What Happens When Things Fall Apart

Pin Down That Mummy Hand

In my outpatient crazy classes we talked about self-care–a lot, actually. The first thing I did that helped to lift me out of my wretched little hole was to clean and organize my space. I know very well that my external surroundings are a projection of my inner state. Peaceful and zen like? Every thing is in its place. The bed is made. The laundry is put away. As I sink further and further into the chaos my space gets less and less organized. It’s one of my warning signs that things are out of whack. When I stop meditating, that is a definite flashing red light.

Somehow I managed to make it to work today, unraveled and with flashing red lights, my insides all squishy, my cognitive function deteriorating. Let’s not mention the crying fits. I work in a place that is inhabited almost exclusively by men. I need to sneak out of my office, into the bathroom and push the tears out. Like a tiny birth. Today I accidentally double dosed on Wellbutrin. It didn’t really take effect until halfway through my work day when I was on the phone and all of the sudden things became unreal like they do with LSD. My jaw started grinding, my heart started pounding and I started pacing. I think I managed to pull the phone call off without obvious signs of insanity. But did I pull the day off? I don’t know.

I’m at a familiar crossroads here. Many times in the past I have reached this point in a job and have just dissolved into depression, anxiety or mania. I make too many mistakes thanks to my holey brain and my inability to focus. At first the boss is somewhat understanding, then a little testy then pissed. So I apply the over-compensation–working extra hours that I don’t clock on for. The ensuing anxiety and down right terror wakes me up at night because I have all of this work-related anxiety.

Now that this has happened so many times I’m starting to think that maybe it is a choose your own adventure. Or better yet, maybe it’s like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mummy hand episode where our saintly heroine was magicked into reliving the same torturous hour of retail service over and over again until she succeeded in satisfying her customer.

This was tricky because the Mummy hand was a devious trickster and the customer was a bitch. Bewitching aside, I think it’s an apt metaphor. Buffy realized that using the same tactics yet again would land her in the basement wrastling a mummy hand to the ground. She tried a new approach. It’s time for my new approach but I haven’t quite pinned it down. Much like Buffy did the mummy hand with a knife.

So I’m going to be sans husband for the next ten days. His band is touring and I can’t go with because of work and money, yadda yadda. I think that taking this time for some spring cleaning would be a good move. Maybe I’ll actually get some stuff done.

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The Mind and the Muscle

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I feel the connection between mind and body deeply when my mental pathologies are in high gear. When I am depressed, my bones hurt, I feel burnt from the inside, my metabolism slows down. When I am in the throes of a mixed episode with heightened anxiety I have a flight or flight reflex that is catlike. My adrenals dump into my bloodstream and my nervous system zaps away. I have horrible agitation and all of the wonderful self-care tools like meditation, Reiki, breathing and even exercise are futile. It’s obvious to me that these illnesses aren’t just in my head, they’re in my body too.

I’ve recently developed an ongoing left lower lumbar spasm. It just won’t heal. It causes radiating pain and weakness and is in general a pain my ass. I’ve had unpleasant dealings with doctors who don’t want to treat patients who are in pain. They prescribed a short course of a muscle relaxer and recommended ice and heat. It wasn’t cutting it. They had no further answers for me and no concept of how all of my symptoms connected.

So I went to the chiropractor who I visited when my lumbar went into spasm last year before the ACA kicked in and before I had insurance. I needed to talk to someone who would listen to me, someone who actually understands the body. Doctors are good for the prevention and curing of diseases but when it comes to anatomy, many seem to have skipped that class. My chiropractor, after doing a series of strength and range of motion tests directed my attention to the psoas, the muscle at the root of a lot of lower back and hip pain (some people think it’s the root to almost all chronic pain).

When I first learned about the psoas muscle in massage therapy school, something about it stood out to me. It is the deepest muscle in both the back and the abdomen, it holds you up, it creates a shelf for all of your organs as well as massaging them and the spinal fluid. It is the core that supports health and longevity–not the abs or obliques but the psoas. But it seems nobody really talks about it that way. People talk about core strengthening in terms of abs but nobody mentions the humble psoas that takes the biggest beating from not only physical activities but mental and emotional stressors.

Since it is also deeply linked to the sympathetic nervous system holding up and massaging the body’s organs its job, among other things, is to protect them from the hailstorm of stress. When trapped in a state of flight or fright–when a person is pathologically scared, filled with anxiety, panic, terror and is hypervigalent–the psoas constricts to protect the precious organs and spinal fluid but it can cause crippling conditions wearing away joints and harming spinal disks. This wearing away doesn’t kill us but it can make us a lot weaker.

So, according to the philosophy of the body set forth in Yoga, as well as the understanding of human anatomy and psychology, it turns out this relationship works both ways. The releasing of my psoas, encouraging it to work correctly will theoretically help reduce my nervous symptoms as well as the physical ones. My new favorite body blogger Brook over at Fascia Freedom Fighters shared this. It’s called constructive rest. I love the idea of intentionally incorporating rest into the day. Apparently some people fight it wanting to multi-task but I say no way, my body needs a break from the perpetuality of doing.

