosey joined us. He could pick on Eun, but not Fuzz. Though she was outweighed by 10 pounds, her athleticism enabled her to get the best of him. She knew how to use her momentum, angles, and other means to knock Moosey on his ass! It was funny to watch. He always seemed surprised, and always tried again.

I Have a Theory – Elbow Room

I have a theory about human needs for space. I know, “I have a theory. . . ” may be scary, but I think about things a lot. I observe, notice, and create theories to evaluate.

Here is some background first:

I grew up on a farm in central South Dakota, USA. Our nearest neighbor was 1 1/4 mile away. We lived on a square mile of land. It was not common to see anyone other than family members most days. I have lived for six years in northwestern South Dakota, where population density is measured in Square Miles per Person, rather than Persons per Square Mile. Note the difference. I love vast, sweeping vistas, tall mountains, forests. Those things feel like Freedom to me. I have lived in small towns since then, and since 2007 I have been living in St. Paul, MN, USA. It is a metro area of three million people. I always feel constrained, overheard, the need to be circumspect.

The West is beautiful. I love having all that Spaaaaaaaaaace. I feel like I can expand, breathe deeply, fling out my arms, roar! I feel safe, small and insignificant in the mass of the universe, though not in myself. I feel quieter, calmer, more relaxed and at home.

On the other hand, I am not a hermit. I like people, and I like being around people. I find urban life very interesting, and the diversity fascinating. I love the energy and creativity of so many folks who might think differently, respond differently, etc. The creativity is exciting.

I want the best combination of both.

Thinking about all of that brought me to consider some of the problems of urban living and how denser population affects, exacerbates or perhaps even causes those problems.

Space.

R.I.P Fuzzy April 1998-August 2014.

IMG_20140808_190357946

Fuzz Butt, my 17-year-old cat, died Sunday. She’d been perceptibly slowing down for a couple of weeks. Sunday it was time to have her euthanized.

As a kid on the farm, I learned early that if I’m going to own animals, I have a rock solid obligation to them. Their well-being is in my hands. If I don’t feed them, they’ll die. Same with water. If they become ill, I must care for them.

It is wrong to indulge myself at the expense of the animal. I get angry with people who use an animal to meet their own needs, regardless of what is best and ethical for the animal. Anyway, I don’t want to get distracted from my topic, Fuzz.

I got her from a shelter when she was 6 months old. She was always a very sweet lap cat. She never even tried to bite. It just wasn’t an option for her. She was a very good hunter, very athletic. When I lived in a small town, I could let her outside. She brought in birds, frogs, mice. Once I saw her in the yard trying to figure out a salamander. Eeeeuwww! I can’t stand those slimy things. I slammed the door and wouldn’t let her back in until I was sure she wasn’t bringing that gross amphibian!

I had another cat, the Big Eunuch, that walked on a leash, so I tried it with Fuzz. She simply refused. Goal #1 was to escape from the harness. If not that, she went limp. Rather than taking her for a walk, I took Fuzzy for a “drag.”

Fuzzy was my constant through two different church calls, a chaplaincy, eating disorder treatment, major life changes, and hitting 60 years old myself. Fuzzy moved nearly a total of one thousand miles with me.

We were like an old married couple. She knew where I was going and often preceded me. When I walked to the bathroom, I was following Fuzz Butt. She waited for me to get home and she knew the time to expect me.

When I was getting her food from the fridge, Fuzz waited at the top of the stairs for me to bring it up to her bowl. Sometimes at night she liked to sleep with me, but not all night. She let me know when she wanted out.

She got pretty sick once with some type of virus or bacteria. She had to spend four days at the veterinarian getting IVs. Poor thing. Other times she got a bug, but it was a short duration.

Fuzz always had ear trouble and different options vet’s gave me were ineffective. Her hearing was good, but her ears always looked dirty and were itchy for her. When she was 15, Fuzzy lost most of her hearing. I always used to get her attention by making the “Pssst” sound. That was just for her and she knew it. Well, no more with that. Fuzz adjusted well to her hearing impairment.

Last year she became unable to jump up on my bed or recliner. I went to the Purrniture store and got a short, three-step, stairway for her. It was nicely carpeted and soft and she could get to where she wanted to be.

When I laid back on my bed or recliner, Fuzzy liked to creep up right under my chin. Then she’d heave a big sigh, relax into me, and give a perfect imitation of the most contented feline ever. She was so adorable.

I enjoyed being aware of how much we accommodated one another. Me lying in a position she could take advantage of. Her waiting patiently for me to complete my nightly ritual so she could assume her favorite spot with me on the bed. I knew her favorite spots on her body for scratching.

