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perkreations

Honesty about creativity, art, mental illness, grief, feminism, human rights and chronic pain with a healthy dose of sarcasm

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grief

The Point is Not to Please You, Dear Reader

I am forcing myself to write this blog entry. I just haven’t been able to get it together enough to string together even passable prose.

“I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to feel. At all,” is what my mind cries out to me lately. I feel paralysed. I’m afraid if I put it in writing my crazy will be naked and real, for all the world to see. Yikes!

For the last two years, right around now, I’ve fallen into deep, dark, grief-tinged depression with suicidal ideation and a side order of self harm.

Why does it happen now? My Mom’s birthday on Nov 21 (died 3.5 years ago) seems to send me reeling, circling the drain, sucked down with low self worth.

Following her birthday Christmas crap is everywhere reminding me just how much I miss her helping to lead the charge. It’s hard to cheerlead for something I don’t really believe in.

I just cherry pick stuffed stockings, shortbread, gift giving, dim sum downtown, spoiling my husband and Dad and wilfully ignoring much of the other Christmas nonsense and hullabaloo.

Even paring Christmas down to a very small size still eats away at me for no good reason. The last 2 years I’ve been admitted into the psych ward for a month or two before feeling safe and well enough to go home.

This year I have been feeling a lot better I think. I’m also really excited my Mother-in-law, whom I adoreπŸ’œ, is coming to stay with us and we havent had a Christmas together in about 10 years.

In spite of my better mood I do feel myself dipping lower into that deep, sad place. I keep my head above water though and I don’t go too far. I can still easily see the exit. So far I’ve just felt compelled to poke around in the dark here and there.

I haven’t been self-harming, although the thought has crossed my mind. I don’t know if it’s better to push all thoughts of my psych ward experiences down and away, try to unthink them, or if I should just calmly let them replay in the background and stay focused on right now.

I feel like I wrote a whole lot but said sweet fuck all. Sorry about that. The point was not to please you, dear reader, but just to practice the act of writing, prove to myself I still can.

K .

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Dad’s Sage Advice

The other day I was angry with someone. My anger was based on an age old grudge my Mom, who died four years ago, held for something done to my Grammie, who’s been dead about 15 years. You still with me?

In writing it out I’m barely with me. Lol!πŸ˜‚

Anyway, I told my Dad and after a flicker of anger in his eyes quickly faded he asked me if I was really, truly burning with anger. I replied my anger had dulled to a glowing red piece of coal.

His sage and irreverent advice was thus,

“If a long held grudge has reduced itself to a small ember, piss on it, put it out and be done with it.”

And I laughed so hard I think I must have peed a little because my anger was gone.

K

Grief From Moment to Moment

I knew grief was coming. I’ve felt grief many times before. It always feels distinctly like grief, yet no grieving situation ever unfurls and flows in similar fashion.

I am speaking specifically of grief felt when a loved dies. One can grieve the loss of a job or a home but those losses, for me, tend to bring forth an entirely different type of grieving.

My maternal grandmother died yesterday. Although she lived two provinces away we were still close. We became even closer after my Mom, her eldest daughter, died in early 2014. We both took her death very hard and struggled a great deal.

Yesterday I felt as though I should feel sadder, be more upset. I cried when I told my husband very early in the morning. He held me as I swiped at my eyes and tried to breath deeply and fully. Mostly I felt glad she’d gone quickly, with minimal suffering and I felt glad I’d told her many times how special she was to me and how much I loved her.

My husband and I had lunch with my father and his lady-friend yesterday afternoon. We laughed and talked and my appetite seemed normal. I suppose the only thing not normal was how guilty I felt for feeling so normal.

Later on I suddenly felt incredibly irritable. I snapped at my husband, immediately apologised, snapped again, apologised, and lathered, rinsed, repeated until I was in tears for behaving so poorly and he was bewildered.

We watched a movie I chose and I complained about how terrible it was the whole way through. I stomped upstairs after the film and shuttered myself in my art studio. I was, at once, angry at myself for choosing such a shitty flick and annoyed at my husband for insisting we finish it.

I decided to take part in a 30 paintings in 30 days challenge suggested by an old friend and fellow artist and participant. I completed a small abstract piece last night and found myself going from soothed to impatient as though riding a pendulum as I worked. I was satisfied with the finished painting and surprised how much the colouring and style reminded me of my Grandmother.

