My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Ow of Anger

Having your nearly grown kid be angry with you is one of the more gut wrenching experiences anyone can handle. Not just because they are our children and therefore we hope and expect that they will love us unconditionally, but because they so it so damn well. There was a quote by an actor that went something like this "your mother knows how to push your buttons; after all she was the one who installed them". Brilliant...and true. But the uncanny skill for knowing just what buttons to push and with the most effective timing and frequency is not limited to parental instinct. Children know this secret too.
Chances are when your kid is angry with you it comes out over something really petty, but the true nature or root of the anger is probably something you did or didn't do way back at some point in their childhood. You feel guilty about these things and they know it, so they pick on the most symbolic representation of the original hurt, something that appears benign and petty but is loaded with intent, and they hurl it at you full force.
In some circles this is known as passive aggressive behavior. In plain truth it's self preservation. It's "I'm angry/sad/hurt because of something you did but I'm afraid to bring it out into the light where we all have to see and feel it. Instead I will nit pick you about a minor and safe irritation so I can feel in control of the situation and you will feel bad, but not too bad."
So as opposed to the hypothetical Mom who installed the buttons, the kid has the users manual for the buttons. It is entirely possible that grandparents provide their grandchildren with these instructions in some sort of secret coming of age ceremony.
Right now my son is angry. He has a right and plenty of reasons to be angry, with me, his father and his stepmother. Now is not the time for me to attempt to resolve the battle with whatever demons he is facing. That time will come after he has acted out, carried around a chip on his shoulder and done whatever else he needs to do to acknowledge his anger.
Insofar as my response, do I take it personally? Hell yes. It is personal. As I said he has reasons to be angry, even if many of those reasons and events are over a decade old. Because it is personal, I need to deal with it personally.  ("It" being the feelings of guilt and remorse that have been triggered by his actions.)  The feelings were there already and even though I have "dealt" with them in therapy, with the support of friends and loved ones and in my own growth, they don't ever go away completely. His anger was the catalyst for an internal combustion of old feelings that now demand revisiting. Each time we do revisit these feelings, we see them from a new perspective. Hopefully each time we take them out dust them off and look them over, our perspective is clearer and our vision is stronger. Our ability to cope grows with our wisdom and it becomes a little easier face the fact that we have been less than perfect parents, friends, wives, sisters...whatever role we missed our cue in playing while we were otherwise distracted by our own problems, maybe getting revenge on our own parents at the time. Taking the time to sort these things out, individually, is essential to being able to resolve our differences  If we don't take the time to get our Egos out of the way then we are just applying emotional band-aids and postponing the real work of healing.

© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Medication Conundrum

It's not news that a shocking number of Americans are being treated with anti-depressants. Nor is it news that these drugs are often prescribed for "problems" that may or may not involve actual depression whether directly or indirectly. And I'm sure it's also no surprise that I myself have fallen into that ever increasing statistical range of individuals who are being "treated' with anti-depressant meds. In my usual Aquarian perspective there is no right or wrong definitive response to this phenomenon. There are however, questions that need to be asked and information that must be considered in order to effectively utilize critical thinking processes when deciding whether or not to use medications.
I was taking a fairly common and frequently used SSRI for nearly 3 years. Now I am not. Before I continue, let me make clear that I did not abruptly end my relationship with this drug. In fact I took a good six months to slowly wean myself off. And to use the common and sensible disclaimer "I am not a physician and therefore cannot give medical advice". I am an individual who has experienced the pros and cons of anti-depressant meds and can share my personal story of my experience with them.

