Friday, April 15, 2011

worth saving

I may have mentioned, awhile back, that I was starting a group therapy program for women recovering from trauma.

Next Tuesday is the last day of that.

And there's a lot going on in my head.

I was skeptical, before I started the group, that I would really get much out of it. At that point, I figured I was doing pretty good. I'd (mostly) stopped throwing up and I'd (mostly) stopped hurting myself. I wasn't crying as easily. I was concentrating fairly well.

Basically, I felt as good as I had in recent, and not-so-recent, memory. So I thought, "I'm better. Surely I don't need something like this."

But I tried it anyway. I'd been on the waiting list for so long, it just seemed like something I should at least try after all that time.

And it was a lot harder than I thought it would be, at times. I have a tendency to just get quiet when I'm feeling upset, and ignoring whatever it is I'm feeling. I tried that the second session. And I got called on it; the facilitators asked what I was thinking, what I was feeling. And my first reaction, in my mind, was something along the lines of "Just leave me alone, you're not helping, I can't start crying, I can't."But I did start crying. And it wasn't so bad, once I did, even though I absolutely hated it at the time.

One of the main things I've learned, the past few weeks, is that it's okay to acknowledge when I don't feel okay. I still have trouble with it sometimes - I'm stubborn; I think if I ignore it, it will go away; and I think I don't deserve to take a break and calm myself down. But I'm working on it. It's hard, but I'm working on it. I'm starting to realize that this stuff just doesn't go away if you ignore it - it festers, it poisons, it eventually comes out, no matter what you do. And maybe more importantly, I've started to feel like I deserve to deal with the stuff that's bothering me.

It was amazing and heartbreaking, to be in a room with those other women, with each of us feeling like we weren't worth saving. But we didn't feel that way about each other; we each thought the others were worth saving. So in the end, you are the only one in the room who thinks you aren't worth saving. Which makes you wonder if maybe they're right and you're wrong, after all.

And I've also realized that, if I'm honest with myself, I'm still not okay.

On Saturday, an old man at a store grabbed my arm, then starting shaking and mumbling something I couldn't quite hear. I froze. When he let go, maybe 10 seconds later, I was angry at myself for having froze - I froze when I was eight, and I've never quite forgiven myself for it. Then I was angry at the man. Then I was angry at me again. Then when I got home, I was scared and shaking and angry and didn't eat anything for the rest of the day.

It's been a few months since I've made myself throw up, but the impulse still comes fairly frequently. And it's not all that unusual for me to just stop eating when I'm upset, which isn't exactly healthy. And food still scares me, in general. There are certain things I just won't touch, and I won't go grocery shopping alone.

And I still have self-destructive tendencies. I try to fight the urges - and the fact that I've thrown out my old razorblades helps - but candles are everywhere at home, and burn marks are too generic looking, too easy to pass of as something else. And even if I'm not home, and I'm upset, my nails are long and sharp.

...obviously I still have issues.

I've been worse than this - much worse - but I'm starting to realize that maybe I can be better than this too.

So although this group ends on Tuesday, I'm going to keep with the trauma therapy. The hospital I'm going to has a really amazing trauma therapy department, with different groups developed for different stages of recovery. There's another group program, that's much more intensive - 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 8 weeks. I would have to take time off school for it, which means I'd have to get a medical note and formally interrupt my scholarship for (likely) a full term. There's also a six month waiting list, so the earliest I could do this would be the fall term.

Doing this group would mean fully admitting that I'm not okay. And that scares me a bit. But it also makes me hopeful. For the first time, I feel like I'm starting to really address the root of my problems, instead of ignoring them or just dealing with them at a superficial level. I still have a long way to go, especially if all the groups have six-month waiting lists, but I'm starting to see a path I can follow to get better.

I told my boyfriend about wanting to do this group, and he was amazingly supportive.

I'm especially thankful that I talked to him before I talked to Mom about it. She wasn't so supportive. She's convinced it will set my career back. She said "Won't it seem odd that it took you two months longer to do a PhD? Would anyone want to hire you?" I explained that there's a range of finishing times for PhD's - anywhere from 4 to 7 years - so it wouldn't be evident from my resume. We talked some more. She still seemed against it. And that made me upset; and all the urges that come with me being upset cropped up again, as if trying to reinforce in my mind exactly how badly I need to keep trying to get better.

