Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This is the Moment

One of the things I have always loved about writing is the way it seems to come from nothing, form into something vague and hazy and finally, transform into something concrete and “real.” When I write, I more often than not, turn off my thinking and just let it go, being whatever it wants to become. Sometimes I start with an idea of what I think it will be and when I am finished, I am often surprised at what comes out. Of course, I sometimes have to force it, but I have discovered that is when I am either not really interested, not not being authentic. When I am being me, really me, it flows and I make no attempt to stop it. I don't worry what people will think and I don't go back and criticize or judge. It is what it is, what it is supposed to be. I feel the most present when I write or take pictures. That is probably why they are two of my most favorite things to do. Travel also puts me in that space.

It is easy to talk about being in the moment, being present and letting things happen as they will, but I know from recent experience, putting it into practice is hard, and at times, can really suck. I have spent a lot of time since the stroke wondering why this happened to me, comparing the “new” me to the pre-stroke me. I have spent a lot of time looking at my life from a sense of loss. I was everywhere but in the moment. I have felt angry, robbed, frustrated, isolated, confused and scared. Strokes are the number two killer world-wide and I remember making the decision to live that day in the hospital. But live for what? What was the reason? I have spent a lot of time wondering why. Surely I did not live to just go through the day-to-day feeling all those negative thoughts, mourning the life that was, unable to accept the life that had become. Searching for the reason drove me crazy, but I was sure there was something that would make sense.

A couple of weeks ago, and coinciding with going off the medication, I watched an conversation between Oprah and Nate Berkus. Nate was talking about how he lost his partner during the tsunami when they were in Sri Lanka and he spent a lot of time wondering why he survived when his partner did not. The thing that really struck me was the idea that so many people, like me, look for the big reason. We want to be able to say “I survived because I was meant to (insert major achievement here)” but the reality is, that every day we spend alive is the reason. I did not live to find a cure for cancer or win a Nobel Prize, but I lived because I did. I made a choice. I lived for myself, to spend time with my sisters, my niece and nephews, to see my sister Ava married. I lived for those little reasons and so many other ones. The other gift I got from the stroke, is the true knowledge that life, all this, is temporary. It is coming to an end. It will end. No matter how much we worry, regret, judge, compare or whatever, it will end. The only thing we really have control over, is how we spend these moments. And, I have learned even more than before, that being in the moment, being present, being open and willing is the key to truly amazing things happening. I would like to say I have it down, but I am learning. I am learning that it is not the destination that is important, it is the journey. It is what we take with us and what we leave behind. It is about going through the things that strip us from who we think we are to revealing who we really are.

These days, I am trying to stay more in the moment, present and open to what wants to be. I am trying to put the writer part of me into the every day places. Not judging, not controlling, but being. Yes, I have my plans, and no, I am not sitting around doing nothing as though waiting to win the lottery. I feel like something big is coming, something just around the next turn. I am not sure what it is, I have a hazy vision that each day, each minute comes a little sharper into focus. I am excited about sailing the unknown waters off the horizon.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Waking Up

About two months after starting the Prozac, my mood leveled out. The only problem was, it was in the basement. I felt like a shell of my old self. I would often have out-of-body type experiences, where I would see myself as though in a movie and have absolutely no control over what would happen. My camera collected dust, my laptop barely got opened, I didn't call anyone, I rarely went anywhere. If it wasn't for a few people forcing me to get out of the house or the absolute need to occasionally go out in order to survive, I could have easily have boarded up the doors and stayed inside forever. I didn't recognize myself at all. I didn't feel sad or depressed. I didn't feel anything at all.

After a couple of months, I realized that things were just not going to get better, so I spoke with my doctor about everything. He told me that for mild to moderate depression, regular exercise usually has the same effect of medication. That was my green light. I knew that I would rather make a sustainable lifestyle change instead of the endless routine of medication. I still have nothing against the medications, and my doctor also thinks I was probably just on the wrong one, or the dosage was wrong, but I feel like I need to see about life without them. I immediately arrived at the conclusion that being off anti-depressants would likely be better for me. I started hitting the gym, eating healthy, eliminating most anything unhealthy.

To say I was scared is an understatement. I had some pretty dark experiences with depression last summer and while I didn't like the feeling of not feeling, I was scared about what might surface. I was scared there might be something horrible and overwhelming just waiting to come out. So the agreement was made to stay in close contact with my doctor and really pay attention to what was happening in my body and mind.