I started taking them at a point in time where I was experiencing what is commonly referred to as "situational depression and anxiety". It was a time in my life when pretty much anything that could go wrong did. A real shit hits the fan chapter that left me feeling powerless, anxious, panicky, extremely depressed, angry and hopeless. I also had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to because even when life pulls the rug our from under you, the rest of the world keeps right on going and there are situations that require you to pick yoursle up off that slippery floor and forge ahead.
At that time, the medication was helpful. I found it easier to focus as the constant anxious chatter in my ind was silenced. The nightmares I had been experiencing, triggered by trauma, pretty much disappeared. My energy levels were more stable. i was able to cope with the challenges life had tossed at me and managed to finish my degree and apply my energy to looking for employment.
Now three years later my life has stabilized and I realized I have time time and the knowledge to cope with mood swings or depression as it comes and goes. I presented the idea to my psychiatrist who, although a nice enough man, really doesn't know me all that well. The typical "med follow up" visit lats about 5 or 10 minutes and consists of a predictable series of routine questions "are you able to maintain safety?" (i.e. are you  gonna kill yourself), "how is your appetite" (are you gonna starve yourself?) and "how are you sleeping? ( do you need more pills?) When I asked about possibly getting off antidepressants his suggestion was, since I had previously experienced "depressive episodes" it was advisable to take the meds for the rest of my life as a "preventative measure".
Wait a hot minute. The rest of my life? Just in case?
Not a lot is understood about SSRIs. In fact doctors and pharmacological companies admit that they're not really even sure how they work. They've only been around for a few decades so there haven't been sufficient longitudinal studies the assess the long term effects on the mind and body. I seems logical and, just in case the logic of a former drug abuser can't pass the validity test, there have been scientific studies that suggest that the longer a person takes SSRIs or other psych meds the less likely that persons brain is to stabilize it's own production of "happy chemicals". In other words the patient becomes 'dependent' on these drugs.
I know what's next...and I've used this argument myself. "if you were diabetic you'd take insulin, what's the difference?"
The difference is diabetes is not over-diagnosed. Diabetes is not something that can arise out of a situation crisis only to dissipate once the crisis has passed. Diabetes is detected by a blood test, easily defined. Depression/anxiety are diagnosed subjectively using criteria that nearly everyone experiences at some point or to some degree. Although depression in it's most severe forms can be debilitating and can lead to devastating results like drug abuse, self harm, violence or suicide, it's important to distinguish the level of depression and the risk attached. Nearly everyone experiences some level of depression at some point in their life. Sadness and grieving are normal reactions to stressful or crisis events. The use of prescribed medication is one option out of many that can be used to cope with these events. It's not news that the numbers of people who are prescribed antidepressants has skyrocketed. Its not news that the pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars on these medications. For a person like me, who questions authority on a regular basis all these facts make the decision even more complicated. Am I just being defiant and rebellious? Or am I right in my assessment that people like me don't need a lifetime of medication to live a happy life?
Let me repeat that I took this process very slowly. Being the kind of person I am I initially attempted to stop quickly, weaning down by half a dose per week. Not a good idea. I experienced a kind of vertigo every time I turned my head, racing thoughts, and anxiety; it was as bad as quitting any street drug.  I changed my plan to allow myself an entire month to adjust to each decreased dose. In the final month I had tapered down to the lowest dose every other day then every 3 days. It's been about 2 months since I took my last half a pill.
I've been paying close attention to my moods and thinking patterns since stopping the medication. I keep a journal which helps me to objectively review changes or patterns. So far this is what I've observed.
I'm not really any more or less depressed or moody. My dreams are more lucid and clear, both the good ones and the nightmares. My ability to think and act creatively has improved. I occasionally have a sex drive (anti-depressants are notorious for putting a damper on that). My anxiety may have increased a bit, but I am actively practicing relaxation techniques to help manage that.
For the most part, I don't feel much different. The most significant improvement is my creativity. The most significant drawback is the nightmares.
As I said, this is my experience and I'm sharing as a means of providing one perspective for anyone who may be on meds, considering meds or coming off meds or anyone who simply has an interest in one persons experience. If you end up on medication to help with a situational depression I encourage you to do some research, talk to people who have had similar experiences. You have the right to make an informed choice.

Here are a couple of resources that address the problems that can be associated with discontinuing SSRIs and there are many more stories available.
© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Diminishing Vanity Takes a Hike

Image courtesy of the fabulous Graphics Fairy
Yep, there she goes, right out the door, not even looking back. Her Haughtiness, turns her heel and says "piss off Jenny"
Why this sudden break up with my old friend? Well, actually it's not sudden, we've been drifting apart for quite some time now. She stood by with her arms crossed shaking her head when I stopped wearing eyeliner everyday. Then when I got the dogs I started leaving the house in all sorts of unacceptable clothing, flannel sleep pants, sweats, a nightgown tucked into my jeans.
"Pssh, so trailer trash!" she would mutter as she sat down crossing her long lean legs refusing to accompany me on the walk that would involve, at some point, bending over to pick up a large pile of poop with an old bread bag.
The last tantrum occurred when I decided to stop wearing a bra.
"Oh come on now, you are in your 50's! You've got one of them pointing one way, one the other and they're not as perky as we used to be you know!" She in that snarkey adolescent tone of voice.
I think for a moment, and decide that I really don't care because, much to Vanity's dismay, I no longer wear shirts that cling to my torso like a glove. And as far as attempting to create some sort of cleavage with the bras that are designed to do so as some kind of favor for us 'smaller breasted women', I'm sick of the way they dig into my ribs. Besides once they take a wrong turn into the washing machine they get all knocked out of whack and generally don't hold things in place like they're supposed to anyway. That rogue left boob just pops right out of the whole 'push up' operation that is a sad attempt to create a mysterious and alluring valley between it and it's sister.
So Vanity was already pissed off at me and I've been ignoring her little fits. The big break came at the eye doctor. I had been indulging my dear friend a bit by not wearing glasses until both of us realized that squinting and not recognizing people from 20 feet away was also quite unbecoming. I did such a good job of ignoring my glasses that they went away. I have no idea where they went which sucks because at my last eye appointment Vanity was on task.. I also had a job, and money. I was able to pay the extra 200 bucks for the no line bifocals.Vanity was happy with that.
"No one has to know we have bifocals" she whispered giddily all the way home as I teetered about trying to adjust my eyes to the invisible boundary between super zoom and simple clarity.
Now 3 years and 15 all out fights with Vanity later I have settled on bifocals WITH LINES! Even I am somewhat horrified by this recent development. So today as I head out to pick up my new glasses bringing Sensibility along with me (she probably wears bi-focals...and comfortable shoes) I'll be peering over my shoulder for my old friend. If imaginary friends could come up with real cash I might indulge her, until then I guess Sensibility and I will be chumming around for a while.
© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Memoir Musings

