Perfectly Broken

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Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression, anxiety, and self-loathing, and I figured I’d talk about it here, because chances are other folks go through this too and it’s always helpful to know one is not alone. General content warning for the post.

So, first: I want to say that objectively, my life is pretty great. And subjectively, too. I’m engaged to a really awesome person who respects me and my career. We live together in a nice place, in a nice neighborhood. I’ve started a new business and my career as an author is going pretty well. Overall our life is a nice thing.

But of course this does not preclude shitty things happening to us, and of course our lives are not 100% great. There are definitely areas that are causing some long-term stress and, for me at least, depression, anxiety, and all those other fun things I get to deal with already for no particular reason. Except now they’re being given a reason, and I’m finding my already fragile mental state being poked at constantly.

The main thing that’s poking the bear of mental illness for me right now is my physical state. Some of you know that almost 3 years ago I suffered a spinal injury. That’s actually not entirely accurate; the injury itself happened in 2009. It didn’t flare up like a fireworks show, however, until 2012, leaving me bedridden and unable to walk for weeks. After a lot of hard work in physiotherapy, I slowly was able to walk with a walker for short bursts, and then longer bursts, and then finally upgraded to a cane. I’ve been walking with a cane since 2012, though there have been times when I’ve been able to go without for a short period of time.

Likely, had I continued with the physio after getting to that state of wellness, I would eventually have gotten to a point where I could walk without a cane, and probably get somewhere near the state of health I was at before the injury knocked me down. Even in the years I had the injury but it hadn’t flared up I was doing pretty well, despite the new, sharp, knife-twisting pain in my lower spine that I had chalked up to “Another weird permutation of the chronic back pain I’ve had my entire life because genetics is a shitty lottery.”

But I didn’t continue with the physio. I quit in 2012. This wasn’t because I wanted to, or because I thought I was done: I wanted to continue and knew I needed more. But I could not find a new physiotherapist when I went back to Nanaimo after staying in Coquitlam for several weeks, and not only that — the price went up. You only get a few visits at the reduced rate with a doctor’s prescription, you see, and I would need to continue to go every week to see progress.

Fifty dollars a week is too steep for me. Then, and now.

So for 2 years I have lived no where near what “normal” is for me, just dealing with the pain, taking a strong painkiller on the days when I can’t move without it, and continuing to do things that are probably contraindicated for my spine’s condition but hey, what else am I going to do? My social life has dropped off considerably and my ability to do a lot of things in a short period of time has gone to zilch, approximately. I now need a few days to recover after an event that wouldn’t have left me winded 3 years ago.

It has been an adjustment, to say the least. I still overextend myself because I am used to a body that can handle more than it can. And though mentally I have gotten better since it first happened, I still have dark nights of the soul.

So when I broke my leg this summer — 3 months exactly as of this coming Saturday — I slipped into depression again.

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Your Diet is Boring and Sad (and triggering)

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ETA, September 17th: Comments are off for this post for the foreseeable future.

Trigger warning for eating disorders, diet culture, child abuse, emetophobia, and fatphobia.

I don’t know how to start this post, aside from the trigger warning. I know it will need it; I’m talking about things that are hard for me to even think about, let alone speak about. But I don’t know where to begin.

Do I begin at the beginning (for me) — when I was 2 and encountered severe trauma related to food? When I was screamed at for getting dessert on Christmas, when I was so upset I threw up all my food?

That is where it started for me, my rocky relationship with food. Imagine, being told by your loving mother you can have a fancy eclair because you ate enough of your Christmas dinner and it is, after all, bloody Christmas, and then having the other parent in your life unleash a torrent of his abuse on you both until your little body can’t take the stress and you just lose it, everywhere.

That wasn’t the only time my biological sire made me vomit with his anger, either (or his reckless driving). To this day, strong negative emotions and, especially, angry men make me sick to my stomach.

