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Another half-serious attempt at recording my adventures.

Musica de El Salvador: Why I avoid it and stuff?

This video was to accompany the post and I don’t know how to blog.

Some friends may know that when it comes to Spanish music, I recoil. 

I get questioned as to why pretty much 100% of the time. For most people, music makes them happy. For many second-generation Latinos like myself, this is the branch between being American and being from wherever-your-family-is-from. 

The way I recoil is also very immediate, and usually in horror/disgust. Seriously. If I was previously dancing, I will immediately stop, look for the closest chair and sit down. Most likely, my mood will drastically go from “Yay!” to, “I want to leave. Now.”

My reaction is overreactionary. I don’t even react to Justin Beiber and his ilk as strongly.

I have been called “arrepentida”, which makes no sense because I speak, read and enjoy the Spanish language, and my favorite thing about having studied political science was learning about Latin America. And just no. 

So why?

For most of my life, my father was a raging bull of an alcoholic. He only stopped drinking heavily because he needed a liver transplant. He got one and is alive and all that. We still don’t have a great relationship and probably never will, and our story would make a really great book some day. He pretty much ruined Spanish music for me. I have those crazy flashback-reaction moments, and describing that in full detail would entail a lot more writing.

So today, facebook got me clicking one link after the other until I came around to something from El Salvador, where my dad’s from. I came upon one of his favorite bands. I clicked. I stepped away from myself and listened. The orchestra is fantastic. The lyrics are quite nice. Some of them are moving, actually. I listened to a few songs. I did enjoy them. I didn’t recoil (too much).

/

There’s no real point to this. I’m talking about myself and my internal psycho-babble. My writings are essentially notes on my own analysis. I feel that I do this so well that I am a horrible client for therapists because I end up arguing with (or even lecturing!) them about “what does this mean?”

So when I’ve asked for an older therapist and I’ve been questioned about it, it does mean that yes, I do not trust a younger therapist’s judgement. I’ve literally left different therapists speechless, which is when I realize that I’m wasting my time and money. Out of five therapists I’ve seen, only one actually helped me. I could also write a lot more about this (notes to self). Therapy is hard not just because it’s therapy. You actually have to like your therapist, too.

/sidenote

I will never be able to “just enjoy”. I probably will remain uncomfortable dancing to Spanish music, and please don’t make me, because there are many battles to fight and I really don’t feel like putting any effort into this one. I will probably always think about my father, because that’s what messed up relationships can do to a human.


One of the interesting things I feel from other obvious emotions is regret mixed in with a little anger. I could have had great memories with this music. I could have thought about Christmases past and other family reunions with fondness instead of the jumbled mess I feel. I’m mad at the missed opportunity.

I’ll just go ahead and add that when I see friends sharing a beer with their fathers, I get pretty jealous. I’ll never be able to go out with my dad, share a couple dozen oysters at a seaside restaurant, and wash it down with something cold and refreshing. I’ll never have him over for dinner to have a hearty Italian meal with a robust red wine. I’ll never have a good conversation with him over a neat whiskey. I’ll never be able to listen to this music and share a dance with him, or anyone. It kind of sucks. It would have been nice, I think.

I’ll never get to know my father as an adult, and let that relationship mature and grow the same way my relationship with my mother has grown up. I love how we can tell each other nearly anything, and I never tire of her company. I find my mother to be an interesting human being. I love having her become my friend.

So, my regrets. Aside from having all that in-the-moment bullshit I dealt with by having an abusive alcoholic father, and the years of therapy and crap that followed it, I now deal with the regret of not being able to have my father today.

He’s alive, but our relationship will never have, not even for a moment, the kind of fondness, trust and comfort that I wish it could have had. I can only call him a “father” when I recall my early childhood, before the shit hit the fan between us — apart from my parent’s divorce. He’s practically a stranger to me now. 
I can’t comfortably call that man “my father” today.

Not even for a moment. 

One of the few things I’ve learned after therapy is that once these moments happen - a breakthrough, if you will - is that it can get you all wound up, and you really should not let these realizations get to you. It should be treated carefully. It’s very easy to relive each moment, with many renditions of shoulda-woulda-coulda. Hindsight can be difficult to deal with.

Another thing I have learned is that even though things are theoretically fixable, it doesn’t mean that it can and will be. My father is alive, and theoretically, I can put in the effort to fix our relationship. I know he wishes things were different like I do, too. Theoretically, it can be fixed. Still, there is a huge blotch in it that is over ten years long, and some stains just won’t come out.

Maybe the kind of relationship we have today is as good as it’s going to get for a while. Maybe it needs more time. Maybe this is it. Uncertainty is also another difficult thing I had to learn to accept. 

Gripes

Why are there no strong mental health advocacy organizations? How many people actually know of NAMI? What have they actually done for people like me? Why is help generally so expensive and hard to get?

I go to my poor people clinic, and it’s a disaster most of the time (administration-wise). I tried moving up an appointment a couple months ago because I was having trouble sleeping and I had high anxiety, but without panic attacks. So I wanted to move up my appointment because I wanted to avoid its progression. It was right after I started working at the restaurant and my sleep had started going to crap, again. 

It was pretty much a waste of time — I still would’ve waited over a month to see my pdoc. They are understaffed, for sure. Administration is horrible. I’ve filed a complaint before. Because of course I did.

So what do I do? Suck it up, hope for the best to not have a relapse? Or go to the hospital, try to convince them that I’m sick enough, and then be forced to stay overnight (at least overnight, if you’re lucky).

My decision: I ended up adding St. John’s Wort and melatonin to my existing meds and hoped for the best. Ha. I felt ok sometimes, especially when I started taking melatonin.

I’d have my good days, and my high irritable days. I would be curt and impatient and crass. I would drive too fast, laugh too loud, and generally feel like the world was moving much too slow for me. Sometimes I know I made no sense. Then, I’d get angry all over again because I couldn’t move up my appointment.

Of course, the bursts of energy never lasts long enough (and why can’t I just get hypo without getting so damn easily irritated?). My mind just keeps speeding up to the point that there are no more racing thoughts, just static. Fuzz. White noise.

Focus? Kaput. Motivated? Maybe, but I don’t know where to go anymore. The only time I feel I can focus the energy is when I cook. I’m getting back into the habit of reading, so I don’t have to worry about my own thoughts, just absorbing someone else’s.

And just… wait wait wait for that damn doctor’s appointment. I was getting worn down, and I started feeling like I was going to go over to the other side soon. Because it always does.  

I’m POSITIVE I could have avoided my anxiety-ridden, depressed and fatigued feeling had I seen my doctor before I ended up having a fantastic panic-attack filled weekend.

Like, why the hell does my body hurt? Multiple panic attacks and random crying spells drain you of your energy. Knowing this doesn’t help.

I slept on average 14 hours a day, and I still felt tired while awake.

Everything is too bright.
Feeling like fainting while getting up.
Taking in deep breaths when my heart races up so quickly, my brain pulses.

It’s those kinds of feelings that start a panic attack. A body is so vulnerable to a repeat attack when it’s so tired like that. It’s so physical… I wish people could understand that.

If panic attacks are thunderstorms, then the aftermath is a thick fog. I’m waiting for my damn rainbow.

I’m starting to feel better. I think. My body still feels sore (I don’t get it). It comes and goes. It’s not all good though. I’m getting impatient and I’m kind of angry at what happened because I feel it was absolutely avoidable.

So WTF man? So many years doubting the power of psychiatric help and medication, and now as a believer, I’m told, no, you can’t move up your appointment even though you feel you need it. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or go to the crisis unit for an overnight stay. Essentially.

The story of my life.

The story of my life.

Hummingbird Heart

So below is the poem about my hummingbird heart. I wrote it back in 2010, and I sent it to an artist and friend that designed the hummingbird I’ve posted earlier, and use as my avatar. She actually ended up making three, and all of them are lovely.

Back then, I was going through a relapse, and I had been struggling with panic attacks especially. I learned breathing techniques, wrote a lot, and refused to take any medicine to treat myself.

I took meds back in 2006, and I had very strong negative effects. Perhaps it was because I was still so young, and psychiatric medication sometimes causes unintentional negative reactions in young adults. Though, it is also very possible that the antidepressants triggered a manic episode. My current pdoc thinks it may be the case, but we’ll never truly know. I ended up going inpatient twice that year.

It was back in the fall of 2009 that I first received a bipolar diagnosis, and I cried and protested and claimed that it was only anxiety and nothing else. 

These cycles come and go every couple of years. First time this happened was in 2004, then again in 2006, fall 2009 - summer 2010 and fall 2012 - end of 2013 (I have faith that my current slump is correlated to the restaurant job, and then I’ll be fine again).

Aside from this, I’ve felt pretty normal and stable. Following these episodes though, I feel like I have lost the entire year. It makes you very egocentric, just because you are entirely occupied with horrible thoughts, emotions, impulses and terrible behavior. So in a way, it does make you an asshole.

Here’s something I once scribbled on one of my many notebooks (I have a slight obsession with notebooks and stationery in general), right after a panic attack in 2010:

It starts with a quiver, a flounce and a shiver
A bead of sweat triggers

Hummingbird heart

The actual poem is beneath the second picture of the series. It is as raw as it gets. I am inviting you in to my fears and loss of control. I’m inviting you to see my vulnerability when these strike. I’m not a poet by any means, but this one… this one means so much to me.

image

(Julia Gfrörer,  http://www.thorazos.net/)

In fact…


The weight of the world is crushing my shoulders, my chest
absolutely erratic hummingbird heart

Ants crawling out my nose

Electric shocks running through my spine

Numb
Tingling
Cold
Hot

Beads of sweat soak through my clothes

Escaping the world, closing my eyes

Drowning in an empty room, spinning wildly
Repetitive, rhythmic panic, anxiety
Hyperventilation, static response

Earth quakes, epicenter: me
Clenched fist, grinding teeth
Muffled groan, painful shrieks
Can’t stop the monster living in me
Fluttering wildly, my hummingbird heart.

… and I’m here again, left to rummage through the mess

Stuck inside my head

Trying to feel the firmness of ground at my feet

Instead, I’m floating

Airy, static and numb

Be still, please, hummingbird heart
quiet, calm, peaceful might
relax your wings and take control
a mind at ease relaxes the soul
the body can’t take this emotional toll
a fear of inability to control these stresses
makes me a prisoner of my own repressions

“be quiet, be still” turns into comatose
off kilter, mind static, blank
an electrical misfiring
a shock, a depression of losing control, again

because I can’t handle it, again
because I am weak, again
because I am alone, again
because I am unstable, again

Do I have to go to the hospital, again?
Ignore
Ignore
Ignore


Don’t want to lose that good love I’ve got.
And I will lose it.
(No, no, no)
Ignore
Ignore
Ignore

Wash, repeat.

The Panic Attack

Before you begin reading this, please know that I have been struggling with the idea of completely “outting” myself. I’ve heard so many opinions on how I should not do this, because I will be shunned. Stigma is so strong, and people will stop taking me seriously. People will first look at me as “crazy” before they take everything else into account. I have been dealing with this for more than ten years. I have been hospitalized three times. Every single time something bad happens, I go into hiding, and all the people close to me must think I’m an asshole. In reality, I’m just scared of being ostracized. 

I don’t think it’s fair that I “have” to hide my illness. I want people to understand that I do not go out late at night anymore because it may trigger me. I’m sorry for missing out on so many birthday parties. I want people to understand that for me, going out to party until late makes my mind keep going, and for my brain, it’s like it does not leave the party for days or weeks at a time. I stop sleeping, I start being nonsensical, and then eventually, I crash. I get depressed. I lose so much valuable time. Much too often, when these cycles come and go and I finally start feeling normal again, I look around to find the gigantic mess I created. It feels like I have to start life all over again. I don’t want to do that anymore. I can’t live this way anymore.

I fully accept that I am bipolar. I fully accept that I need to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis, take my medicines faithfully, stop old habits, and create new ones. It took me many years to reach this point. So after much deliberation, I have to accept who I am, with my faults. I am not afraid of being passionate, of loving, of sharing this very personal, and sometimes painful, part of me. 

If people want to shun me, then I don’t want them in my life anyway. Despite what all of my professors, doctors and mentors have said, everytime I have opened up to someone, I have felt accepted and nothing changes. If things change, I will adapt. I have created a strong support system because I have opened up. Shutting up has done nothing but harm.

So why open up? I want this to be the norm. Much like LGBTQ individuals are becoming less and less afraid of coming out, I want mentally ill individuals to stop being so damn scared. In my opinion, to not come out is to be scared, to not accept who you are, to hide, and very likely, not get the medical and emotional help needed to feel confident and capable again. True friends and family will love you all the same. Life can be “normal” and beautiful if you are open with yourself and take care of yourself. It is so key. It is so absolutely essential to be able to take care of yourself.

So… thank you for reading.

image

(Orginal artwork by Julia Gfrörer. More of her work can be seen here: http://www.thorazos.net/)

The panic attack has always been one of the worst elements of my mental illness. I’ve written a poem about it, but I’d rather properly explain what it is actually like first. Poem can come later.

For instance, I had a panic attack at work yesterday early in the afternoon. I was lucky enough to get to a bathroom right before it hit. I slept for about 13 - 14 hours when I got home from my shift.

This morning, I woke up with a migraine, and my whole body aches — a fever-like ache. I feel slightly nauseous. I still feel fatigued. Panic attacks usually throw me off for a couple of days, and if I’m not careful, it can throw me into a bout of depression. I’m strongly considering calling out of work today.

My manager did not let me go home following the panic attack. I don’t know if it is because like most people, the belief is that it is just something made up in your head. It’s not real.

He did let me stay in the office and answer phones for a couple of hours, though. That was good.