My sleep was wrought with tossing and turning. I woke up really early for coffee but found myself dosing off an hour later and returning to bed for rest of the morning.

For the rest of today I’ve found myself on an un-merry-go-round of irritable, sentimental, guilty, confused, and numb. This is what grieving my Grandmother feels like so far.

I’ve also found myself with a sour stomach, a sweet tooth, shakier hands than usual, and struggling to cope with higher than usual pain levels.

I never would have predicted this would be how I’d feel. I’m doing my best to surf the emotional waves rather than fight them but it’s difficult as I keep feeling as though I’m not doing this right and I know that’s not possible.

I’ve learned we all experience grief differently and grieving will be a different experience every time. So I’ll just keep trying to honour my grandmother’s memory as best I can and honour my feelings as they ebb and flow. If there’s ever a time to go easy on myself and practice self-love and self-care it’s now.

K

Part 2: Welcome to the Psych Ward

Bare footprints disappearing in the snow, heading further and further from home. Finding a well hidden snowbank she lays down, blue silk nighty billowing then settling around her, staring up into the silent, swirling snow as the handfull of sleeping pills begins to take effect. Soon she stops shivering, closes her eyes, lets the hypothermic warmth take over and eventually she is no longer.

This was the suicidal plan that played out over and over in my mind last winter. I saw my demise as a favour to my friends and family. Finally they’d be able to move on from my constantly bringing them down and holding them back with my depression and pain and anxiety and defectivness.

I often researched suicide methods and statistics online, wanting to make sure my first try would be permanent. I began punishing myself, for failing to get on with my plan, by burning my flesh with the hot metal of a lighter, carving up my arms and legs with scissors.

I had eaten only cheerios for the better part of a year, bringing myself to a point of malnourishment where I grew lightheaded frequently and occasionally passed out.

In a last ditch effort to save my own life I wrote out all of the above in point form and shakily handed it to my psychologist one day. I was finally telling him what I’d managed to keep secret from him and my loved ones for so long. I remained silent as he read, folding in on myself, dry eyed and staring into space.

My psychologist called an ambulance and this was how I ended up in the psych ward. It was discovered that my hemoglobin levels had dropped to 75 and later down to 45 (normal is 120 – 160 for females). This extreme anemia came from my self-induced malnourishment and led to intravenous iron infusions and, eventually, the discovery of a stomach ulcer and acid reflux, which had likely occurred from taking my meds on a frequently empty stomach.

There are parts of my first few days on the ward I’ve no memory of. I was so ill I could scarcely make it out of bed, let alone out my door and into the common areas.

When I grew stronger and would slowly make my way to a common tv, clinging tightly to the wall railing lest the lightheadedness get the better of me. I’d lay on the couch either staring blankly at the tv or falling asleep as the other patients chattered around me and controlled the remote.

As my physical symptoms began to heal I was able to spend more time focusing on the reasons for my suicidal urges. This led to a focus on self esteem and expression of anger.

A particularly memorable breakthrough came when I told the loud-mouthed, bully of the ward to, “fuck off!”

I told my nurse about my vulgar admonishment of the man, expecting to be scolded. I was surprised and elated when I was told, while this wouldn’t be the best way to handle all conflict, I should be proud for having stood up for myself.

Slowly but surely I found myself again, a strong, robust woman who’d become trapped inside a girl who’d lost sight of self love. I gradually met goal after goal, in spite of numerous setbacks. My recovery has never been a straight, upward line, but upward has been the overall direction lately.

At the end of January I left the hospital scared to be back in the real world but I felt hope beginning to stir within my soul. As I’m writing this now I can finally see how far I’ve come and I can’t help but smile and be proud. Tears also sting my eyes with conflicting emotion, how did I ever get so very low and am I destined to take a dive again if I’m not ever vigilant?

I know I’ve a long way to go but I am finding more and more hope in my heart and more motivation to keep working to get better.

I am so thankful to my incredibly kind, sensitive, unconditionally loving husband who did so much to help me pull through and convince me he would not be better off without me. My father and father-in-law and mother-in-law visited me often and showed so much unconditional love it was overwhelming.

The rest of my family and friends from near and far away also expressed their deep concern and love when I thought all was lost. I still feel unworthy of this amount of love but I’m beginning to accept it and I’m trying to love everyone back as hard as I can.

