Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psychological Tweezing (and other thoughts on emotional honesty)

I've meaning to blog lately. Catch up on life and explain a little. Because I'm trying something new and it feels significant. But it also feels painful. Very painful. And personal. So it's hard to put it down here.

How's this for a really vague start? Some stuff happened a while ago that shouldn't have and the consequences just keep raining down.

An odd thing: every time I go off my antidepressants I have these same impressions about the "stuff that happened a while ago"--not like testimony meeting impressions--but like strong, emotional messages that require some sort of action. In the past the only action that has made sense is self-harming options. Like I used to get frenetically and abstractly suicidal. Or I would have visions of carving my arms and stomach up, like I was a surgeon cutting out some sort of contagion. Or like I was too full inside and if I could just bleed a little there would be some relief to the emotional congestion. At the other end of the violence was always the possibility for someone else to take over, for escape, for rest.

I never acted on that stuff, it was just always presenting itself as the answer. But, probably thanks to all my friends who tried to kill themselves in high school and my sister who got her undergraduate work in psychology and because my grandma tried to kill herself but went to a sanitarium instead and was open about it, I knew there was another option--a good option: medication and therapy.

And it was good. It was helpful. But it didn't make the impressions go away (which always disturbed me a little). The medication made the impressions quieter so that I could start to examine the pieces that didn't overwhelm me. Therapy gave me the tools I needed to figure out how to examine them. (The tools I use most often are self-observation techniques and self-questioning processes, in case you were wondering.)

So now I'm here and something clicked and I'm taking on those impressions. I'm looking those emotional messages square in the face and unraveling the facts from the fiction. Well, that's the ultimate goal. Right now I would say I'm just allowing the impressions their space. I'm hearing them. I'm accepting them. I'm letting them say all the things they've been trying to tell me for years--all the hurt, anger, frustration, desperation, and confusion. And, the hardest part, I'm relaying the messages to the other people who need to hear it.

That last paragraph makes me sound nuttier than a fruit cake, but I don't know how else to describe it. For the first time in a long time I know I'm not crazy. I saw my psychiatrist, just to be sure. And she agreed. She said, "You're not depressed. You're not overly anxious. You just have some huge things facing you. But you are handling them as well as any person could." I don't feel cosmically out of control or overwhelmed. I'm surprised by the intensity of the emotional torrents playing out but they feel honest and, surprisingly, empowering. Not in the moment of it all. But later.

This whole process reminds me of that aphorism, "Depression is just anger turned inward." That reductionist aphorism gets a lot play and I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it until recently. I think I was afraid of certain situations in my life and of their consequences--emotional and spiritual and physical--and so I had to protect myself and my family. The only way I could protect us all was to hide the reactions and feelings and the only place to hide them was inside myself. I would never say depression is just any one thing, but we do put ourselves at risk when we inappropriately limit how we are allowed to express ourselves.

But you know, I was scared and alone and I think I did what I had to do at the time. And I'm doing what I have to do now.

What comes later, after the emotional swells and storms, is a cleaner feeling. A lighter feeling. The only way I can pin it down is to say it feels like honesty. I never thought such a simple idea would be so powerful in my life but I've come to realize that honesty is a big deal because it--our willingness to be honest with ourselves and the people around us, our integrity--is a large part of what keeps our agency in tact. Now that I'm being honest with myself and the people closest to me (which at this point is, like, two people) about what is really going on, I have so much more freedom. My choices are no longer limited to repression or desperation. Things like hope, forgiveness, change, and soul-restoring rest are finally, truly on the table.

When I was kid we had those Standing Tall tapes and there was this story that is pretty cliche but has stuck with me. I'm sure you've all heard it before, but I'm reiterating it because it has taken on new meaning for me.

This girl fell and got a splinter but instead of pulling the splinter out, she just put a band-aid on it and tried to tell herself she was better. But the splinter was still in there and her body was trying to push it out so the wound kept swelling up and filling with pus and aching. No matter how many times she replaced the band-aid the wound couldn't heal because of the splinter. She had to pull the splinter out--even if it was going to hurt a lot--because it was going to save her pain in the long run. It was the only way her wound would ever go away.

(This is similar to President Monson's talk about Hidden Wedges. Tangential, perhaps, but worth thinking about.)