I suppose it’s strange I never developed bulimia, not really. There was a period of time when I was vomiting after every meal, like clockwork, and sometimes it was induced, but it wasn’t bulimia. It was me feeling physically sick all the time, and needing some relief. As suddenly as it appeared in my life, it disappeared.

No, instead, I developed binge eating disorder and, much later, anorexia.

My father didn’t stop when I was two, you see. He continued to abuse me in many ways throughout my childhood and adolescence, including at the dinner table, in restaurants — really, anywhere food was involved, he made sure to give me a complex about eating.

His excuse? I was being spoiled rotten by my mom and Oma, he said. Or I was getting too fat, or eating too much sugar. Or any other reason he could come up with to abuse me for daring to want food.

Abusers always find it easy to justify their actions. It’s for your own good. Always for your own good. It was for my own good when he took me to get a treat at Dairy Queen, said I could order whatever I wanted, and then took that food away from me when I had it and ate it in front of me, saying I couldn’t have it because I was ‘getting fat.’ It was for my own good when he screamed at me at the dinner table because I was ‘too fat’, making me cry and feel too sick to my stomach to eat — which he then yelled at me some more about, because I was a wimp who was crying and why wasn’t I eating? He’d slaved over the stove to make that food so I better eat it or he’d give me something to cry about.

It was for my own good when he made me sit at the dinner table until I finished my food, even though I told him I didn’t like squash, not at all, not a little bit, I had to eat it because it was good for me. And when my step-siblings came in from their after-dinner swim at the pool and saw me sitting there — I was determined to sit there all night, and hoped I peed on the chair, hoped for that small revenge — they told me to take the food and just throw it in the compost, and lie about eating it! I said no — he’d know, he always knew, nothing was safe — but they took it and did it for my anyway, and then dad came back into the room and pulled out squash covered in coffee grinds and other organic waste and force fed it to me, holding my mouth shut until I swallowed it.

It was for my own good when he force-fed me salmon and called me a wimp and weakling for not liking it. To this day, the smell of salmon makes me want to vomit and cry.

He was convinced that every time he put another landmine in my brain with his actions, he was doing it for my own good. He swore up and down that someday, I’d thank him.

Well, he was wrong about most things, so add that to the list.

The for your own good narrative doesn’t stop with my father, though. It continues on every day I am forced to interact with people who have bought into the propaganda of our fat hating culture. Shaming me for my food choices is for my own good. Constantly talking about diets is for my own good. Maybe, if they make me feel enough shame, I will magically lose weight. That’s the belief, so it’s easy to justify with for your own good.

This is all true, and it’s probably important background for this tale. But is that where I start? Is this the best place to begin for this particular story?

Let’s start again, maybe.

Google+ has a function that shows you things from people you haven’t circled. Other people you have circled click the plus button on shares, and those things might show up in your feed. You can’t turn this off, to my knowledge, though I have posted asking people for help finding out if you can.

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How the Amoeba Cat became a creature made of spun glass

My leg in an immobilizer.
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Content warning: this is an incredibly depressing post about the injuries I’ve suffered over the past 2 years. It’s also rather graphic. Do not read if you suffer from emetophobia (fear of vomiting), for one, or if you don’t want to read anything somewhat TMI. I also talk about depression, suicidal thoughts, and I do not end this post on a happy note. This is not an inspirational story of overcoming adversity. It is a matter of fact telling of things that happened to me and how much they fucking suck.

~

As most of you know, I have a spinal injury. It happened, I believe, in 2009, but somehow didn’t flare up till 2012. Bodies are weird. I’m quite sure it was 2009 because that’s the only time it could have happened — there was a drunken theatre party and a few of my compatriots decided to start wrestling and landed on my head. I felt my entire spine compress, a line of loud pops ringing out from my neck to my pelvis.

The pain was short-lived, so I didn’t think much of the incident. The fact that afterwards I started feeling a new pain in my lower back whenever I walked uphill or anywhere for a long period of time was easily ignored: I’ve had chronic back pain since I was 9 or 10. This was obviously just a new permutation of it. I ignored it.