One of the big things that happened on the medication was disconnecting myself from people. A couple of my friends were visiting California and I was overwhelmed with the thought of even messaging or calling. It just seemed so intimidating in a way I have not yet been able to describe. I wanted to see my friends, I just couldn't do it. Worse, I wouldn't even message them to explain. I have kept my distance from other people as well, like Ken and Charise. I didn't realize how I has isolated myself until I started looking back over the past months. I didn't recognize myself.

The post I wrote for this blog shortlyafter my trip with Ulco wasn't entirely true. Yes, the details of the trip were, but I wrote about participating in life. That was something of an exaggeration. With Ulco around and being on the road, I was indeed active and would just force myself to do things even when all I really wanted was to just do nothing. After Ulco left and the trip was done, I bottomed out and stopped participating in life in so many ways. I would have been happy to stay in bed and sleep my way through life. I didn't understand what was going on as I was on medication that was supposed to help, but I still seemed depressed. I wanted to believe that I was improving, and I used the trip with Ulco as proof that my life was moving ahead in a good direction. I needed it to, but it wasn't. It wasn't moving in a bad direction, it just simply wasn't going anywhere. And I wasn't even spinning wheels trying to make a change. I simply gave in, gave up and tuned-out. I sat around eating all day, putting on weight, watching TV and not caring. I quickly put on enough weight to be classified as overweight. Anyone who has ever met me knows what a big change that is. My clothes didn't fit and I felt horrible and dumpy and that made me even more willing to stay home and eat. I now understand the cycle of overeating and weight gain. I would look at overweight or obese people and wonder why and how they could just let themselves go. Now I get it, at least to a point. I realized I needed to make a change, to take control or things were either going to take control of me and it was not going to be pretty.

One thing I know for sure, is that the re-emergence of feelings is a very odd experience. Having spent the last few months feeling unmotivated and somewhat uncaring in pretty much every area of my life, I am excited to really have the start of actual feelings again. I caught myself singing in the shower again, one of the things I do when I feel happy and light. It has been a long time since I did that. I also feel not only the motivation to create, but the urge, the need. I am getting that feeling of needing to write, needing to use my camera and just make something, anything. I don't feel like sitting my pajamas all day waiting until an acceptable time to take a nap. The horrible insomnia I have had since November seems to be pretty much gone. I have energy. I want to do things. I want to see people. Instead of wanting to stay in bed until the wee hours of the afternoon, I like being up early. I now look forward to the day instead of looking forward to bed time.

The past ten days are like a re-awakening. I am actually enjoying things instead of going through the motions and pretending like I care. I feel more alert, awake and alive than I have in a long time.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chemical Reaction

In mid September, after a lot of thinking, doubting and talking to a lot of people, I made the decision to go on anti-depressants. I am not opposed to taking medication if needed, but I am one of those people that always try to take care of things without it. If I have a headache, I try to relax and take aspirin only if that is the last resort. So starting on anti-depressants was a big step for me, not one I took lightly at all, but speaking to several people I trust, I decided to try it and see if they would help.

I have written a lot in the past year about the emotional roller coaster I have been on since having the stroke just over a year ago. While the physical recovery was something that was relatively easy to deal with, the emotional part has been an intimidating challenge I was at times not sure I would overcome. One of the major things that helped, was having the support of friends and family. That support was amazing, but at the end of the day, I was the only person who could make the changes that needed to be made in order to move forward. I often times felt like I was weighing people down. I felt stuck in a place I didn't like and I felt absolutely hopeless and frustrated. I wrote about feeling worthless back in August, and it was after writing that that I realized I just needed to do something drastic. At least drastic for me, so a few weeks later, I started taking medication.

Instead of writing what I remember about going on the medication, below are entries from the journal I kept at the time. 

September 28, 2012

I started Prozac exactly a week ago. I fought the idea of anti-depressants for a long time. Not that I have anything against them, but I was just worried that they weren't really for me, or worse, that after the stroke, they would have a much more pronounced effect on my personality, or perhaps even be harmful. In addition to that, I haven't felt depressed in a few weeks and am wondering if I even need them after all. But I started them anyway. I was told that they could take a couple of weeks to start working, but as of today, I am pretty sure they are. I just watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy, when Mark Sloane dies, and I knew I felt sad, but I didn't have the reaction I would have normally had, possibly crying. I usually cry at things like that. During the episode, he dies when they take him off life support and his friends are around him. I started thinking about who would be around me if I were dying. Again, I knew I should feel sad, I knew I would normally feel sad, but I can't feel sad or upset by it. I am not so sure I like the feeling at all. I am glad I am not feeling depressed about something, but I find it strange that I don't feel upset.

