Of black dogs and dirty blondes

No matter how much therapy you’ve had or healing you’ve experienced, there’s a little piece of darkness always lurking around in your head. I happen to call mine Hailey. I haven’t heard from her in a while. Recently, she decided to pop in again. Sometimes it’s due to an actual stress and sometimes it’s just because it’s a day ending in “y”.

It started with the nightmares. Two full days of every time I closed my eyes, I had a nightmare. They ranged from mildly disturbing to waking up sweating making sure that I still had all my teeth and / or limbs. Then I started craving a margarita. Even in my previous life, margaritas weren’t my thing. If I happened to be at a Mexican restaurant or it was a Cinco de Mayo party, then sure. Left to my own devices, it was vodka or wine without a second thought. I could brush both of those off fairly easily. Then came the real kicker.

I wanted another tattoo.

I’ve been retired, as it were, for almost exactly 4 years. I started my final tattoo on September 11, 2010. That was my phoenix, a fitting end to that particular part of my life. I could picture the hypothetical new one in great and gory detail. It was a black and white line work tattoo of the famous Alice in Wonderland illustration with the Cheshire Cat. Mind you, I was never an Alice in Wonderland fan. It was on the back of my left calf, taking up almost the entire space. I saw it exactly how it would look completely finished and fully healed. That’s what jarred me back into reality. I wanted to hurt myself again. She was there, waiting patiently for me to see her.

Fighting her is like fighting a Chinese finger trap. The more I struggle to get loose, the tighter her grip becomes. Instead of pitching a fit and trying to beat her back into the dark recesses of my head, I talked to her. She presents herself very simply. She offers things that seem like simple choices, but are deeply destructive. It’s under the guise of helping me get through whatever it is that’s troubling me. She promises the darkness is a good place. After all, don’t gems grow in caves? It’s easier to blend in the dark. In the light, every harsh detail is visible.  Isolating myself from things and people I truly love is for the best. They can’t hurt me if they can’t see me. I listened to all she had to say before offering my response. She presents herself as a false goddess, offering the impossibility of a quick fix.

There is no such thing as a quick fix. She’s eloquent, to be sure. The darkness has done its part to shape me like a gem. I respect those solid crystals for what they are. It’s easy to hide in caves. It’s easy to shut down again. I won’t argue that point at all. I refuse to give up the light I’ve worked so hard to see. It’s not hers to take. It’s easy to take something from someone who doesn’t care. After all, they won’t fight you for something that doesn’t matter. It’s harder to take away something that matters. Of course, if that something is left outside after the walls have gone back up, she can take it and wander off without me being any the wiser. I don’t like that game. I’ve never liked to share my toys. Just read my kindergarten report card. I refuse to let her take away my light along with the people and things that I love. The wall has to stay down so I can protect what’s rightfully mine. It took a strong shake to see what she had already taken. In pieces, I can begin to take those things back. She and I will always coexist, for better or worse, ’til death do us part. All it takes is one little hole, one little rip, for me to walk away.

And then I cried.

I may have set myself up to be hauled off to the looney bin by giving my depression a corporeal form. At least I would be in good company. JK Rowling created the Dementors. Winston Churchill had his black dog. I have a green tinged, gaunt, greasy haired blonde named Hailey. For us, at least, it’s easier to discuss depression as a physical being. It’s also easier to communicate it to others who don’t suffer depression. Show, don’t tell. Perhaps the beasts of depression should have their own twisted support group as well.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I have spoken to my therapist and I will be seeing her next week. No need to fear that your faithful author will do something rash.  As always , this is a solely anecdotal story. I am not a mental health professional qualified to give advice regarding depression. I’m just here to offer the little bit I’ve learned.]



Of sobriety and the joy of not being my own boss

Happy (almost) end of the week fair readers. Today’s post is another aspect of my healing:

I’ve been sober for a little over 14 months now. I’ve lost weight and gained a hell of a lot of clarity. While I was drinking, I was a crappy worker. I would show up late, call out because of a hangover, and generally resent my 8 hour days. I dreamed of being my own boss doing something (writing, making jewelry, starting a hippie commune) that would allow me to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Read – drink and not worry about having to get up until I slept off the hangover. I actually hated drinking. It did nothing for me. It’s not like I stopped to savor the wine or cocktail in front of me. I downed that sucker as fast as I could and reached for the next one before the first one hit my stomach. It was a crutch. It was a loud and clear signal that something wasn’t right between my ears. I knew it. I had two unsuccessful stints in AA to show for it. I still hung on simply because it was how I coped while I was with him. Much like he was my first love, booze was my first “out”. It took a DUI, then an epilepsy diagnosis for me to let go.