As Fuzzy aged and lost abilities, I became more and more aware that her life span was nearing its max. I thought about what the end might be like. I had two dwarf hamsters who’ve died. They have a short lifespan, 2-3 years. It was hard when they died.

I’d say that I began grieving Fuzzy a couple of years ago. She was so incredibly sweet her last year. I liked to take her to the fenced backyard when I weeded and harvested my little vegetable garden. Fuzz enjoyed the time outside. She strolled around, sniffing, nibbling, lying in the grass, rolling in the dirt. On regular occasions she came by me as I worked. A little acknowledgement from me, a brief scratch, stroke or word, and she was happy, wandering off in another direction.

A couple of weeks ago, Fuzzy’s health began a sharper decline. She vomited hard several times. Then she quit eating. Towards the end she drank very little and became weaker and weaker.

Ah, this last part has been even more difficult than the previous section. It’s about Fuzzy’s death.

Sunday morning there was a knock at my door. It was a housemate saying, “There is something wrong with Fuzzy.”

I went into the bathroom next to my room. Fuzz likes to lie on the padded rug in front of the sink. She was stretched out in an awkward position, unmoving. I knelt beside her, petting her and gently calling her name. I thought she may have died in the night. Suddenly she lifted her head, gaining awareness. I picked her limp body up in my arms and carried her into my room. I laid her carefully down on my bed.

There was no more waiting. I needed to take her to the vet that day. It was time. I found a vet’s office that was open on Sunday, called and told them I needed to bring in my 17-year-old cat to be euthanized. They gave me a time, 30 minutes. I dressed slowly, reluctantly. I did not want to do what I had to do.

Once I was dressed I picked up Fuzzy and carried her gently to the car. I knew I didn’t need her cat carrier. She was barely able to walk. I looked closely at her. My Fuzz Butt was still there, but she was tired. I drove to the vet.

When I carried Fuzz into the office, the only person present was an assistant behind the desk. She looked very somber, saying, “Is this Fuzz Butt?” I nodded. I felt numb, just wanting to get through this.

I didn’t want to feel. I’m a farm kid. I learned we could not become attached to animals. They died. Or we ate them. Their lives were generally short, their time usually only a couple of years. Cats and dogs were working farm animals, not house pets. In fact, mom forbid animals in the house. If any animal became too ill, dad “put them out of their misery.” That was how we showed responsibility for our animals. If we cared too much, we’d never survive.

So I just wanted to get through this and get out of there. Then, if I was going to fall apart, I’d do it privately. But they wouldn’t allow me that. They were good at dealing with people losing pets.

After finishing paperwork, she led me into an examination room. She left and a vet’s assistant came in through another door. She was also very kind, patient and circumspect. She asked some questions, explained the process to me, and left me a button. She said it was a doorbell. When I was ready, I should push the button and the vet would come in. “Take all the time you need,” she said somberly. I told her I was ready right now. But she left.

Damn! Fuzz laid on the table. It wasn’t plain, bare steel. Something like an old towel was laid over it. It was more comfortable. Fuzz laid still. I held her, cuddled her, reassured her, and pushed the button. I heard the chime and waited. No veterinarian. I rang again.

A fairly young man came in wearing scrubs. He too wore a somber expression. He did a preliminary check of Fuzzy; heartbeat, lungs, eyes, mouth. He explained that they would take her out and put a catheter in a vein in Fuzzy’s leg. Then there would be two injections into it. The first would be saline, to flush it, make sure it was working. The second would be the medication. It was a sedative, a lethal dose. Again they told me, “Take as long as you want, then ring the bell.” They left.

I stroked Fuzz again. Well, I had never really stopped. My eyes were full. Tears fell. “Oh Fuzz. Oh Fuzz. You’ve always been such a good girl.” I sang to her. There were two songs I’d sung to her often.

“You are my Fuzz Butt, my only Fuzz Butt,

you make me happy, when skies are gray.

You’ll never know Fuzz, how much I love you.

Please don’t take my Fuzz Butt away.”

(You Are My Sunshine)

. . . and . . .

“Fuzzy Wuzzy, you’re the one.

Fuzzy Wuzzy, you’re so much.

Fuzzy Wuzzy I’m awfully fond of,

Fuzzy Wuzzy, I’m terribly fond of,

Fuzzy Wuzzy, I’m totally fond of you, you, you, you, you, you!”

(Rubber Ducky)

I rang the bell. The doctor picked up Fuzz and left the room to put the catheter in. I waited. It didn’t take long.

They laid Fuzz on the table again, and I stroked her as the vet began to act.