Actually, in a way I do. I can sense the feeling is there, I just can't access it. It doesn't come up to the surface. Like a person in a dream that you don't really see but you know is there. I know the feelings are there, I can "feel" something that resembles feelings, but they are different in a way I can't really describe. They seem foggy, for lack of a better explanation.

In a weird way, I miss the intense feeling. I didn't think I would, but I do. I miss feeling. As much as I sometimes hate the feeling itself, I love the fact I can actually feel. It makes me feel alive, makes me feel like I am here, connected and in my body, even if I am not really happy about being there, in that moment. So many things have changed for me since December. I am in a body I still am trying to understand, living a life I am trying to sort out and that is finally coming together. The one thing I had, for better or worse, were my emotions They were truly mine. And now they aren't. Is it strange I miss the sad feelings? Have I been carrying them around so long that they became a sort of comfort to me? I do feel a bit lost, naked even, without them. I feel an odd and yet unreachable sadness that I can't access those feelings. Is this just the start? Will I get used to it? Do I want to get used to it?

October 2, 2012

I hate this. The constant feeling of just wanting to stay in bed. In many ways it is worse than the depression. With depression, I knew what was going on and while it was overwhelming, I knew I would get out of it. Now, I don't feel depressed, but I seem to be, due to my actions. I just want to stay in bed. I have no motivation to do anything. I have a new lens for my camera, a lens I have wanted for years and I am not even interested in using it. I see it there on my camera, but have no interest in picking it up. This is making me feel more alone and strange. I hope it gets better. I think what is really odd, is the overall feeling of nothing, but my body and mind acting as though there is something. I am constantly tired, I sleep and sleep. I watched "Steel Magnolias", a movie that always gets some sort of emotional response, and there was nothing. Even the concentration to piece together the words to write this seems to be taking a whole lot of effort. Writing isn't fun anymore. And I have articles to write for a magazine and I just don't feel like doing it. I picked the topics, things that really interest me, like Frank Lloyd Wright, and I just can't seem to get myself to a place where I want to do it. With the depression, I could cry, get it out. Now I just feel hollow. I can't reach the emotion. It is just there below the surface and I can't get to it. I feel like I want to cry, but I can't. There are still so many things I feel I lost since the stroke. Some of them have come back and some haven't and possibly never will, but now I feel I am losing things again, and again, I find myself trying to figure out what this all means and who I am if I don't have parts of myself.

Even Ken and Charise have noticed the change in my personality or mood, not sure yet which is ultimately being affected. Ken said I am more "blah" and seem a bit withdrawn. Charise said I spend more time by myself, keeping to myself. It has only been about 10 days since I started, and normally things don't really start changing for a few weeks. Maybe the stroke is affecting the effects of the medication?

I feel as though I am moving backwards again. I felt so good before I went on the Prozac. Things in my life were moving in a good direction, I felt like my moods had started to stabilize a bit and now they seem to have gone back to the confusion they were. The only real difference now is that I seem not to be so concerned by it emotionally. I can look at it all logically and see the differences, but emotionally, I don't connect.

October 18, 2012

I hings seem to have leveled out over the past couple of weeks. Not thinking about it has really helped, but I still don't like the fact I have to wake up and take a capsule every morning. That said, I do feel better. I still have the issue of not being able to really feel sad stuff, but maybe after everything that has happened over the past almost-year, not feeling the sad parts really isn't all that bad. I guess my biggest fear is losing more of myself. I feel like I have lost so much, become a different person. A person I am still trying to figure out and know.

It has been almost ten months since the stroke and so many times I still find myself trying to wrap my head around it and make sense of it all. I still often feel confused and like a lesser version of myself. I see things on TV and remember when I could do those things. Simple things, like riding a bike or even running. It occurred to me the other day that even jumping is not something I can do right now. I was at the gym last week and was working on my legs. I tried doing lunges, a leg exercise where you step forward with one foot and then lower yourself until your back knee almost touches the floor. Normally I would do it with weights, but as I am just trying to get myself back in shape, I didn't use any. Good thing, because when I stepped forward and started to lower myself, I lost my balance and fell. The gym was only a little busy, but it was still embarrassing. I spend so much time trying to hide the fact there is anything wrong that it sometimes catches me by surprise when confronted with the fact that so much is still on the mend. Or will perhaps never mend.