I think this is how a lot of us function emotionally. We have emotional splinters that we keep trying to cover up, but the wounds will keep producing pus and swelling until we yank those nasty, infection-riddled suckers out. To be clear, medication and therapy are not the band-aids. The band-aids are our unhealthy coping mechanisms like anger, addictions, avoidance, overeating, overexercising, or dishonesty. Medication and therapy are the tweezers, the tools, that we use to extract the offending shard. They pave the way for healing.

There's still a long way for me to go and I'm still struggling with some very fundamental questions and I do still doubt my emotional stamina to see this process through, BUT there's a little hope out there now for me. I don't feel like I'll be stuck in the never ending spiral of depression. My wounds can maybe, hopefully, finally close. Counseling and medication may still be necessary for the long haul (my psychiatrist wants me back in a month), but they are no longer stop gaps for the suicidal eventualities.

And that feels good.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I.O.U.S.A. : Best Movie I've Seen in a Loooong Time

Dear Readers,

Please don't get all riled up because I'm NOT going all political on y'all even though I'm making a statement: the national debt is a problem. A big problem and a problem we can do something about. Watch this movie. It's only a half an hour. It's interesting. It's funny. And you'll be smarter when you're done. And maybe, just maybe, things will change.



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Boyd K Packer, Porcupine Love, and Self-Generated Warmth

So, I've had a lot of thoughts swirling around the ol' noggin about relationships--especially close family ones--and the emotional impact we all have on each other and I wanted to get all deep and philosophy-ish on ya . . . BUT turns out I'm too tired. So I'll just point you to the people who have been stirring me up and maybe they'll stir you too. In a good way.

The First Thing: I read this article, Solving Emotional Problem in the Lord's Own Way, by Boyd K. Packer in the January 2010 Ensign and was pretty offended. I was thinking, "What?!? You're going to tell already isolated and vulnerable people that they can't talk to their bishop as an avenue of support? How dare you!! Depressed and other mood disordered people need more support not less!!" But then I read the full text of the talk and backed off a little. The truth is this: your bishop, no matter how inspired he is, is not trained to deal long term with a real emotional/psychological issue. If you need real help--whether it's because you've got the crazies like I do or because your marriage is falling apart or because you just can't tell up from down anymore--your bishop is a starting point, but not the long term answer.

I think the thing that really bothered me was that the title of article made me think it was not just advice for bishops. I thought there was going to be some specific guidance for someone like me who has trouble telling the difference between her anxiety drive and/or intrusive thought patterns and the Spirit. But there wasn't and I felt let down.

The Next Thing: But then there was this video with Elizabeth Gilbert (who apparently I am the LAST person in the world to have heard of!) on the PBS special This Emotional Life , called Porcupine Love.

And that felt so true. And it was sort of the same thing Pres. Packer was saying. We've got to figure out how to make ourselves warm enough so that we can avoid getting pricked and pricking others. We can't ask our bishop to make the warmth for us, or our visting teachers, or our spouses, or whoever. Because if we do they are just going to end up pricking us. That's the nature of our fallen world. We've got to warm ourselves.(Why I took this message better from Schopenhauer/Elizabeth Gilbert is good food for thought. I guess I'm just a sucker for a great metaphor.)

The Final Thing: I found myself leafing through our copy of the last General Conference Ensign and decided to read Being Temperate in All Things. This talk blew my mind when I first heard it and it offered some good insights again. Turns out this talk was the one with the specific guidance about solving emotional problems! The thing I'm meditating on now:

"Being temperate means to carefully examine our expectations and desires, to be diligent and patient in seeking righteous goals. . . Security for [ourselves and] our families comes from learning self-control, avoiding the excesses of this world, and being temperate in all things. Peace of mind comes from strengthened faith in Jesus Christ. Happiness comes from being diligent in keeping covenants made at baptism and in the holy temples of the Lord."

Doesn't quite cover intrusive thought and over-active anxiety, but it does give some specifics (especially if you read through the 18th-21st paragraphs). And I feel comforted. After all, when it comes to being depressed I'm not necessarily searching for soaring, gleeful moments of JOY. I just want to be steadier, stronger. I want to be the kind of gal who doesn't break into jagged, harmful shards when under stress. I want to be, well, temperate.

(Of course, the bad news about that is that tempered glass undergoes a pretty stressful heating process to make it strong. But that's another post for another day!)