I've thought more about that conversation with Mom, and I realized that, much as I love her and value her opinion, she doesn't always know best. Her way of dealing with everything in her life - her own traumatic childhood, the dysfunctional family I was raised in, her health problems - has been to downplay it and basically pretend that everything was / is / will be okay. I always admired her for that, actually. But sometimes I can't help but wonder if pretending is really such a good idea. If she hadn't pretended her childhood wasn't really that bad, maybe she would have gotten counseling for it herself, and not grown up to be something of a co-dependent martyr. If she hadn't pretended Dad wasn't such a shitty husband and father, maybe she would have left him years ago, and maybe my brother and I would have fewer childhood emotional scars. If she hadn't ignored all the stress she ever felt, and had maybe dealt with some of it instead, maybe her physical health would have been better.

Speculating on all of that doesn't change anything now, I know.

But I also know I don't want to be like her, with all her buried emotions and pain and problems. So even if she doesn't approve, I'm going to do what I need to do to get better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

things i don't say out loud

Early morning Tuesday. Well, fairly early morning. Walking with a lab mate, from yoga class to get coffee. Peaceful.Then...

The girl walking with me says "I hate the world."

"No you don't," I reply. "You just said you want to get an extra-large coffee. So you don't hate coffee. And the world has coffee, so you don't hate the world."

"No, but I hate the rest of the world."

We pass a car. An SUV actually. Not all that glamorous, and much more than a single student needs for transportation.

"I want this car. It's so nice. Why don't I have a car? It's not fair."

"Well, if you don't have a car, you also don't have car insurance, or car repair bills, and you don't have to pay for gas."

"Yeah that's true. But I want a car."

We pass another car.

"Or this one. It's not fair. I hate everything in the world. I want a car."

At this point, she reminds me of a spoiled two-year-old, whining for a new toy, instead of a 20-something researcher. It's hard for me to keep from rolling my eyes.

"Well, if you want a car, plan for it and you'll get one some day. Probably one prettier than those."

"Yeah I guess."

"I'm not used to being the positive one in our conversations."

And she more or less stopped whining then. Thankfully. She'd already spoiled my after-yoga peacefulness.

I'm not good at realizing when I'm feeling emotions - I usually bury them without even realizing I'm doing it - so it took me awhile, but this actually made me really, really angry. It's not the first time she's gone all melodramatic over something I view as pretty trivial.

Like whining about her lack of a hair tie (for 10 minutes) while I'm on my way to see my Mom in the hospital.

Okay, fine, you don't have a hair tie (at the moment) and you don't own a car (at the moment).

Big fucking deal. You can fix those problems.

It doesn't matter how badly I want it, or what I do, I can't fix Mom. Ever. I have a car, sure, but I use it to drive her to the hospital.

And you don't give me any sympathy whatsoever when I'm upset about things that are harder to fix than your problems. I try talking about how stressful it's been, having a Mom I love to death and who's been seriously ill since I was seven years old. Most of my life. Most of her life. And all you said was "Oh well, life's not fair, you know."

Yes, actually, I do fucking know.

You want a car? I'll give you mine. Just give me your kidneys and lungs so I can give them to Mom.

Seriously, grow up. Even I don't hate the world, and I've got more reason to than you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

when does someone become a "grown up"?

My lab mates and I had an interesting talk at lunch today. One asked another, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" The reply was "When I grow up? I thought I was already grown up."

And there starting the wondering aloud and musing and trying to define what a "grown up" really is. Despite being in their twenties and living on their own, most of the people around me didn't really consider themselves to be grown up. Maybe because we're all still technically "students"? Does that automatically mean we aren't adults?

It was a strange discussion. I was mainly quiet. I had my own points of view, but it was hard to talk about them with people who didn't know much about my past.

Someone offered, "You're a grown up when you willingly and seriously take on responsibility for another person. Like having children, and taking care of them properly."

Which made me wonder - what about taking care of parents? It wasn't something I "willingly" took on, exactly. I do, willingly, look after them. Especially Mom. But it's not something that was ever really a choice for me.People choose to have children (well, usually). I didn't choose for my parents to be disabled.

But maybe mine's a bit of an unusual situation.

Another said, "You're a grown up when you have a responsibility to the world. When you do something important, when you contribute."

I did reply to that one. I pointed out there are lots of people who fancy themselves adults, and who don't contribute anything responsibly to the world. And there are lots of people who do contribute to the world, and who aren't of legal age yet.

Another: "I don't really consider myself an adult. I still feel like I can pretty well do whatever I want."

To me, doing what you want is part of being grown up. No one viewed as a child, or teenager even, gets to do whatever they want.

It's past lunch now, and I'm still thinking about it. I do consider myself an adult now. Usually. I'm not sure when the transition point came.