I've been putzing around with the process of writing my memoirs for several years now, with varying degrees of dedication and intent. There is no doubt that I have plenty of stories inside me. I have lived a life that, as I have mentioned frequently, is a patchwork of often paradoxical scenes and chapters. I have allowed myself to be open to experiences that offer characters and situations that make for some pretty colorful storytelling. There are times I have struggled against barriers of my own making and other times in which the challenges have been the products of systems over which I had little control. If there is a school of hard knocks, I have at least a few credits under my belt. I have also, at times, been blessed with uncanny good luck, for lack of a better phrase. My Luck may have saved my life in some situations and in others merely landed me in the right time and place to be able to avail myself of opportunities that fulfilled my dreams.
As anyone who has toyed with the idea, or followed through with it, you know there are many considerations to writing a memoir. Initially there is the question of intent, what is the purpose of the memoir? For some a memoir can be a personal process of developing a record to be added to an ongoing family history, a way of leaving a legacy to one's family.
Another personal motivation may arise from the need to make sense of one's experiences and patterns of interaction. Much like journaling telling one's story can be incredibly therapeutic. In my experiences both as  counselor and counseled, I have seen memoir or life writing used with great success as a means to make make peace with one's personal history. By pouring through our lives and putting our experiences to words we create a concrete visual timeline of people, events and emotion that can shed a fresh perspective on our personal view of our place in the world. For many of us upon entering the therapeutic process our lives tend to look like a jigsaw puzzle spread before us. There are recognizable bits and pieces that capture the eye and spark recognition. As we engage in the process of fitting the pieces together patterns begin to develop. What was once a scattered pile of random shapes and colors slowly becomes a panoramic view of who we are as a Whole being within our surrounding environment.
Corners first, then edges, then we move onto matching up recognizable colors and patters. At some point we become frustrated and abandon the project where it sits, some of the pieces become displaced, but when we return, we remember where those pieces fit and as we reconstruct clearer patterns begin to emerge. Eventually we see the events of our live and the characters within it in a way that was previously hidden or inaccessible. The process is a personal healing journey and there may be no reason ever for anyone else to read the finished product.
For many writers, especially those who are of a humanitarian sort, a memoir can be used as a tool or guidebook for others on their own journey to healing and self discovery. I suspect that quite often these kinds of memoirs develop out of one's own personal therapeutic process especially if we are telling the story of a personal struggle with a life changing event.  How often have you heard a survivor of a terrible ordeal state that "perhaps something good can come from my experience?' Distributing and sharing our stories is a way to reach a large audience to offer support encouragement and information, allowing the audience to remain anonymous at times when it may be impossible for them to reach out and ask for help. I've spoken with several individuals whose first step to recovery was found within the pages of a memoir.  By reading another person's account of events and accompanying emotional responses, the reader may discover, sometimes for the first time, that they are not alone, weird or crazy. This validation became the key that would unlock the cell of shame and isolation.
So many wonderful reasons to share a memoir, right? It's no wonder that for a time it had gained popularity as one of the bestselling literary genres. There are, however, complications involved with writing one's memoir especially if it falls into the latter categories of personal struggle and life challenges. A memoir that is written as part of a family history may tend to be more of an autobiographical timeline of ones life events. A memoir, on the other hand is a more personal subjective portrayal of a specific stage or theme in one's life. For us non-conformist, rebellious, renegade souls a  memoir is likely to contain some gritty material. For Survivors "gritty" barely scratches the surface.
Thinking back to the worst of the worst times of my life resurrects a scramble of hazy snapshots, all of them distorted in some way by my own perception both in the present and as it was at the time. On a light note I recently described to a friend my own mental image of myself while drunk. Tall, powerful, slick, witty and invincible; picture a white Pam Greer. Hell, my self image was so distorted, forget the white part!
Now years later in retrospect and with the help of observing young drunk women acting much as I did, I realize my mental picture has been photo shopped. The same happens when I talk to any woman desperately attempting to defend an abusive boyfriend or husband, I wonder for a moment how she can believe the words that are coming out of her mouth, then I remember and I know that she probably doesn't but so desperately wants to.
Some say the memoir is passe, it's falling out of popularity. These are the people who are concerned with what sells, what gets attention. Obviously I have never been concerned with what 'sells', I'm more concerned with what touches the human heart, what makes a person feel less alone and with what gifts we as women can share to strengthen one another. Does this make me hero or a saint of some sort? Ha Ha, wait for the memoir. You be the judge.
Jenny Nanakoosa

© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard