Someone broke my brain.  Fine, it was me.  I broke it.

Periodically, and for no justifiable reason, my brain tries to make me crazy.  Not my normal brand of crazy, made up of social anxiety and occasional depression, but insane-crazy.  It makes me almost non-functional for days at a time, but it hasn’t defeated me yet, and I don’t plan on allowing it to do so.  When these giant, existentially-challenging, brain wars don’t work, my gray matter will sometimes try a different tactic– seizing on one thing like a dog with a friggin’ bone and effectively creating an intense tunnel vision that prevents me from seeing anything else, making the one thing seem much more colossal than it actually is.  That is what my brain was doing the past few days.  I may as well do something constructive with it.

Two weeks ago, I had the first of what would be five interviews for a highly desirable job that could well turn into an actual career for me.  At the time, I told myself there was no way I would get it and that it was a crappy job anyway.  I do this any time I actually want something because disappointment is extremely detrimental to me.  Most people respond to disappointment with a sigh and a shrug– or if it’s significant, a bunch of shots– but they tend to get over it in a fairly reasonable amount of time.  When I allow myself to really want and hope for something and then end up not having it, I sink into a sad hole of discouragement so intense that I refuse to even try to accomplish basic life functions.  So my way of protecting myself from the rabid despair monster is to not get my hopes up.  Ever.  About anything.  Until I have incontrovertible proof that it’s mine.  I call it being realistic, but in reality it’s pure pessimism.  That way, when I don’t get something I want, I don’t get super upset– and when I do get it, I get to feel excessively happy about it.

So I walked into this interview planning to give it my best shot but fully believing nothing would come of it.  Imagine my surprise when, two minutes into my meeting with the GM, he looked me straight in the face and told me that I was perfect for the position and that he felt honored to have the privilege of meeting me.  He also said that my timing was perfect, as well as my knowledge and experience, and that he wanted to move me forward in the process and have all of the other managers interview me.  Essentially he said he wanted to hire me and then spent another half hour asking me questions while four other people waited in the foyer to be interviewed.  And if you know anything about a restaurant manager’s schedule, then you know that getting an uninterrupted, half-hour interview with a GM is about as rare as a narwhal sighting in Iowa.  So I walked out of the interview feeling better than I ever have walking out of any interview in my life (Honored to meet me?  Oh, he’s good).  And I proceeded to have three more interviews with three other managers, all of which went quite well, including the ninety-minute interview with the senior manager (the GM’s co-pilot), during which he basically turned my brain inside out and inspected it with a magnifying glass.

Thursday I had my final meeting with the GM, my fifth interview.  He said that the senior manager had written “HIRE THIS GIRL” in all caps across the top of my interview papers.  He said that was an unprecedented indicator of approval from a man who has been in the industry for three decades.  We settled my wage, discussed my schedule, and spoke more in depth about my experience.  He told me that he was hiring me and that I could come in for my first day of work after he spoke with three references.  I gave him three phone numbers of people whom I trust to deliver a glowing review of my professional and personal behaviors and accomplishments.  He assured me that I should not worry if he took a couple of days to call me because he was shorthanded over the weekend and would be very busy.  He even– no exaggeration– teared up as he once again told me how honored he was to hire me and how perfect he felt I was for the restaurant and the team.  All of these things would tell a rational person that they  have securely landed a job with a kind and intelligent individual.  Correct?  Any normal human being would walk away from this encounter with every certainty that they will start their new job in a few days.  Add to all of this the fact that, when I sent an email thanking him for the interview, he responded that he would be seeing me very soon.

Explain to me then why I have been in a fit of restless, pensive anxiety for the past three days.  My brain has seized on the lack of a phone call– a perfectly reasonable situation that has no negative connotation whatsoever– and turned it into doom.  My brain says, “What if one of your references said something bad?” or “What if he changed his mind because you said something weird before you left?” or “What if none of my references call him back, and he thinks it’s because they all hate me?”  Keep in mind that the references I gave him were two former bosses (one was my mentor, and the other offered when I left to be an excellent reference for me whenever I may need him) and a dear friend who used to work with me and whom I just saw a couple of days ago.  And I let all three of these people know that my new boss would be contacting them.  How in the HELL is my brain turning all of this logical and positive and explainable stuff into a hell-bound doom-rocket??!  I have a new job!  An excellent job!  I know this undeniably in the area of my brain that can process logic and facts.  That part of my brain is often incapable of defeating the other part, which I liken to a dark, damp, cold cave in the middle of a forest from which all irrational fears and doubts emanate.  Hence my utterly unfounded, anxiety-ridden, midnight rant.

I mentioned in my last post that I have been doing research into the psyche– more specifically the long-term effects of abuse and trauma.  Some people, when faced with a terrible and daunting problem, will stick their heads in a hole in the ground and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  And because of that, it gets worse, and it envelopes them, and they don’t even stand a chance.  I cope far better with health and mental issues if I gather as much information as I possibly can.  I want to know why and how and what to expect and what can be done to make it less disruptive to daily life.  Some people find the rush of potentially negative information very discouraging; I find it soothing.  The better I understand something, the less power it has over me.  I have learned that many of my quirks– thoughts and behaviors and feelings that I thought were unique to me and my particular brand of fucked up-ness– are actually symptoms that are quite common among survivors of abuse and trauma.  Which gave me a great deal of comfort.  And validation.

I wasted two days with my anxiety monster raging under my skin and preventing me from relaxing or spending quality time with my husband.  (It honestly feels like an alien inside of me, permeating my muscles and making them twitch, making my heart palpitate and my blood pressure increase.  It’s so intense sometimes that I can feel it physically, like a burning rock sitting on my sternum and a bunch of smaller rocks gurgling and grinding in my stomach.)  I tried to stay constantly busy, waiting for my new boss to call and tell me when my first day of work will be and checking my phone every thirty seconds.  I didn’t sleep well two nights in a row, holding my phone on my chest.  This is the weird and irrational compulsiveness of anxiety sometimes.  Today I woke up, and though nothing had actually changed externally, the monster was quieter for some reason.  

I never know how long it will hibernate, but I always try to take advantage of its absence.  I made breakfast and ate without feeling nauseous.  I did housework and enjoyed the fact that I didn’t panic when the hubby went to the gym and left me alone for an hour and a half.  I watched Workaholics all day and genuinely laughed and cut my husband’s hair for him and listened while he played his guitar.  And nothing interrupted my day aside from the occasional intrusive thought.  Today I felt close to “normal,” and I liked it.  I want to have more days like today.  One of my friends, who is more like I am than most, sent me a long and rambling text reminding me that I am not alone in being weird and a little crazy.  It made me feel grateful.

I don’t like my monster.  I don’t like that it tries to ruin days that should be happy.  I don’t like that it turns good things into doubts and fears.  I don’t like that it forces its way in uninvited and stays as long as it wants, putting its feet on the furniture and tracking mud everywhere and eating everything in the fridge and clogging the drain in the shower.  It’s an asshole for sure.  But it also forces me to be strong.  And self-aware.  And compassionate toward other people who have monsters of their own.  So I take those things and reject the rest.  My monster has made me a fighter, a warrior.  So far, I have won every battle, proven by the fact that I’m still here.  While the monster tells me to be scared that this amazing job– that I earned– isn’t real or that I don’t deserve it, I will shield myself from its lies with my truths.  I am smart.  I worked hard to get where I am.  I deserve good things.  I am a good person.  I can be happy.  I am as strong as a deep-rooted oak tree and as adaptable as rushing river, carving its path across the landscape.  I cannot be broken.  These are my truths, and I live them.  Find your truths, people.  Find your truths and live them every day.  Because the light of those inarguable truths weakens the monsters.  And that’s how you win. 

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Isolation is a Self-Imposed Prison. And I Love my Cell.

I have been MIA from my blog for almost a year, and I feel I should explain why.  All of you who follow me on social media see only what I want you to see, as is true of all of us.  And what I have allowed all of you to see for the past 13 months or so is a gigantic lie interspersed with brief moments of alcohol-fueled semi-honesty.  I have posted pictures of cool shit and articles full of righteous political rage.  I have posted things designed to make you laugh and things designed to make you think.  I have posted anything but the truth, and I am going to do so now before I lose the courage.  (Remarkably, there is no booze involved in the writing of this post, which suggests that I have truly reached a point of desperation in the need to release all of this pent up crap-on-a-stick.)

A little over a year ago, I began training with a company that made big promises and kept them well– for the three months that I was in training.  I saw some things in the training process that I felt were counter-productive, but I didn’t think much of it because most companies are periodically moronic.  Upon completing training, I was placed at a location that was run by an individual who, I soon learned, was every abusive person I had ever encountered in my whole life.  This individual was so very mentally abusive (certain words come to mind, such as “gaslighting” and “narcissism”) that I began suffering from a daily recurrence of PTSD symptoms that I had worked  years to overcome.  In addition, his boss was just as abusive, if not worse, so I had no one to turn to for help.  In speaking with the woman who worked with this person before I arrived, I learned that she had suffered so extremely from his treatment of her that her doctor had required her to be medicated for the duration of her time there.  Anyone seeing a pattern here?

While this was going on, we also had someone break into our apartment and hold my husband at gunpoint.  With my gun (no one preach at me about guns– I don’t want to hear it).  A week after my children left to go stay with their dad.  In broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon.  This occurred a month after a massively devastating health issue hit me, and I was not recovered, physically or emotionally.  The thought of what I could have lost– and that it could have been taken from me with my own weapon– still gives me serious heart palpitations, nausea, and panic when I consider it.  So I don’t.  With this mountain of stress, I saw no way to hold myself or my life together outside of the greatest feat of repression I have ever attempted.  And those of you who have known me since my first marriage know that I am the widely-acknowledged QUEEN  of repression.  I was painfully aware that, should I choose to try and process all that had happened, I would have a full-blown nervous breakdown and lose everything.  I speak from experience.  This is exactly why I have become so good at taking all of those monstrous and evil things and tucking them away into tidy boxes in the attic of my mind with the label DO NOT OPEN UNTIL FULL MENTAL BALANCE IS ACHIEVED.  It is a necessity.  It is self-preservation.  Any one of these things I may have been able to deal with on its own.  After all, I have been dealt some shitty hands in my thirty-six years– chronic illness and anxiety disorder, the loss of both of my parents, a divorce, living across the country from my kids half the time, estrangement of most of my remaining family, etc.  (Don’t get me wrong– I’ve been dealt some straight flushes too: my second marriage, learning my own strength [which is nothing to shake a stick at], landing a brilliant new job, having three of the most beautiful and intelligent children ever to walk the earth, and on and on…)  So for me to say that something is too much… it’s really too much.

I operated on autopilot for a year.  I didn’t see my husband for more than a few hours per week, due to the fact that I was required to work every weekend, and most weeks I worked 60-70 hours.  Every day I dealt with crippling anxiety caused by my work environment, and every night I came home and had two or three shots to kill my racing thoughts so I could sleep for six hours.  And that formula was certainly effective in repressing most of my emotions for me.  I found us a new apartment right before our lease was up, so moving occupied any spare time I may have had between work and sleep (and there was none).  The moving helped tremendously– we went from an unsecured apartment in a crime-ridden area to a gated community with private security patrols twenty-four hours a day.  We no longer barricaded the front door and windows at night and no longer slept with a three-foot long sword (yes, a real sword) next to the bed.  We no longer had to search the apartment for intruders after every grocery trip, and we stopped jolting awake in terror at every sound.  The nightmares stopped for the most part.

Around Christmas we were allocated a therapist by the city to help us cope with the adjustment disorder and PTSD from which we were both suffering.  And do you know what I did?  I lied to our therapist.  My need to repress what was really eating me alive was so very overpowering that I lied to our therapist– the one person who was especially assigned to deal with all of that overflowing brain-garbage I couldn’t handle.  I said what I was expected to say.  I told him some other traumas that I had already dealt with to an extent and was therefore more prepared to disclose.  This worked for awhile.  Occasionally I would have verbal diarrhea or break down for fifteen minutes, but it was all very superficial– my heart wasn’t in most of it.  It wasn’t that I was being consciously disingenuous; I just didn’t know how to be anything else.  When you repress for so long, it becomes habit, instinct.  And you don’t know how to stop.

In March I stopped working for the company that was putting me through daily hell.  I knew there would be some financial worries for a minute, but I preferred that to the constant abuse and misery.  I was working 60-70 hours a week to spend my two days off alone, passed out on the couch, recovering from the other five days and preparing myself for another five.  And always, always suffering from a level of anxiety that I knew was very unhealthy both physically and mentally.  It wasn’t worth the decent paycheck.  Besides, with my experience, a job in my industry is never hard to find.  Once I left the company, I began to see exactly how badly the job had affected me.  I hadn’t seen the full scope of it until I was removed from the situation.  I stopped drinking immediately– I didn’t need it, and minus the stressors, I didn’t want it.  For the first two weeks after I left, I made an effort to go to the beach and to the store and to the park, etc. just about every day.  There was rarely a day that I didn’t leave the apartment.  And then that changed.  I stopped feeling capable of facing the world outside of my safe home.  I dreaded the thought of interacting with a stranger, even on the phone.  I started finding excuses to stay indoors.  I exercised at home.  I sent my husband to the store.  I would only go anywhere at hours when I knew there was likely to be very little human interaction, and then I would make every effort to appear as unapproachable as possible.  I even managed to throw out my hip and lower back, which– although frustrating and very genuine– conveniently gave me an excuse to stay home for a full week.  I felt myself sinking… and sinking… and sinking… down into that murky depth of suffocating sadness where everyone is an enemy and everything is a reminder of something that hurts.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram to give the illusion that I was interacting with other people.  I played with my makeup for hours every day because it calmed me and made me happy.  And when I wasn’t doing that, I was watching TV (there is never not a TV on around me– I require the constant and mindless noise, even when I sleep.  It drowns out the monsters), exercising a little, doing food prep, looking for a new job.  Mostly watching TV.  And having an over-the-top emotional reaction to everything my husband said.  (I’ll say this for him– he has the patience of a saint, and he must honestly love me.)  I knew something was wrong.  I started being more honest with our therapist and letting him help me get the emotional blowups under control.

And then something triggered the trauma from the things that happened last summer.  The repression stopped working.  I stopped even trying to talk to people on social media.  I went to job interviews, and that was the extent of my human interaction (ironically this was when I landed my new job).  I felt like a walking wound, like an animal that has shed its exoskeleton and is soft and pink and fragile until the newly exposed skin hardens– vulnerable.  Hugely and terrifyingly vulnerable.  So I curled up in bed.  A lot.  For days.  And I drank a little bit (though not nearly as much as I had when I was working).  And I cried.  And cried.  And cried some more.  After a week of that, I started looking into what I had experienced, the science of how multiple traumas effect the brain.  I started researching how to deflect the inevitable abusers with whom I will occasionally come into contact.  I started seeking knowledge that made me feel powerful and in control of myself.  Able to protect myself.

I am not completely out of the dark and swirling waters of sadness yet.  I am sad.  I am comfortable with saying this now– I am sad about what happened.  It hurts when I think about it.  A lot.  But I have remembered that the sadness is temporary.  It will go away.  Today I got up early and asked my husband to take me to the beach.  It was the second time in a week that I have asked to go to the beach, which has always been my favorite place in the world and my solace.  I felt the waves pull the dirt and bad feelings out of my soul, making it feel clean and peaceful for a little while.  And while I am still not ready to socialize– I had to decline a last-minute invitation to dinner with friends this afternoon and send the hubby without me– I am consciously making the effort to walk out of my isolation cell.  I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I will keep going to the beach.  I will find a local community of like-minded women with whom I can feel mostly okay (I set a goal for myself to find a book club or something similar before the end of June).  I will have days that feel mostly happy and full of sunshine.  I will have days that are spent in bed, probably crying.  On those days, I will remember the sunshine-y days and look forward to the next one.  Because even though I know the bad days are inevitable, I remind myself that the good days are inevitable too.   On the dark days, I dig down deep and see how strong I am; on the bright days, I enjoy that strength and feel like Superwoman.  I have been through things in my relatively short life that most people will not experience, and I have seen and felt grief and sadness and rage that most people cannot fathom.  But that also means I have discovered a power in myself of which most people will never be cognizant.  And it means that no one can break me anymore.  That is very beautiful.  And it means that the happiness, the joy, the good things are felt so much more intensely than the vast majority of the population gets to feel.  That is also very beautiful.

Exactly one year after I lost my mom, I got a tattoo in honor of her.  It is the only one of my 20+ tattoos that is visible when I am fully dressed, and that is because I need to be able to look down and see it at any given moment.  Still I rise.  That is the most important lesson my mother ever taught me– that no matter what, I am to pick myself up and keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep breathing in and out until I don’t have to remind myself to do it.  Until it comes naturally again.  Because life is a gift.  It is not to be taken for granted or thrown away or wasted or given up too easily.  And I can choose how to use my pain.  I can use it as an excuse to stop trying, to hurt everyone around me, to turn into a little ball of meanness and anger.  Or I can use it to to make myself so very, very strong.  I can use it to appreciate the good things more.  I can use it to be wiser and make better decisions.  And I can use it to ensure that I do not give up– ever– because then the monsters would win.  I am the only winner here.  So still I rise.