Maybe when I moved out of my parents' house? Not just because it would mean I would be responsible for my own rent, car insurance, bills, groceries, etc. But because it was a decision I made responsibly, knowing that it was what I needed to do.

But then, I've made other decisions like that. Responsible, well-thought out decisions. Like breaking up with someone I loved, because he was toxic and unwilling to do anything to improve the situation.

Even though I usually consider myself an adult, there are times when I'm so frightened and panicked, I feel like a child again. And then it's even more important to remind myself that I'm an adult. Because an adult has more resources than a child. An adult has had time to grow, to become more capable, to be able to take care of herself. An adult feels safer in the world than a child does.

I've been told I grew up too quickly.

Mainly, I've been told that by people who also say I'm mature or responsible or whatever for my age. But saying I grew up too quickly seems at odds with the way I've felt for most of my life. If an adult has more resources, feels more in control, feels safer, then I was late to feel like an adult.

Maybe I was in some sort of age limbo. I had a short childhood; I didn't have a lot of times when I felt carefree and innocent. But I haven't felt in control or competent most of my life either.

I think the important thing, is that I feel like an adult (more often than not), now. It doesn't matter when or how I got here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

the hazards of icing

I baked a birthday cake for someone last night. Four-layered, double chocolate. It got loads of compliments today. The person I baked it for told the newer people in the lab that my baking was "famous".

There was a time, not all that long ago, when baking would inevitably turn into a form of self-punishment. Only about half of what I started baking would ever make it to the person I was baking for; I would end up eating the rest, whether still as batter and icing or actually in baked form, and then I would end up throwing it up. It was totally impulsive and uncontrollable. Some part of me would clue in to what was happening, and realize it was crazy and pointless, and that part of me would want to stop...but it was like that part was distant, locked up somewhere inside, an observer unable to interfere with what she saw.

But that didn't happen last night. Last night I baked like a normal person. Actually, not quite - a normal person probably would have tasted the batter before it went into the oven, would have tasted the icing before putting it on the cake, possibly would have licked the mixing spoon clean. I didn't; I avoided the spoons and bowls as if they were coated with poison; but that's still much better than what I used to do.

And then I had a slice of cake with everyone else today. No big deal. Just a normal slice of cake.

It still amazes me, how such normal, seemingly small things feel like such accomplishments. But I'm proud of them all the same.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Comment made by a police officer, giving a safety talk on sexual harassment and sexual assault at a university:

“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

More on that story here.


Just wow.

And there is apparently quite a bit of controversy over this - some people saying the officer shouldn't have had to apologize, that he was just giving practical advice, and that some women need to hear the truth, that the way they dress can invite unwanted attention.

But that is just so damned narrow of a view to take. It leaves so many victims unaccounted for - conservatively dressed women can still be raped. So can children. And it implies that the victims of sexual assault are to blame for what happened to them, that they somehow provoked it. It's disgusting.

And I sure wasn't dressed like a slut when I was eight.

Just had to get that off my chest.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Not an infection.
Not a blood clot.
Not more cancer.

Nothing is wrong with Mom's heart.

They saw shadows at first, but they did more tests, and that's all they were - shadows.

Although...she does have an apparently benign tumor in her brain;
and the cancer in her lungs is starting to grow again, so that means more chemo;
and it's likely the chemo that started her internal bleeding problems in the first place.

But still, I'll take good news when I find it.

There's nothing wrong with her heart.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

no hugs

I agreed to go out for coffee with my high school friends tomorrow. I told them it would have to be downtown, because Mom's still in the hospital, and my days lately consisting of waking up, going to school, going to the gym (at school), going to the hospital (10 minutes from school), and going back home at the end, exhausted, to sleep. So we're going somewhere downtown.

They all said something along the lines of "If you need anything, if there's anything I can do, let me know." All I could think of was to ask that they not hug me when they see me. I hate it when I'm upset and pretending I'm not and people go and hug me. I know it's meant to be comforting, but it makes me cry, and I hate crying in front of people. And now it's agreed, there will be no hugging.

I told my boyfriend about going out for coffee, and about not wanting any hugs. "But if someone hugs you, and you start crying, that means you're not okay."

No, but sometimes pretending to be okay is all I've got.

No word yet on how long Mom will have to stay there. They've found something suspicious in her heart -  possibly a blood clot, possibly a part of the infection in her blood that may have spread to the heart, possibly a part of the kidney cancer that may have spread to the heart. I didn't think hearts could even get cancer. Apparently they can; it's just extremely rare.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


the effort of staying sane is exhausting

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"you're looking for stability"

I'd just finished crying - in the lab - I hate crying when there are people around, but I couldn't stop it. Luckily my desk is in somewhat of a corner, so not everyone can see me.

Someone who could see me told me about a yoga class she was going to start taking. She said it was because she felt like she was an angry person and she needed to calm down. "You should try it too." I said no, I was still trying to sort my schedule out, still trying to balance research with therapy and thinking and relaxing, and I didn't think I'd have time.

Then ten minutes passed and I felt like crying again.

So I signed up for yoga.

And the first class was yesterday - 8:00 in the morning, bright and early. Well not so bright, it being winter and cold and gray. And I am not a morning person, but I'm trying to be, as part of my get-my-life-back-together plan. But I did, somehow, manage to wake up at 6:30 and make it to yoga for 8:00.

I've never taken an actual yoga class before. I've gone to a couple drop-in workshop type things, but this was the first time I was with an instructor who really focused on linking the movements with breathing. It made me realize how messed up my breathing is. It doesn't have a set pace or rhythm. It speeds up and slows down and I actually seem to have a tendency to hold it for long periods without realizing it. I think that probably reflects on how stressed out I am, but it's something I can work on now that I'm aware of it.

We were going through some basic movements, and something the instructor said really struck me. "You're looking for stability. In this pose, in any pose, yoga is about stability." It just sort of resonated; it seems like good advice for life too. Anywhere you are in life, look for stability.

Mom is still in the hospital. The doctors found and repaired a tear in her stomach, and we were all so incredibly happy momentarily - because we thought that was the end of the internal bleeding problems. But she's still losing blood so there's more - maybe more tears, maybe something else - and so it's not over yet. I'm visiting her every day, and bringing my laptop so we can watch movies and pass the time. She's lost a lot of weight lately, which frightens me, because she hasn't been trying to, and it's not good to lose that much weight if you're not trying to. But it means we both fit easily in her hospital bed, so we both lay against the raised part of the bed, with our heads against the same pillow, and watched movies. It would have been cozy if it wasn't such a depressing setting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Mom was admitted to the hospital on Friday. I threw up on Saturday. I think the two are related.

She called, just to keep me in the loop, it's nothing serious really, they just want to keep an eye on her. If I had some time could I visit? Because they haven't given her anything to eat or a room to stay in yet and she's starving. But when I have a minute. She doesn't want me to drop whatever it is I'm doing. It's no big deal, really.

Mom, don't you ever get sick of being the strong one, even when you're bleeding internally with infections in your blood and your lungs?

Of course I dropped whatever it was I was doing. And on my way out of the lab, I glared at the girl across from me - who I had told about Mom, and who was now whining because she just wants to go to the gym and she doesn't have a hair tie and how can she go to the gym now?

At least you're going to the gym and not a hospital.

We sat together, she trying to look not-sick, me trying to look not-worried. How many times will we have to play these roles?

I said goodbye, left, stopped, went back, bought her books, said goodbye again, got on the subway and got angry at the tears in my eyes.

And then I was back at the house with her medical equipment in it, alone on the first floor, and it was over before I knew what was happening. Cookies and ice cream, in and out, 30 minutes total. Easy, too easy, still, after all these months trying. Too easy to return to. But I know that. I know it might start at 30 minutes, but it won't take long, if I let it, to start carving out hours of my day, wasting it on eating and un-eating.

Maybe I need to just make sure I'm not alone with Mom still being in the hospital.

Friday, January 14, 2011

so drunk

But just the right level of drunk.

I can look inward if I want to, deep into the things I don't normally think about.

I can look outward if I want to, lose myself and watch everything blur by.

Or I can stay here, in between..

I can do anything.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

words and words and words...

I am so sick of writing.

The last day of school was December 20th, and since then, I've spent every single day writing. First an 18-page research progress report (that's 18 pages single-spaced and size 10), which I emailed out yesterday (yes, yesterday, New Year's Eve; I managed to finish it and email it all of 20 minutes before people came over for a party).

And now on to another assignment, this one on green roofs. I have no idea how big it will be yet, likely 10-15 pages. But I've been reworking the same paragraph for something like 2 hours already, I think I'm just completely out of motivation. I want to go outside, watch a movie, run in the park, something, anything other than sit here and keep writing.

And then on Monday it's back to school. And I've got a presentation on Tuesday, so as soon as I finish this assignment, I need to start working on that. Ha, so much for a break.