It makes it both easier and harder that I have almost no visible outward symptoms of the stroke. It is nice because I meet people and they have no clue. Most of the time, I can blend. I have learned to cover balance issues and hide other challenges like walking down stairs. On the other hand, because there is nothing to see, everyone assumes that everything is great, and it is not great. A lot of times, not even good. The moody feelings are gone, but I still feel like a mess inside. I also feel as though I am isolating myself more and more. I am not as much in contact with people as I once was. Even Ken and Charise, who I absolutely love being around, I have been keeping at more of a distance. Instead of spending time with them, I spend my time at the house on my own, watching videos or sleeping. I want to socialize, but at the same time I don't want to. I don't feel depressed anymore, but I do feel lost and misplaced and without any feeling of direction or motivation.

Several weeks ago, I got some freelance work, writing for a group of magazines. I normally love and feel the urge to write, but now I have no motivation or inspiration to write. Even photography is not such an interest right now. I want to take pictures, but when it comes down to it, picking up my camera just seems like so much effort. Ulco is arriving next week and we are going on a road trip. I hope that helps break me out of this place I am in.

I am off to Vegas tomorrow with friends, and then I will spend time with my sister, niece and nephews before more family arrives. I am both looking forward to and dreading the visit. My life seems to be filled with conflict at the moment, every emotion and want having an immediate and opposite emotion and want. I feel like I am pushing forward and pulling back at the same time. It makes no sense to me and probably not to anyone else. People just tell me to be strong and just do something. Do what? I wish I knew.

I am quite tired of things feeling like they are both coming together and falling apart.

Working with the doctor, I went off medication ten days ago. More on that next time.

Monday, February 04, 2013

It Is All About The Bike

The past thirteen months have been crammed full of challenges and victories that I could not even have imagined . This time last year, I had just learned to walk again and spent a lot of my time practicing putting one foot in front of the other. Today, I still have balance issues which affect my ability to do many things. There are times this has caused deep depression, feelings of being less than who I was and often times wondering who I am in in this new situation. Last August I tried to ride a bike. I couldn't do it and that started a seemingly out of control emotional tailspin and since then, every time I would see someone on a bike, I would feel jealous and a little angry. I often miss the days when I took things like that for granted.

In October and November, I managed to do a bit of hiking in Zion, Bryce, Arches and the Grand Canyon. I was terrified. What if I fell? What if I broke something? What if I had a panic attack? It's one thing to try something at home or the gym in a safe environment where if something goes awry it is no that big of a deal. In the middle of a canyon, there is no such luxury as giving up or failing. And I will be the first to admit, I do often give up as it is sometimes just so much easier than the knowledge of failure.

I am trying more and more to jump the hurdles of fear and attack what scares me head-on. I don't always try as I could or succeed as I would like, but I do keep the list in my head and every once in a while, just bite the bullet and do it. Yesterday was one such day.

I have been wanting to ride a bike again for a long time, but my balance and coordination just would not work with me. And then there is the fear of crashing or getting hurt, but ore than that, there was the fear of failure. I was in Huntington Beach yesterday for a Super Bowl get-together at a friend's house and decided it was time to get back on the bike. It was a bit of a challenge to get my leg over the bar without falling. Balance on one foot is more unreliable than not, but I managed to straddle the bike. Then the panicky voices started. What if I fell? What if someone sees? Getting myself to push off and start peddling was more intense than bungee jumping. I was never that scared or nervous when jumping out of a balloon or off a crane. That was excitement. Being on the bike was terror.

But, I did it. I pushed off and started peddling. I wobbled a bit but didn't fall. I didn't go far, just a few dozen feet and then turned back. Then I went around the block. Again, I wobbled and almost fell, but kept going. I went over a speed bump and almost crashed, but I didn't. Then I went across the street to the bike trail along the beach. The Super Bowl was on and I figured I would have the trail pretty much to myself which turned out to be the case. Again, getting on the bike and pushing off was daunting, but again, I did it and managed to ride for fifteen or twenty minutes. I had a few close calls, but I did it.

In many ways, it has been a difficult few months, and I really needed that victory. It feels amazing and later today, I am going for a longer ride down the beach. I know I might fall, but now, I really don't care. More and more, I understand the meaning of “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”