“This is the saline that I’ll inject first.” He gently pushed the plunger and the fluid flowed freely. “Okay, that’s enough. It’s working.”

I was trying very hard to cry aloud, though my tears fell. He looked at me closely, and I nodded.

“This is the sedative. It will be fast and painless.” He pushed the plunger. Fuzzy seemed to relax slightly. My tears rolled down. He used his stethoscope to listen for Fuzzy’s heart. He pressed it against one side of my little cat, then the other. He looked at me, slightly shook his head, and they walked out.

I picked up Fuzzy and sat down. I laid her across my lap and sobbed loudly. “Oh Fuzzy, oh Fuzzy.” I felt a shift in her body, but I knew that was just muscles relaxing. I cried, I held her, I rocked. “Oh Fuzzy.” I put her back on the table, pushed the button and left.

“Orange is the New Black”

I’ve been watching the Netflix tv show for about a month. Chapman is a young white woman with too much privilege, money, time, and narcissism. She is part of a drug running scheme which she finds exciting and fun. Until she is caught, tried, found guilty and sent to prison. That’s essentially where the series begins, though it is riddled with flashbacks which explain how various inmates got there.

I usually watch a couple episodes at a time. Today I watched four, four hours worth. The inmates wear tan scrubs. They have a variety of scams, power plays, and other stuff going on. So does the entire prison staff, on all levels.

There are leaders; powerful, intimidating women with strong personalities who form gangs, usually race based. With only a couple exceptions, everyone seems to be highly skilled at telling other inmates, “Don’t fuck with me” in a variety of words and actions. They posture, threaten, show no fear, crush vulnerability and at times, become violent. Anyway, all that is background to how I responded to it.

I was at a coffee shop watching the shows. When I left in my car, I was waiting at a light to make a left. A bicyclist rode between lanes, got in front of me and turned right in my lane, then got over to the left side of the lane. I came up close beside him and slowed down. Out my open window I said, “I’d give you more room if you hadn’t passed me illegally.” And I went on past.

I felt really self-righteous and tough. As I drove along I was impatient. I was also thinking about what I would do if that biker caught back up with me at a light and tried to get revenge for what I’d said. What if he tried to kick a dent into my car? I watched carefully for him and imagined how I’d stop him or get back at him.

Then some driver pissed me off because she was going 40 – forty mph as she pulled onto the freeway! FORTY! What a dumb fuck!

I realized I was feeling like I was in “Orange is the New Black.” I looked down at my tan pants and was surprised I wasn’t wearing scrubs! I looked at my peach and white stripped blouse and felt astonished.

How had I fallen so far into that mindset? How did I get lost in that?

But I’m not lost now. In fact, I wasn’t lost long at all. Within 5-10 minutes of leaving the coffee shop, I became aware that I had gotten confused. I chuckled a little bit. I know what to do to get back to myself. I looked again at my clothing, then at my surroundings, reminding myself of my reality. It took something like 20 minutes to get 90% back to myself.

I’m writing this because I’m still taken aback by how strongly I fell into that show. Wow. I can feel reassured because I quickly became aware of what happened and was able to effectively counteract it. Damn skillful.

Moving On

I’ve turned the corner and am happily moving ahead. Katy was my psychotherapist for six+ years. She was a tremendous help to me and I will forever be grateful.

Katy taught me to trust myself. She showed me that I am loveable, valuable and smart. I thought my intelligence was average, or less. Katy kept telling me I am very smart. I began to believe her and decided I wanted to know if that’s really true. I took an IQ test. 130. That means I am smarter than 98% of the population. Wow. I had no idea. Now I trust my thinking, my reasoning, my conclusions. Plus, I’m not afraid of disagreement and criticism. Thank you for all that Katy.

Katy and I have done as much together as we can. I’ll continue working with Kat from the same agency through September. Then I’m moving to Oregon.

I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to attain such valuable knowledge and truly priceless wisdom these past 7 years. I feel that I have earned and received such a blessing. I can never repay the givers, except by living the very best life I can.

Thank you Linda, Kathy, Dwight, Jen, Katy, and so many others, more than I can count. Then there are all my friends too. Ahhh.

A full heart is a good feeling manifested in warmth and a smile.

Depression

I hate depression. It’s one of my struggles. And I hate it deeply.

Yep, I’m feeling depressed right now. In part it’s this %!&!;!$!#!@ weather. So cold so long. Cloudy, dim, grim, dark. Piles of clothing on. Awkwardness of gloves, hats, boots. Shivering, struggling with colds, flu. I hate that too.

