Sunday, September 17, 2006

the middle is the best part

Last Wednesday was my second SOS (Survivors of Suicide) group therapy meeting. We have homework to do every week. The facilitator gives us only the homework for the next week, so we cannot look ahead. This is probably good for me, because I always flip to the back to see how it ends. I figure there is nothing wrong with doing that, because even if I know how something ends, there is still suspense for me in how we get there. I like to know where I am going, even if I do not know how I get there. I do not like surprises, and not because I think unexpectedly good things will happen.

I suppose this makes me a bit of a control freak. I am usually not willing to just go with it- whether "it" is a book or therapy. I just started watching Six Feet Under with my boyfriend. He has watched the HBO television series before (all 5 seasons), and loves it. I had heard of the show, but never seen it before today. We watched the first 3 episodes. I keep asking him questions he would not answer- "Does he know about that? Is he going to find out? Who is she talking to? When are we going to find out?" My boyfriend is making me wait and find out.

I will admit it kind of freaked me out to watch a show that was all about death. If you have never seen Six Feet Under, it is about a family that runs a funeral home. In the first episode, the father dies. In fact, someone dies at the beginning of every episode. When they showed embalming, with the blood draining out of the person and the embalming fluid flowing in, and a character talked about reconstructing someone who had put a gun in his mouth so there could be an open casket funeral, I thought about my brother. Instead of feeling angry or upset, though, I felt really comfortable and relieved to be watching a show that actually acknowledged death and grieving, and did not sugar-coat it or try to get away from it. I am so lucky to have a boyfriend who wants to be with me and support me while I try to get through this.

He has been very patient with me this week. Last Tuesday night, he was at my apartment while I was doing my SOS homework for the next meeting. All I had to do was write about my feelings, at the time of the suicide and now. It triggered a complete breakdown; I was crying and wailing for the rest of the night, in part because my feelings have not changed a lot in the last 9 years. I have not dealt with how I feel, really, so I am still stuck in guilt and anger. The feelings are not as intense as before, but I have not moved on to another stage. I think, after letting myself feel it both the night before and at the meeting, I understand why I was clinging to the guilt and anger stages in the grief cycle (shock and denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression and despair, and reconciliation and acceptance. You do not necessarily go through these stages in this order, or one stage at a time, but I have been stuck in the first three primarily. I have been in the bargaining stage before, which was scary. I was screaming to my brother to come back, because I could not handle losing him. That was almost 6 years after his death.)

My brother was the only person I trusted. His death destroyed my faith in the world. I felt that because I knew him and understood him so well, I should have been able to help him. His friendship, humor, and appreciation for me had carried me through my painful childhood and kept me going as I struggled with my adult life. He had always been there for me, and I thought he always would. Losing him was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, and I thought that I let it happen, and that I had failed him. When I think about how desperate and alone he must have felt, it is hard for me to accept that my affection and appreciation, and the bond that we shared could not carry him through. If I did not do something wrong, I feel like he just rejected my love and our close relationship. I question my own worth, because what good am I if I could not help the person I cared about most?

I realize, intellectually, that it was not my fault. He knew that I loved him and was there for him, and did not reject me. Holding on to guilt, though, has helped me avoid fear that seems worse than the guilt. Terrible things have happened in my life, things that came about because of other people's choices, not mine. It is very scary to acknowledge that life-altering events that have affected me so profoundly, that have changed me, were out of my control. You could say, in some sense, that I was a victim of circumstance. I have read and heard people say, about a million times, that you cannot control other people, just yourself. That means there is a lot that can still happen in my life that I cannot control or choose. Considering my track record, that is a scary realization. Trusting is a struggle for me.

The other thing that has been hard is that when I succeed in letting go of guilt, I move into depression. It is comforting to think that depression is just a stage (I hope). Dealing with the sadness and depression seems like a very daunting task, worse than guilt or anger. This is how an SOS handout we got last week describes it- "These initial stages may allow you to deny your loss, to feel anger that it has occurred, and to bargain for life to return to normal. None of these has changed the reality of the situation. Now you may be left with anguishing pain, unanswered questions, the heartache of loneliness. Sadness and tears often seem to have no end. Depression and despair characterize this period. You may feel drained of energy, and even the day-to-day tasks of living can be difficult. Fears of being unable to cope often surface." (Crisis Clinic of King County)

It does help to break down and cry. It helps to tell the people in my SOS group my fears, and to describe the anguish that I feel. It helps a lot to tell my boyfriend how I am really feeling, especially because he does not turn away from me. He listens to me and accepts my feelings, even when I feel irrational (and embarrassed about it.) For the first time, I feel like I am making progress.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Friendly Inventions

Boy, am I hungry. Today was the first day of my elimination diet. Last Thursday my stomach freaked out on me (after what seemed to be a perfectly healthy dinner, but heavy on the wheat). It has been hurting ever since, especially when I eat pretty much anything.

So, I am cutting out any foods that could be bothering me for the next month, and then I will gradually add some things back and see how I react. The bad list is partially from Heal Your Headache by David Buchholz, M.D. Eliminating these foods is more for my migraines than my stomach, although I always get nauseous with migraines. The reviewers on swear that the book works miracles for people with chronic migraines, which would be me.

The rest of the bad food list is from Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James F. Balch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C. My friend Hannah gave me this book, which I love. It is a reference book of alternative treatments for a variety of ailments, including dyspepsia (indigestion), candidiasis (yeast overgrowth), and celiac disease (gluten intolerance). I have had stomach and migraine problems for a long time, and my many visits to various doctors have met with little success. The only thing that has worked for me is to modify my diet. I have already identified many problem foods, including beef and dairy (thanks to an inability to digest cow proteins). However, I am mystified by my recent problems, hence the crappy elimination diet.

For the next month, I will be limited to brown rice, millet (I do not even know what that is), vegetables (with some exceptions like tomatoes, corn, and peas), seeds, fish, and eggs. Rice crackers and pumpkin seeds got me through today. I think some people would rather suffer with stomach problems than give up some of the things on my bad list, like chocolate, coffee, cheese, and beer. There is something I cannot bear to give up, though, and that is spicy food. I cannot live without Indian and Thai food. It would be impossible. I cannot tell you how often I think back fondly on my two weeks in India, where I ate amazing vegetarian Indian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (The picture is of me in India, drinking chai on the train to Agra.) Furthermore, if I could never have Thai curry vegetables again, my passion for this world would be seriously tested. And coconut milk Thai soup. Mmmm...

Surprisingly, I feel less hungry after just writing about food. I may have to write every day for the next month. I guess my imagination is good, almost as good as the real thing (although that may be stretching it). I should be able to go to bed without the hunger pains keeping me up. Maybe I will have a cup of rice milk first, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Labor Day and Business School (is it really autumn already?)

Hi! Hope you had a fun and fabulous Labor Day weekend, or if you did not get Monday off work, a great weekend. I went to Tucson, AZ with my boyfriend. His friend Tad, and Tad's girlfriend Alanna, live down there. I have been busy organizing my pictures so I can upload them online, including the aftermath of the Tucson hurricane we were caught in. (It does not rain like that in Seattle, believe me.)

I would like to write about that experience as soon as I get the pictures ready. Speaking of which, I am envisioning some changes to my blog. Until now, I have focused on my struggles- the memories, my feelings about it now, and how it colored my life. Writing about it has helped me stop denying what happened, and deal with the shame and other feelings. I hope this blog is helpful to my readers as well. It helps me to read and hear about other people's experiences that I can relate to, and if you have not gone through similar traumas, maybe this blog has been a window into what it is like. The support and compassion people have shown me in response to this blog has been really touching. I have opened up about the most painful places inside me, and instead of the rejection I was expecting, I have received the caring I longed for when these things were happening. Sorry to get all mushy, but it is true. I am so grateful to the people who have listened to what I have to say.

It is not as if I am done with my ongoing struggles with my past and my feelings, though. I am still reading the Emotional Alchemy book, and I have a lot to respond to and explore with that. I also started SOS (Survivors of Suicide) group therapy yesterday. It meets once a week until November 1. We will have weekly homework assignments, and I am sure those will make their way into my blog. Moreover, I still have a ton of books to read. I could just do self-help book reviews every week if only I could read faster. I would also like to write about my attempts to improve my relationships, since relationships have been a big struggle for me.

On the other hand, I feel like the intense focus on my problems can be oppressive. I know I have to deal with these negative things, but my real life involves a lot more than ruminating about my crummy parents and the like. If you just knew me from my blog, you would probably think I was pretty grim. Do not get me wrong, sorting out my issues is a huge project that does take up a lot of my, shall we say, bandwidth. I have dedicated myself to working this out, no matter what it takes. I am a more balanced and joyful person than this blog might imply, though. I have to be; otherwise, I would not be motivated to get better.

So, I would like to write about other things as well, like our trip to Tucson and my new cutie pet rats, stuff like that. I would like to post some pictures, like the one here. I have friends who have never seen pictures or heard stories about my trip to India in 2004. I am volunteering with a non-profit, The Vera Project, as a member of the Finance Committee, and I am excited about that. I hope I will not bore my readers who do not know me personally, but my personal life will start creeping into this blog more. My boyfriend and I like to say we care about each other holistically, and I am trying to be more holistic, that is, not compartmentalize my life. I think part of accepting myself and my life is just to be me, all the time, instead of trying to present only a carefully controlled side of me tailored to different situations and people. So there you go. I am going to have to start posting more often, because I have so much to write,!