Monsters, Men, and Modern-Day Magic

I was never sure if the lightbulb was a magical amulet or just something I needed to take to Lowe’s so I could find a match for the burnt-out fixture in my bedroom. Once I put it in my purse, I felt very sure that it must never leave my possession.

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Novel Ideas: Title Holder

December has never been an easy time for me. My days yawn out before me, vast and unstructured. I have blood work appointments, psychiatrist visits, and counseling sessions on the calendar, while all around me, Christmas is in the air. 

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Deer in the Headlights

Quitting smoking is hard. It says so right in the nicotine replacement therapy packages I kept buying at CVS for two years straight so I wouldn’t have to go without my nic fix at work. I’ve switched to a vape, and tonight I ran out of my 3mg e-liquid, so I headed to the vape store to replace it with a 0mg liquid. I’ll hang onto the placebo effect for as long as I can.

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Home Again

It’s great to be home. I missed sleeping in my own bed, my friends and family, Gilligan, and my synagogue, but I am very glad to have done the work I did in treatment. I spent four weeks in a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans on a unit that specializes in treating trauma-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder. While I was there, I talked about traumatic instances of abuse that happened to me in childhood, in high school, at my first college, and as recently as December of last year.

When a person is sexually abused, especially at a young age, and especially when it happens over and over, the abuse can lead to a feeling of worthlessness, at least, that’s how I felt. I called myself a “throwaway girl,” meaning that I was disposable, lacking in value, and easily replaced. I felt like all I was good for was sex, but also believed I was too unattractive to be desirable. Most of all, after being abused by four different men at different, unrelated points in my life, I felt that there must be something wrong with me to bring on these incidents. “I should have left the first time he hit me, not stuck around for a year. I shouldn’t have been intoxicated around a stranger. I shouldn’t have been hanging around someone twice my age who probably has a criminal record.” These are the warnings I constantly repeated to myself after it was too late. I was more angry at myself for making mistakes, mistakes every young woman is entitled to make as she finds herself, and mistakes for which no child can be blamed, than I was at the men who took advantage of my vulnerability and treated me like a punching bag or a sex toy.

At the hospital, I heard horrific stories of abuse, violence, and trauma, everything from cults to combat, from people who claimed to be broken but were somehow still vibrant and full of life. These people still made amazing art, told gripping stories, laughed boisterously, and did their best to help the newcomers on the unit. Most of all, they had not been robbed of the capacity to love. When my roommate’s children came to visit her, I was astounded at the warmth that emanated from her as she saw their faces. This came from a woman who had seen horrors and suffered losses no one should have to endure, yet there she was in the bed next to me with her contagious laugh, her soft sketches, loud oil paintings, and a heart full of love for her kids.

As the days wore on and I started to do the work of the program, I began to feel akin to my fellow patients. I, too, had been through some terrible things, but if they weren’t broken, perhaps I wasn’t either. One night, I had a dream that I was married to another woman, and that we were both pregnant. We had our babies at the same time, and we laid in a huge bed with soft, white sheets and nursed them together. We both had daughters; my wife’s was born with no hair and dark skin, while mine was pale with messy blonde curls. I named her Sienna, and as I held her in dreamland, I was overwhelmed with joy. I laughed and cried at the same time, and my wife hugged me while I hugged my baby. When I woke up, I felt serene and optimistic. I felt like I’d been given a gift.

I may be a little young to start dreaming about having babies, but I think the dream was less about reproducing than it was about the capacity to love. As I struggle to make sense of my abuse, I’ve doubted if I am even capable of love. Maybe I was too selfish, too sex-crazed, too analytical, too impulsive to ever love someone else romantically. The dream showed me that I have the ability to be overwhelmed with joy at my connection to another individual, and that, I believe, is God’s presence on earth. After having that dream, I realized that no abuser has broken me so long as I can still love another person. It is only when I become an abuser myself, treating others with complete disregard for their humanity and individuality, that I am broken. There will be no hope for me then, but I will not allow myself to reach that point. This is the chapter of my life where I walk in love, where I strive to make genuine connections with people, not shallow relationships based on sex or any other superficial commodity or desire.