I lost my very best friend in November. She’s not dead, but our relationship had to end. Although she ended it, I understand why and accept this end. But it is breaking my heart. This is a great loss to me. I feel bereft and unmoored. It is so hard. I don’t hate this, because that would be like hating her, and I don’t.

I need to know that there is someone who loves me deeply, trusts me, respects me, believes in me, is delighted with me. I need to be treasured when I am at my worst and at my best.

I am hurting. I have endured a great and heartbreaking loss.

Dissociative Episode #1

This is the first occurrence I am aware of. I’m fairly certain there were earlier episodes, b what they were at the time.

It must have been 2010. I had just dropped off a client at her home in Mound. That’s about 25 miles from my home, and the distance had to be negotiated through Minneapolis rush hour traffic. Ugh.

I had only gone a few blocks when an aura appeared in my right eye. It was a glittery arc, like fireworks sparklers. In my 20s-30s the aura had proceeded debilitating migraine headaches. Since then, my aura has been followed by a minor headache and a graying of vision in my right eye. After 15-20 minutes all vestiges of my aura disappear and my vision is fully restored.

So I pulled into a parking lot, stopped in a shady spot, rolled my windows part way down because it was a hot day, reclined my seat, laid my head back, and closed my eyes. I would wait it out, as usual.

After 30 minutes I decided I had waited long enough. My vision was 90% restored, though I’d had more headache than I normally did. I drove onto the well known route.

Traffic sucked, I went slowly. I became aware that I felt very young and small. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there. I made a phone call on my cell as I sat in traffic on a four lane, two-way street.
Someone answered the phone. “This is Katy.”
“Katy? What? I don’t know what to do.”

The conversation proceeded from there. Katy was my psychotherapist but I couldn’t recognize the voice I heard weekly. She quickly perceived that I was in trouble. She used another phone to call an ambulance for me while speaking to me on the first phone. She worked to help me with a phone to each ear. The dispatcher patched Katy directly through to the EMTs. They told Katy that they needed to know where I was.
She asked, “What street are you on?”

I looked hard at street signs. I felt sure I should know what they said, but I just couldn’t quite tell. If I looked at it long enough, I thought I’d remember. It was on the tip of my tongue. Quickly Katy asked me other questions as she was prompted by the EMTs. She asked about landmarks, but I couldn’t identify any.

I told Katy that I felt very small in a real big car. (Honda Civic, compact car.) I had the sensation of peeking over the sill of my open window.

As that was happening, I became focused on a big blue street sign ahead of me. There was a long name on it, and it looked very familiar. As I sat there in the creeping traffic, the street sign looked more and more familiar. Suddenly it came to me!

“Hennepin! I shouted. “It says Hennepin! And Lake! The other one is Lake! I’m in Uptown!” I was very excited to make that identification. I knew where I was!

“Good. Okay. Now find a place to pull over and park.”
“Okay.”

Even though I had regained my ability to read, I wasn’t very good at it. I wasn’t very good at finding a place to park either. I drove another couple of miles before I pulled off Lake Street on a residential block and parked.

Katy asked me to read the street signs so I could tell her where I was. I did so. She told me not to move. It was easy to agree because I wanted someone to help me cope with these things that felt too big for me to manage. I sat very still in my car waiting for the EMT people Katy had told me about. She said they were nice people coming to help me.

In my rear view mirror an ambulance appeared. It came up behind and beside my car and stopped. A lady emerged and approached. A man got out and stayed back. The woman came to my door and asked me my name.

To my surprise, I couldn’t recall. The answer was there, but I couldn’t quite access it.

“Are you Deb?” It was the man on the other side of my car. He had reached through the open window where my purse was on the seat. He held my billfold and Minnesota driver’s license.

“Yes! That’s it! That’s who I am.”

They asked me to come with them to the hospital. I agree to go.

The ambulance ride was uneventful. They took me to Hennepin County Medical Center. I was on a gurney. I told them I could walk, but they asked me to stay down. I agreed.

I rolled into the hospital. I remember the lights in the ceiling flashing by. Next I was in a hospital bed in a room. I had IVs in my arm. I felt it was important to clutch my purse tight to myself or everything in it would be stolen. I dozed, I woke. Every waking was accompanied by a frantic search for my purse and pulling it close again.

There was a time or two when they told me they were drawing blood for a test. They thought I might have had a minor stroke.

Some time later I awoke again. I couldn’t see any reason for staying there. They said they had not found any evidence of a stroke or other physical ailment. I told them I wanted to leave. They agreed. I called a housie to pick me up. I took myself and my purse out to the sidewalk and waited.

About five hours had passed. I can only account for an hour or so. I have no knowledge of the other four hours.