It was in January, 2012, after I got home from my trip to Orlando, Florida, that the spinal injury finally made its presence fully known — 3 bulging discs in the lumbar region — and I became a self-proclaimed cripple. (Was it the rides I went on at Universal Studios that finally tripped the back into full blown agony? Or was it the 3 feet of snow I had to drag my heavy, Harry Potter-merchandise-laden suitcase through when I got home to cold Nanaimo? We may never know.)

I was bedridden for weeks and it was only with physiotherapy was I able to walk again, albeit with a cane. I completed my theatre show, knowing it would likely be my last. I adore acting and I always give 110% to any role I’m in. The reality of my life post-injury is that I must always be careful, and I cannot trust myself to be careful if I’m in a show. Whatever the director asks for, I will do. I cannot set boundaries; I sacrifice myself on Dionysos’ altar.

I stopped going to physiotherapy — not because I was done with it, or because I wanted to stop, but because it’s not covered by MSP and I have no extra insurance. Each visit is in the ballpark of 50 dollars, and I would have to go a few times a week for several months to get the sort of results — back to a degree of normal living — that I want.

Instead I’ve tried to remain as active as my back will allow me to be, and kept as positive a worldview as I can. I was suicidally depressed during my weeks of being bedridden, crying into my mother’s arms about how my life was ruined and I would never be the same. My youth was over — something I felt I never really had in the first place; a childhood cut short by the trauma of an abusive father and an 11-year long divorce. My 20s was when I started to reclaim some of what I’d lost, and now that, too, was cut short, by a body that was broken.

But I had come to a point where I was finally starting to feel better about my different life, and I had begun a job search for work outside the home — something I didn’t think I’d be able to do again. (I get zero assistance, even though I’m permanently disabled.) Maybe after I got a job I would even be able to afford physiotherapy, I dreamed. Maybe within 6 months I would be able to walk without the cane.

Then on Friday, July 4th — Independence Day! The irony burns — after coming home from driving Mr. Katje to pick up his truck from the mechanic’s, I slipped and fell in the kitchen. My leg twisted severely, and I was racked with pain so terrible I screamed uncontrollably for 5 minutes.

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Minimizing Mental Illness: a message to allies

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TW: discussion of depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicide

I’ve been in the midst of a severe depressive episode for the past month. I have barely been able to keep house and home together, and not very well at that. Beyond that I’ve had no get up and go to do much of anything else.

I’ve kept my brain and hands busy, for the most part, by watching TV shows, knitting, and playing video games. This is because during this particular depressive episode if I get too much inside my own head, if I’m too still, I start thinking about hurting myself again. I start thinking about all the ways I’m terrible and I deserve this depression, and it becomes a sneaky spiral of doom and death that I get locked in and have a lot of trouble getting out of.

Driving has been the most dangerous activity for me, because I start to think while I’m driving, and I start thinking about what a horrible person I am, and how I should just put everyone else out of their misery by offing myself. Driving is the most “inside my own head” activity in my life, so I’ve been avoiding it as much as I can this month.

This means I’ve mostly been inside the house. I have a lot to do inside the house and I’ve tried to be productive as possible. Of course, because I have impossibly high standards for myself and I am incredibly hard on myself all the time, this has only added to the depression as I’ve been unable to complete as much work as I want to, and that is, my brain tells me, my fault because I am lazy and horrible.

This is a sneaky way the depression and anxiety manifest themselves: make me have impossibly high standards so when I inevitably fail them I can hate myself more. Huzzah! Ale and whores for everyone, except Katje, because screw zir.

I haven’t really been able to talk to people about this, because some of the conversations I’ve had about it have gone like this:

Me: My fish are dead.
Other person: Have you tried feeding them?
Me: They’re dead.
Other person: I’ll help you look for them!
Me: My fish. are. dead.
Other person: Do you know why they’re missing?
Me: Why can’t anyone see how dead these fish are?