But before I go falling in love with someone else, I need to show that love to myself. Just as misery loves company, unhealthy people attract others who are also in need of healing. I want to radiate positivity, to attract people who value me for my intellect, my creativity, my friendship, and my passion for teaching. My confidence was destroyed by middle school bullies and the voice of anorexia, but neither of those are realities in my life anymore. The only one preventing me from having confidence is me. Today, I stand tall, unbroken, strong, and confident.

Happy New Year! I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions for a few reasons. It’s primarily because I never stick to them, so I feel like I’m starting the year by setting myself up for failure. I’ll make 4,827 resolutions, which is at least 27 too many, and I get overwhelmed and nothing changes. Sometimes, my resolutions are things that just keep me sick, like resolving to lose weight.

However, I am making some pretty big changes in my life, changes that happen to coincide with this arbitrary measurement of time we call the New Year. This morning (the day before my 21st birthday), I was discharged from a three-night stay in a psychiatric hospital. A few weeks ago, someone I trusted hurt me in a very personal way, and I have not been okay since then. The whole ordeal of contacting the necessary authorities and professionals in the aftermath of the incident was equally stressful, and I do not function well under stress. Within a week, I found myself purging again, and I became very afraid of food. Eating has become a nearly insurmountable task, made tolerable only when I use neurotic food rituals, and I often find myself obsessing about how I’m going to avoid getting caught purging the small amounts of food I do manage to eat.

Even though I had gotten rid of all my razor blades, I was still self-harming. I dismantled household items with which to cut myself, and when that didn’t numb the emotional pain enough, I resorted to banging my head into walls.

I spoke less, smiled less, hardly ever laughed, and carried Ora Nechema, my doll, around

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Ora Nechema is a handmade ball-jointed doll. My best friend’s mom made her for me. Since this photo was taken, she went to the doll hospital (AKA my friend’s mom’s kitchen table) for a makeover and has beautiful, curly red hair now. Ora Nechema is Hebrew for light and comfort. She typically comes everywhere with me (except work because I don’t want her to get broken), and I do get strange looks walking around a college campus with a doll in my hand, but she is very comforting, and I tell her all the nice things I need to hear but can’t yet say to myself. 

with me everywhere because she reminded me that there is something childlike and in need of protection in me, and I am worth the same care with which I handle a handmade porcelain doll. (She comes to AA with me, and she’s quite popular.)

I became more and more depressed until I decided I might as well just go ahead and kill myself. I was scared to feel this way, so I talked to my parents, and we all decided it would be best for me to be in a safe place, so they took me to the hospital.

The hospital has its ups and downs. I’ve been there enough times that I know all the nurses, and I feel safe there. I can’t hurt myself there. I’m under 24/7 supervision, and I can’t have so much as a spiral notebook, so cutting myself is out of the question. The downside is that the hospital is just a crisis stabilization and detox unit. The idea is to get you in, get you some medicine, and get you out. There’s really no therapy, and it’s quite boring in there. So, while I was prevented from killing myself, the underlying issues that led me to feel suicidal are still festering. My elaborate cocktail of anti-this and such-and-such stabilizers are actually working quite well. I was doing okay until this most recent incident happened. However, now that I’m dealing with the aftermath of being hurt, I feel out of control and in need of more long-term help. So, I am heading back to residential treatment.

My parents, my therapist, and I are looking into various treatment centers that deal with multiple psychiatric disorders, and trying to find the best fit for me. I might only go so far as Orlando, or I might end up in Boston. We’re not sure yet. But what I do know is that this is my chance at turning my life around. When I was at the Creek in 2014, I made substantial progress, but then I hit a wall and I was kind of stuck. The treatment team there was challenging me to work on deep, underlying issues, not just my unhealthy relationship with food, but what drove that relationship. I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I frequently snapped at my therapist there, “I came here to get rid of my eating disorder, and I did. I want to go home.” I did go home, and I did alright for a little while, but within a year, I was unstable and self-destructing.