It was dark, around 10:00pm according to my phone. I felt irritable, inconvenienced and angry. Housie arrived, took me home, and I went almost directly to bed. The next day housie gave me a ride to my car.

I wasn’t completely back to feeling like myself yet. I felt disoriented, disjointed, ill-fitting in my own skin. It was several days before a sense of wholeness returned.

In the meantime I had my head examined more than once in more than one way. The last was a stress EEG. I was to stay awake all night prior to the 7:00am test. All the lead wires were glued to my head, then I watched a light show while data was recorded.

I had been frightened that something terrible was happening to my brain. I horribilized that I had a tumor, that I had a degenerative brain disease, that I’d have ‘attacks’ on a regular basis and need round the clock care, that I’d have to move into a group home where people would control my life. It was a very stressful time.

As visits with Katy, my psychotherapist, piled up, I became calmer about it. My brain was fine. Katy believed it had been a dissociative episode, and all evidence supported that. I was able to accept her diagnosis and understand that it didn’t mean I am crazy. In fact, dissociating had been a sane way to cope with an insanely abusive father.

I was okay.

Dissociative Episode #2

In October, 2013, I was reading in a park in St. Paul when a visual aura suddenly appeared in my right eye. I groaned because the areas precede a graying out of part of my vision, a minor headache, and 15-30 minutes lost to sitting back, eyes closed, hoping that it doesn’t become a migraine like I used to get in my 20s. Those were completely debilitating for two days.

Again there was no migraine and my vision cleared up. I felt sort of disconcerted, which is not unusual. I drove home immediately.

It was a 10 minute drive. The last 8 blocks were difficult. I felt foreign and strange to myself. I struggled to string together a long sentence. I felt very young, little. I kept a conversation going with myself. “You know who you are and where you are going. You know that in just a few blocks you’ll come to . . . a corner you know. You’ll turn there, go just a little way, turn in the alley and drive into your garage.” I couldn’t come up with the names of the streets I was crossing, the number of blocks to go, or my street address.

It was critical that I not panic and lose hold on the things I did know. I kept repeating what I knew, maintaining a calm voice.

I got to my garage without a problem, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the door to open. I thought there should be some device in my car to do that, but I didn’t see anything. I did know that I could open the side door and push a button there to make the big door open. I did so and parked my car. I went into the house and to my rooms. I changed and sat, watching tv.

The next thing I recalled was still sitting in the chair but feeling certain there was something I should be doing. I didn’t know what that thing was. I put flip flops on, grabbed my purse, and went to find someone who could direct me. I found a housie and said to her, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

I felt calm; I just required some direction. However, there was apparently something about my visage that alerted housie that something was up. After she briefly spoke with my psychologist on the phone, Mary took me to the ER at my hospital.

She asked if I was willing to ride there with her so the medical people could help me. Of course I was willing. I’d been searching for someone to tell me what to do.

The ride to the hospital was fine. Housie walked me in.

Later I woke up in a semiprivate room. It was dark by then. I thought I might have been given something so I could rest. I felt unsettled. Things didn’t feel just right. I didn’t feel just right. I was kind of disoriented. I fell back to sleep.

After dozing off and on, I began to feel more coherent and asked questions of the nurses. Sunlight shone in the window. I learned that I had been there all night. Everything they’d wanted to do – tests, diagnostics – was done. I told them, “Then I might as well go home.” They agreed.

Housie gave me a ride home. I was very anxious waiting for her to come. It seemed like a very long wait, though I don’t really know how long it was.

I got home, went straight to bed, and slept most of the day. I was exhausted, especially mentally. I’d had more than I could manage. It wasn’t until another day later that I learned all that I’d missed.

Mary said she stayed there in the hospital for three hours. Medical people had asked her to come to me twice.

The first time I was sitting on the floor in the corner talking coherently, but to no one. The doctor asked me a question: “What is your name?” My response: “Then we left.” The doctor asked Mary if I was always like that. She told him that I am normally lucid and intelligent. In short, a normal adult person.

The second time Mary came in I was sitting upright on a table or bed, staring straight ahead, rigid, oblivious to the world.

That information shook me to my core! I didn’t know I was capable of such things and I had absolutely zero recall of it. I was frightened. The new information was very disorienting. What else had happened, or might happen in the future?! 

After a few days I began to accept my new self-knowledge and accept that I have full dissociative episodes, that my Dissociative Identity Disorder is an accurate diagnosis. I came to feel that this knowledge does not diminish me. It is another step on the trail of knowing myself more fully. Such knowledge is a good thing and I welcome it. I am okay.

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