This is where the second and most severe mental health crisis in my life has led. I’m still fighting maddening chronic pain but I feel like the fight within my mind is less and optimism is beginning to win a little more each day.

K

Welcome to the Psych Ward

I’ve often alluded to my time spent in the psych ward for anxiety and severe depression but I’ve put off writing about it directly as it was an extremely difficult time. I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about this but I’ll try.

This is me waiting in the secure emergency ward room. Note the word “useless” scrawled across my inner arm. This is a stark reminder of the other self-flagellating words I’d written in other places and the still bloody and red scars I had from harming myself with blades and flames. It is blatantly obvious to me now that I desperately needed to be where I was.

I’m going to break this story up into several smaller pieces to make it easier on myself and to make for easier reading. To begin with I’ll begin at the beginning. Admission.

I voluntarily asked to be admitted so I can only speak from my experience. I know others are admitted involuntarily for a myriad of reasons. Regardless, we must all wait our turn to be triaged through emergency.

In most psychiatric cases, including mine, not just any bed will do. A bed must open up in the secure area of the emergency ward, guarded by peace officers, void of creature comforts, and constantly surveiled via cameras.

This area is reserved for those on suicide and self harm watch (like me), others experiencing psychosis or other unpredictable psychiatric conditions, prison inmates or those under arrest needing medical attention, and any other patients who might cause harm to themselves or others. Bright side – you get a small private room.

There is one common washroom in the secure area I was in, no lock on the door, the words, “I died here,” etched into the wall along with a swastika which I attempted to turn into a peace sign. I left the words alone as they made sense to me.

I waited in this area for 2 nights the first time I was admitted and 1 night the second time. I consider myself very lucky as I met others who waited up to a week for a psych bed to open up.

Once a bed came available my belongings were hastily packed up and I was bundled into a wheelchair to make the trip to the ward that would be home for an indefinte period.

I cried and hid my face as I was wheeled along. I was sure I was being judged for taking up space and services I wasn’t entitled to. I felt there were others more deserving of admission and I was a lost cause anyway.

Upon arrival in the ward I was greeted by friendly nurses. They went through my belongings carefully, placing anything of value or that might cause harm, my purse, headphones, pencil sharpener, aresol hair spray, and nail scissors into a locker I could only access through a staff member.

I had to surrender my phone as nothing with a camera is allowed for privacy purposes and the environment is meant to be as low stimuli as possible. I would be able to use the communal landline on the ward or, once granted timed off-unit privileges, given my phone back temporarily.

I recall being completely overwhelmed by the co-ed ward at first. I could see into the high observation area behind the desk, a wall of windows penning acutely psychotic, violent, or destructively delusional patients into a locked ward within the locked ward. Many of these patients prowled back and forth, ranted and yelled, or pressed their faces to the glass, staring with glassy eyes and unkempt locks at anything and anyone.

I was told to wait in the common area until my nurse had time to give me an orientation and tour. I observed the other patients I’d be living with and grew nervous. I didn’t want to judge anyone, I wanted to be as empathetic as possible but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed.

The ward was not just for the anxious and depressed like me. There were individuals pacing round and round talking and gesticulating wildly to themselves. Others sat and stared into space catatonically. I soon became familiar with the manic laughter of someone who cannot control their emotions despite trying desperately. It’s not a pleasant laugh… it’s hollow and pain filled and a little scary.

Some patients approached me and introduced themselves. One lady told me her entire life story within moments of meeting me. But she was kind and welcoming and I soon found that those I’d been unsure of because of their erratic behaviour were also wonderful people who’d just lost their way and needed time to rest and regroup…like me.

To be continued

K

Never Say Die

Language has always been incredibly important to me. When my Mom died this didn’t change. I became fixated on one particular word. Died.

I found myself inwardly cringing every time someone uttered, “passed away,” or “lost” instead of just spitting out what had actually happened… My Mom DIED.
I don’t know why I became obsessed with not using silly-seeming platitudes rather than just spitting out the obvious. I suppose I thought, “why use 2 or 3 words when one will suffice?”

I recall my husband suggesting I soften my language rather than using the word, “die,” so as not to offend anyone. I couldn’t bring myself to call what had happened to my mother anything other than what it was. It sucks that she died but saying something like, “passed away,” doesn’t make it suck any less.