This time will be different. I am resolving to commit myself to getting better. I’m going to follow my treatment team’s recommendations no matter what. I obviously don’t know how to take care of myself, or else my stomach wouldn’t be empty, my wrist wouldn’t be scabby, I wouldn’t feel like the world is ending if I accidentally make physical contact with a strange man, and my GPA would be higher than a two point something or other. I am turning the care and keeping of Katherine over to the treatment team until I am well enough to take that role back. Someday, I’ll get there. Someday, I will feel like a whole person. Until then, I’ll just continue to do my best.

May you find peace and happiness this year. I know that’s what I’m trying to do.

 

 

A Peek Inside my Journal

I’ve kept a journal for the past eight years–since I was twelve, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My journals have come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m currently using a black hardcover notebook with silver polka dots on the front. I like it because it’s small and fits in my purse easily. Here are some of my entries from the past week or so.

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I made this one with some scraps from a well-deserved trip to Dunkin Donuts before a Survey of Biology exam, and some pictures I cut out of a fashion magazine.

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I’ve been listening to one of my favorite bands from eighth grade, Three Days Grace. Thus, I have been writing eighth grade-quality poems. Enjoy. 

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The left side reads, “I grew up in a noisy house, but it was a loving song of noise. Yiddish and Hebrew thrown around like olives in exotic dishes. Pretty dresses on little girls, and kippahs covering bald spots. The Torah. Behind the glorious ark in all her resplendent wonder with mysteries and wisdom to carry me through the ages. And carry me she did, through losses–Goodbye, Miss Lucille; Goodbye Mrs. Malka–and loving gains–Welcome to our family, David; Welcome to the world, Baby Ben. And all the steps in between. Rolled up in the Torah scrolls are generations of Hanukkahs and Purims, a thousand weddings and a thousand births. I grew up in a noisy house, and when I come to visit, my family sings with me.” The other side is about gender identity/presentation plus how much I wish I’d never started smoking.

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I was sad when I made this. One of my very close friends always tells me that she’s praying for me, which I appreciate, but… The opposite side of the page makes me uncomfortable, and I was uncomfortable when I made it. It just makes me feel tense. 

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I had a lot of fun making this page today, but it looks like the fashionable grandma is having more fun than I am. 

The Daily Meltdown

I have not been doing that well lately, and I am really lucky to have an amazing support network of family and friends to lean on. However, I realize that when I call my friends during a psychotic breakdown, it puts a lot of pressure on them and they don’t know what to say. I’m writing this article mostly for myself and for my friends, but also for anyone who may be at a loss for how to help a person with psychosis.

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate what symptoms are being caused by which disorder, or even what’s a hallucination, what’s a delusion, and what’s paranoia. Actually, let’s  talk about that for a second. Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia are all symptoms I experience as a result of schizoaffective disorder. Hallucinations are hearing, seeing, and feeling things that are not there. (Some people also smell and taste things that are not there, but I do not experience this.) I often feel like bugs are crawling on me, and I can see the bugs out of the corners of my eyes. Sometimes I see cameras or other electronic surveillance devices where there is nothing. I often hear voices, or a single voice named Henry (He is a snake who lives inside my body.) insulting me, saying that I’m promiscuous, telling me I’ve done terrible things or that terrible things will happen because of me, and telling me to hurt myself or others.

Delusions are fixed, false beliefs that do not line up with reality. I have a paranoid delusion that a man who hurt me when I was a little girl is stalking me via electronic surveillance devices and a network of spies. As you’re reading this, you probably think that sounds far-fetched. I do not. Recently, this delusion has furthered, and I’m convinced that my world is all a simulation controlled by the man who hurt me (I refer to him as the Angel Man.) and that I have to hurt myself badly enough to wake up and “save the children,” so they don’t get hurt like I did. I don’t know who or where these children are, only that they’re in danger, and I was put in the simulation to save them. As I’m writing this, I realize that it makes absolutely no sense. That’s why it’s a delusion. It doesn’t line up with reality.

Paranoia is a little harder to explain. In a lot of ways it’s like anxiety, but times a million. It’s a sense of dread and fear. For me, it centers around the delusion that I’m being stalked. If I hear a weird noise outside, or one of my dogs starts barking at nothing, I immediately start worrying that there’s a dangerous person in my yard who’s going to rape and murder me.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about what to do in a crisis. It’s always a good idea to ask me if I’ve taken my medicine. I almost always remember to take it, but it doesn’t hurt to check just in case.

One thing that really doesn’t help is telling me that whatever I’m hearing, seeing, or thinking isn’t real. It’s very real to me, and it’s just frustrating for everyone to get into an argument about  what’s real and what’s not. If you tell me that something isn’t real (the children I have to save, for example), I will get frustrated and tell you that you’re not real, and there’s pretty much nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. (My dad actually won that argument by showing me a list he made at a self-improvement class in 1998. It was a list of things that bothered him, and number sixteen was not getting enough “Daddy and Doodle” time. He’s Daddy. I’m Doodle.) Anyway, you can ask me what evidence I have that I have to save the children or that I’m in a simulation, or of whatever’s bothering me. I might get mad at you for poking holes in my delusion, but in the long run, you’re helping me, and once I calm down, I won’t be mad anymore.

A lot of my hallucinations and delusions are trauma-related. These are the most upsetting ones because the combination of PTSD and psychosis makes me feel like I am reliving the trauma. I will often say, “I can feel him touching me,” and proceed to beat myself in the face. Obviously, this doesn’t help anything. It’s totally okay to grab my hands and stop me from hitting myself. I’m not always okay with physical contact when I’m that upset, especially if I feel like my abusers are touching me, but if my options are: not hurt myself or have someone touch me when I don’t want to be touched, I’ll sit on my hands or hold yours. Sometimes, I might want a hug, but I’ll probably just want to pet your dog unless you’re my parents or Christin (in which case, I might want to pet your cats). It helps to hear, “He’s not here right now,” or “You’re safe with me.” Sometimes, that isn’t enough, and I get scared that an abuser is going to attack me immediately and that I will have to physically overpower him. Telling me that you’ll protect me or help me protect myself helps, and it really doesn’t matter if you could fight a scary man because there’s no actual danger. Physical contact can be a huge help. It’s grounding and reassuring, but please do not force it on me if I tell you I’m not okay with it. I know that a lot of people’s first instinct is to hug someone when they’re upset, but it doesn’t always help me.

Sometimes, I get so delusional that I don’t make sense. One thing that many people on the schizophrenic spectrum struggle with is disorganized speech and issues with word-finding. I don’t think this affects me, but I can get so upset that I have trouble speaking, and I’ll forget what I’m saying and trail off in the middle of a sentence. (Speech class, here I come!) When I’m really delusional, I’ll forget that not everyone knows what I’m talking about. Today, I went over to my best friend Colette’s house because I didn’t want to be home by myself, and I asked her why we were in the jungle. I was very confused and did not know where I was. I told her that we were in a simulation, and started rambling about how I needed to save the children. She respectfully let me finish (always a good thing to do), and then said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s a perfectly acceptable thing to say to me when I’m not making sense. You can ask me to elaborate if you need/want to know more about the delusion, or you can just let it go. Either one is fine, and knowing more about the delusion probably won’t help anything unless I’m telling you I need to harm myself.

I have prescription sedatives for when things get really bad. They calm the voices down, stop me from hyperventilating, and sometimes put me to sleep. These are all good things. The other night, I saw a story on the news about a one-year-old boy whose father killed him with the car in the family’s driveway. It was an accidental death, but I was already delusional and thinking about saving the children, and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the child died because of me and started to cry. My dad tried to get me to take a sedative, but I wouldn’t because I “needed to be awake to save the children.” The more he encouraged me to take it, the more I thought he was trying to poison me. Finally he told me that I couldn’t save the children if I didn’t calm down, and that got me to take the medicine, and I was okay. It is perfectly fine to indulge a delusion if it’s going to keep me safe. That is so, so much more productive than telling me it’s not real.

Of course, if things get really bad and I can’t calm down or I’m becoming a danger to myself (or others, not that that’s likely), it’s in everyone’s best interest to call my parents.

The main thing is knowing that someone is here for me, which I know all of my friends and family most definitely are. I appreciate all of you who’ve sat through the hysterical late-night phone calls, who’ve held me while I try to stop the voices, and who listen to me and love me in spite of everything. You’re all amazing, and I am lucky to have  you in my life.