I was given a very simple choice. Did I want to drink and risk having another seizure? Or did I want to stay sober and vastly reduce my chances of another seizure? Like hell I’m intentionally going to put myself in a situation that would increase my risk. Now I’m on time to work, give it my best, and call out only when I can’t even get out of bed. I function best in a structured environment. I don’t have to drag myself off the couch to write a blog post or the next chapter in my novel. I can go home, put on sweatpants, and plant myself on the couch for a marathon of True Blood.

I can’t put into words how grateful I am to all my friends who stood by me through the drunken tirades and poor life choices. They certainly didn’t have to. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they walked away. All in all, I only lost one friend over it. I said something intentionally hurtful and she stopped talking to me. I apologized, she chose not to accept it, and we moved on with our lives. I’ll periodically see things about her on Facebook. In my head, I wish her the best. It’s said you’re a combination of the five people you spend the most time with. If that’s true, then I’m way more awesome, forgiving, and patient than I give myself credit for. Whatever unhealthy coping mechanism is holding you back; be it drugs, alcohol, cutting, or an eating disorder, it doesn’t have to hold you back forever. Your healing won’t be the same process as mine. I certainly don’t recommend 7 hours in jail and a significant health issue.  You may be handed an easy decision which allows you to give it up easily. It may be a long, hard road before you wish it a fond farewell forever.



Of (not) freaking out and recognizing one’s bad habits

…And somebody hit the panic button.

This meeting Wednesday morning is really starting to freak me out. For those just joining us, it’s the first meeting involving my new position. I’m the facilitator / conduit / middle man of the whole process between the operations side and the programmers we outsource for a particular field facing product. My boss’ boss will be there and her boss will be there. There will be several marketing people (this area really should be theirs but there’s currently no one over the product) and the people from the company who supply us the raw data and programming. First it was just a wardrobe crisis. The office dress code is officially business casual. I’ve seen the CEO walking around in a polo shirt. If I wear my version of a suit, I’ll look like I’m trying too hard. If I wear what I’ve been wearing to work lately, more on the boho side of things with glittery eyeliner, I’ll look sloppy and like I don’t take things seriously. I know I want to wear heels, but that’s about it. I’ve been staring at my closet and coming up with nothing. Ugh.

Today things started to snowball. I noticed I was eating more than I normally do and not just because it’s a day off. I tried to take a nap and had nightmares the entire hour I was trying to sleep. Specifically nightmares about driving and getting caught in a flood. We made it to where we were going, but not without a lot of stress along the way. I’ve given myself a headache from clenching my jaw. I put on Top Chef to distract myself and that’s only working moderately well. My brain keeps going over this scenario again and again in my head. “You don’t belong there”. “You have no idea what you’re doing”. “You’re going to make a fool of yourself in front of important people”. 

I’ll concede your point, brain. I don’t know much about the product in question. I went to a training on it when the product was first rolled out, so it’s not like I’ve never even heard of it before. The interface is probably different, but the raw data is the same. I don’t have to make it look pretty. I just have to make sure that everyone on the operations side knows what everyone else on the programming side is doing. My boss’ boss has made it very clear to everyone else that’s my purpose. I don’t have to be an expert on the topic. I just have to be able to answer simple questions like “Where’s so and so on this issue?”. 

Secondly, no one said I had to talk. No one is expecting me to be an expert up front. If the last meeting is any indication, I sit there with my mouth shut taking notes. My boss’ boss will do all the talking for me. I speak when spoken to and that’s the extent of it. Look presentable, be polite, and show that I’m interested in doing well. That will never hurt in the long run. Smile and fake it until I make it. I’m smart. I pick up things very, very quickly. I retain them well. Even if I haven’t worked with a system in a while, I usually remember most of it after a little poking. My boss’ boss would never set me up to fail. That just makes her look bad. If nothing else, I can walk into that room knowing she’s setting me up for success. I just have to keep my ears open and notes detailed.

I earned this position, brain. No one handed it to me because I’m someone’s daughter or sister or cousin. I worked hard, proved myself, and was rewarded. I’m ambitious and that ambition paid off. It put me over the top to a higher rating on my review. I’m better at not letting people get under my skin. I do belong there because I was hired to be there and she has full confidence in me. She wouldn’t have picked me if that were a question.

Eating a pint of ice cream out of the container and buying things I don’t need won’t fix the anxiety. It’s an intimidating situation. Really the only thing that will solve it is getting through it. I know my vices well enough to know when to stop them in their tracks. Yes, I could buy nail polish, eyeliner, or shoes online. No, that won’t change the outcome. Yes, I could keep eating, feel guilty, and restrict the next 3 days. No, that won’t change the outcome. Not one bit. Chill the hell out, brain. In 48 hours, it’ll all be over.

With that…