Sometimes I think my insistence on using short, sharp language isn’t fair to others. Why, exactly, is this language surrounding death so important to me? What am I really so upset about when someone utters something like, “we lost great aunt Molly last year?”

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your insights and stories.

K

Finished Another Mixed Media Peice

One of my favourite coping strategies for anxiety, depression, grief, and chronic pain is art. I started this latest peice about 2 weeks ago with one pencil crayon portrait of the late George Carlin. I soon found myself creating 6 more portraits to be part of a project about George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words stand up comedy routine.

I’ve always loved George Carlin and how he looked at freedom of speech, of freedom religion, freedom in general and I couldn’t help but think about how freedom may be in trouble because of leaders like Donald Trump. The world already has too many muzzled communities, this is not something to lay down and accept.

I am happy with how the project worked out. I love how there is more and more to it the longer and closer it’s viewed. I also enjoyed the thoughtful meditation I experienced on an important topic.

I’m glad to keep painting as it has helped me start to see more value in myself, more worth. This blog has also helped me to grow and stretch in ways I didn’t think I would and I have started to gain self confidence.

What do you do to cope with mental health issues? I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have.

K

Grieving Dramatic Life Changes

When I first realized the pain in my ankle would, likely, never go away I did my best to grit my teeth and continue my job as curling pro/manager. Then I injured my back and still kept trying to swim up stream and not give up the dream job I had.

Laying to rest the function of my ankle and trying to make peace with the long incision scar and ongoing nerve pain. The adorable slippers help make me feel a little betterπŸ˜‰

It broke my heart every day I wasn’t able to play the game I so love and care about. I also found myself having to avoid other high-impact excercise I had enjoyed previously such as, running, skiing, dance, boxercise, and step aerobics because the impact caused dramatic flare ups and I risked further injury. 

In order to invest the energy I still had into my job I had to spend more and more spare time in isolated recovery mode. I consoled myself with the fact I could still teach, I could still help others enjoy the game of curling.

I bounced on and off of disability a few times, always striving to claw my way back onto the ice. There were days I could scarcely stand, days where I struggled to walk, days where the pain screamed at me so loudly I couldn’t even think.

Eventually my performance at work reached a point where no matter how much I wanted to be the reliable, contientious, creative, perfectionist I used to be I couldn’t keep up and it was time to go back onto disability… this time for an indefinite period.

Doctors have told me it’s counterproductive for me to think of ever going back to curling as the sport only agrivates my injuries. I’ve been told, if I’m patient, I might be lucky enough for my back injury to worsen enough in the next 5 to ten years that surgery may then be helpful. Yippee!

I’m not writing about my lousy prognosis to gain pity (we all have our trials and heartaches) or to ask for any advice. I want to explain how it feels to grieve something in life aside from another human.

I didn’t understand for a long time why my heart ached so badly and why every time my thoughts drifted to my prognosis I wanted to somehow, simutanously, scream and cry and rage and close my eyes and never wake up. 

During my first in-patient psychiatric stay a very kind, and very smart nurse clued me in to the fact that grief isn’t solely reserved for the dead. She showed me books and articles outlining how we can also grieve loss of a marriage, a career, a friendship, health and wellbeing, a pet, independence, and many more personal heart breaks.

I finally began to understand exactly what I had lost and why it hurt so much. I feel as though, to this day, I grieve my Health and my career to some degree each day just as I continually grieve the death of my Mom. How much I grieve on any given day depends on what the world throws at me.

When I see an article about my former curling colleagues that reminds me of what I’m missing or I try to plan a holiday and remember all the travel contingencies I must plan for or around I my have more acute feelings of grief regarding my career and my health.

To cope with these feelings I have learned to get creative. I think of getting stronger both mentally and physically so I might peruse a new and exciting career that I find just as satisfying. In fact, writing this blog is part of my copeing strategy as well as a way to test if writing is something I wish to persue as part of my future. 

I also get creative with travel plans, specifically building in long rest periods, and usually travelling with a companion to take care of decision-making or driving, for example, if I get too tired or develop brain-fog from elevated pain levels.

If you suffer from chronic pain or any other dramatic loss and have experienced the grief that often goes along with it I’d love to hear your stories and coping strategies. Building community understanding is in itself a coping strategy. I don’t know about you but I could sure use, and would love to contribute all the strength I can to helping others and myself.

K

Sometimes I Just Feel Like…

Sometimes I just feel like curling inwards

K

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