We’ll see how that works. Anybody have any experience working with the psoas? This is a part of the body that I am definitely going to explore further because as I mentioned, when I am in a state of flight/fright and my adrenals are pumping for no good reason, the mind-oriented self-care techniques I’ve accumulated do not work.

Body of Evidence

In many ways our bodies are physical records of our lives both inner and lived. Areas of knotted fascia (the webbed connective tissue that keeps everything in place) may be the result of the time I fell off my bike as a kid. You would have thought it would have healed by now but no. The body keeps a ledger of missteps.

We all know the commercial with the pathetic looking puppy and neglected family–depression hurts…everybody. It’s facile but not wrong. Depression amplifies pain and distorts it (and perhaps adds some reverb and a little delay). Depression lives in the body as much as the mind. Pain, the accumulation of extra pounds and lethargy are all the real deal for a depressed person.

For me, this is the baseline level of pain I feel (when I’m not hypomanic). Add PTSD and anxiety and it’s a wonder I function at all. Depression, anxiety and hypervigilence tax the body’s autonomic nervous system–the system that regulates the body’s functions (like blood pressure, digestion and heart rate) in order to bring it into homeostasis.

When that system is clogged up with constant triggers to its fight/flight response it remains engaged–meaning the body cannot rest and repair itself. Adrenaline is dumped straight into the bloodstream and when that runs out, it’s cortisol, a hormone that among other things makes us hold on to fat. Gross

It was this what brought me to the ER this summer. I had so much anxiety, I was constantly in a state of hypervigalence AND I was depressed. It was like being tied to a chair while being tickle-tortured but without the fun. Right now I’m feeling the restlessness again, along with the heft of depression. It’s not yet a mixed-state but it’s about one state over.

For anybody else who has or is experiencing this special brand of torture here are some things I have come across that can be helpful if I catch it in time.

1. Creative therapy. Automatic writing, fast drawing, sculpting clay or putty, beading, singing, playing a musical instrument and whatever else is kicking around in there can draw the attention away from self and onto something tactile or sense-oriented in other ways. It only works if you can manage to divorce yourself from the outcome. It isn’t about making art, it’s about the act of creating and it doesn’t matter if it’s good.

2. Tense/Relax Meditation. This is the kind of meditation I can do in the midst of a mixed state, when mindfulness meditation is a no-go because of pain or restlessness.  First, center yourself within your surroundings. Make note of sensory data–what do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? If associations pop them up, notice them but don’t hop on the train of thought. Let them fall away. Keep your breath grounded in your senses. Then tense your muscle groups individually, hold for a few breaths and relax. Notice the difference?

3. Move It. Honestly it doesn’t matter if you’re prepping for a marathon or cleaning the attic. Moving uses the extra adrenaline as fuel. It can be fun too–I like Wii Fit Plus Rythm-Fu, or putting on a record and dancing like a fool. Other ideas: jumping jacks? Shooting hoops? Walking around town? Yoga? This is where I often fail. The pain and stuckness become so unbearable I feel I can’t move. I suffer for it. I get mad at my doctor for suggesting it. But I have found that it works.

The point of these activities is to get out of the brain and into the body, even if it’s just for a few minutes (though longer l, definitely better). It’s about reconnecting with the body and feeling it in the moment, trying to let negative associations go.

That’s enough proselytizing. I’d love to hear input from others.

Hitting the Hard Reset

Right in the middle of my outpatient treatment I had to fly back home for my brother’s wedding. I was tweaked, blinking extra in the harsh light, unsure of my footing and definitely not ready to deal. The whole thing was a mine field of emotional triggers between my family, friends and the city itself, the backdrop for some of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. I had been away from it all for a year and during that year I had every possible anxiety reaction my body.

First my hormones went crazy. My skin broke out worse than it ever has since high school. My fight/flight response was so hyperactive I was practically electrocuting myself with my own nervous system and dumping adrenaline straight into my stomach like battery acid and kicking my spouse throughout the night. I had all my stress reactions at once–weight gain, getting sick every other week, stomach pains, breakouts, insomnia, panic attacks, asthma attacks and that frakking muscle in my lower left lumbar that spazzes out whenever I’m on the fritz. Which I was, hence my trip to the ER.

The tail end of hospitalization is not a recommended time to travel cross country to participate in a large family gathering. Out of all of the self-care tactics I had picked up in treatment, the only one I could hold onto was mindfulness. I was not meditating yet but I was watching my emotions bubble over me and fall to the ground, popping as they hit the pavement. I could see them but they weren’t  affecting me. I couldn’t tell if I had just turned it off or if CBT was actually working.

Now that I’m trying to actively participate in life, it’s not that easy. It isn’t as easy as pulling off a wedding and taking a vacation from losing my mind. Then, I knew that I would return to the safe pit of un-sane-ness, where it was OK for me to be a mess and work on my own safety. Last night my lumbar muscle started again which reminded me of the self-care I have been largely avoiding. Only three months out I already need to hit the hard reset before I find myself back where I started. I think I need to start where I started last time. Counting sheep.