I’ve said this a million times over, and I will repeat it ad nauseum until people finally get it. Mental illness is a physical illness. It occurs in an organ called the brain. Just because it affects your brain does not make it imaginary. A brain is an organ. Mental illness is real.

There is usually little warning when a panic attack is going to occur. If I had to put a number to it, I’d say 5 minutes or less. First-timers often mistake it for a heart attack. It is the result of an accumulation of stress, and it improperly fires off your body’s “fight-or-flight” response in an erroneous manner. 

Symptoms (for me) include:

  • Extreme feeling of being overwhelmed and a sense of impending doom. Today, after dealing with panic attacks for years, I also feel dread. I keep telling myself, “Why is this happening again? What did I do wrong this time? Will this ever stop happening?”
  • Light-headedness, like feeling I’m about to faint. If I don’t sit or lie down, I may end up on the ground.
  • Hyperventilation, shortness of breath
  • Sweating profusely
  • Extreme sensitivity to my surroundings. I usually have to close my eyes, and sometimes press down on my ears.
  • Heaviness/tightness in chest, which yes, leads to the hyperventilation, but also makes me want to scream. I sometimes do.
  • Feeling like my skin has ants crawling all over it. Very similar to when your “leg falls asleep” but it’s everywhere. It’s always the most intense around my face. Sometimes I feel it going all over the inside of my mouth and nose.
  • My entire body shakes and no, I can’t control it. Sometimes my teeth chatter.
  • Sometimes I clench my fists and jaw.
  • Sometimes I get nauseous. I did end up throwing up once.
  • Crying, obviously. 

Following a panic attack, which usually lasts around 30 minutes, I feel extremely fatigued. If I have access to Xanax, it shortens to about 10 minutes. I always get a headache. If I end up staying awake (like I did yesterday at work), I am pretty much useless because I feel disoriented, confused and weak — again, much like when you get a fever. I usually pass out for hours.

Best part about staying at work yesterday was the loud music playing, the crowds continuously building at the doors, and pretending to be ok. As a reference, I’m currently a hostess at a restaurant.

My hands were still shaking and I laughed nervously because I kept holding back tears. I was in the perfect environment to have another panic attack. I didn’t. 

When I came home, first thing I did was hug my fiance and cry. I helped him put away some groceries, I reheated some leftovers, took a Klonopin (for anxiety) and my nightly dose of Lamictal (for my bipolar). I fell asleep while watching an episode of Weeds.

The worst part about having panic attacks is the strong desire to stay home to avoid having another panic attack. It does make you weak and susceptible to having a repeat incident. The idea of going to an environment that is loud and crowded honestly frightens me. That is exactly the kind of place I should be avoiding, not going into willingly. I honestly hate that this is my job, even though I’ve met a lot of lovely people there. I know that there is at least one person I will keep in my life long after I leave this job. This is a wonderful gift.

My psychiatrist (I will refer to him as pdoc afterwards) has told me that for someone with bipolar, working in a restaurant is among one of the worst jobs to have.The environment and the odd hours can trigger mood swings and disrupt sleeping patterns, and it does not help that my bipolar is comorbid with an anxiety disorder. People that know me have heard me repeatedly complain about not sleeping at all, not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, and having disrupted sleep for almost a month at a time. Since working at a restaurant, this has been my norm. I have been getting more and more worn down, and yesterday I cracked.

Ok. So now I know. It is harmful to my health. Aside from getting my new prescriptions (temporary increase of Klonopin and a temporary addition of a sleeping medication), I was also strongly advised to get a new job. A regular 9 - 5 job that will offer consistency. If I can work just lunch shifts, I’ll be fine. I need to maintain a regular schedule. I may have to accept getting paid less if I can’t get my schedule changed, but at least I won’t get sick, and thus lose potential earnings.

After accepting my diagnosis earlier this year (I was in denial for three), I read up as much as I could about being bipolar. I read scholarly journals and hard research. I like research. It’s comforting, and it reinforces the idea that mental disorders are real physical illnesses.

Bipolar is a life-long chronic disorder that can be treated, controlled and stabilized, much like the way asthma and diabetes can be. It can run in families.

In my own family I know of two others with bipolar. It has not skipped a generation, as far as I know. The oldest one with bipolar was never properly treated and was always explosive and “crazy”. The other family member did get help, and is doing much better today, as anyone that has reached the light of the end of the tunnel should feel. I am the one that has caught on to it the earliest in age. I have only been getting treated for about a year, and have already tried about 7 different combinations, or as I prefer to call it, “cocktails”. Well, now it’s 8, but again, this medication change is temporary, because yes, working in a restaurant is affecting me that strongly. Once I get a regularly scheduled job, I’ll go back to cocktail #7. Cocktail #7 was the breakthrough I needed, and I’d love to go back to that.