(Analogy courtesy Allie Brosh.)

And it becomes exhausting trying to figure out who will see my fish are dead and who won’t, so I just don’t talk about it with anyone. I’m tired of people asking about the reasons behind my depression, as if 20 years of mental illness has a fucking reason. I’m sick. I have a disease. It flares up. There’s no reason except that’s what happens and I’m stuck dealing with it.

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The Great Rewashing of 2014

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For the past 4 days I have had the worst allergy attack of my life. Runny nose, inflamed eyes, hives, itching constantly — itching so bad I wanted to cut off my skin and set it aflame. I thought I was dying. I thought it was measles (there’s an outbreak in our area and I’m missing one of the shots). I thought I was patient 0 in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

Whatever I thought, I couldn’t think straight. Couldn’t work, could barely keep house. Most times I couldn’t even concentrate on watching TV shows, which uses the least brain power like, ever.

The itching on my feet was the worst. At some point I attacked them with a pumice stone, viciously trying to scratch the itch out of my skin. It didn’t work, but the calluses are much smoother now.

For three days I suffered until finally Mr. Katje kicked me out the door to go get some godsdamned antihistamines, for Zeus’ sweet sake. (Actually I don’t really think Zeus cares if I’m itching or not; I think it’s rather a thing below his sphere of “Shit I Care About”.) I’m sure he would have picked them up for me if his work schedule didn’t prevent him from doing so.

I’m not really sure how I looked to the people who saw me at the grocery store, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. Red-faced, red-eyed, frizzy hair. Jittering and rubbing my hands together constantly like a raccoon hoped up on caffeine pills, scratching my wrists and my arms and my neck and face, my head — whatever skin was exposed. I rubbed my legs together like a cricket and did little dances in the aisles, trying desperately to rub the arches of my feet against the inner soles of my shoes, anything to stop the ever present itch from HELL.

I was so out of it from the allergy attack that it took me agonizingly long to find the antihistamines in the pharmacy section, and even longer to decide which one to get. I wanted non-drowsy, but budget won out — I got the 10 dollar cheaper drowsy meds, no-name brand. Perhaps there was non-drowsy no-name for the same price, but I didn’t see it. My eyes and brain were failing fast.

I also picked up some itch relief cream for some immediate relief for my hands. That was more expensive than the allergy pills, and it didn’t work for shit.

Dancing and jittering out of the pharmacy section, I picked up a new 4L bottle of milk on my way to the checkout. I got through as fast as possible and went home as fast as I could, eager to take pills.

1 – 2 pills every 4 to 6 hours. I took 2, because the attack was so bad I knew I’d need it.

A few hours later I fell asleep onto my keyboard. Keyboard face isn’t very attractive but it was so worth it. A little while later I staggered up and went to bed at 6pm. I slept for 4 hours, and went back to sleep at 5 am.

Woke up at 8am today but despite the short sleep sessions, I feel 100 times better than I did yesterday. The allergy pills are fucking miracles. I can finally function again — as you can no doubt tell, seeing as I’m sitting here writing this post.

Mr. Katje and I spent some time trying to figure out what caused the allergy attack. We just moved; there are a lot of new environmental factors in our lives. We narrowed it down to the new laundry detergent being the culprit. I’ve always had sensitive skin, and have always had to use sensitive skin laundry detergents. We didn’t check carefully enough when we picked this one up — we thought it was sensitive skin, because it was scent-free, but it wasn’t. It’s a brand we’ve never bought before — Cheer — and the only reason we got it was because we were at Costco and it was the only scent-free detergent there.

(Both of us get headaches from scented laundry detergents, and often the scents cause allergic skin reactions for me. The only scented laundry detergents I can stand are the Arm and Hammer ones.)

It’s not bugging Mr. Katje, so likely he’ll continue to use it for his work clothes. In order to save my sanity and my skin, I’m switching to the Tide Free and Clear for my clothes, any clothing of his I may borrow, our towels, and our sheets.

Thus is beginning the Great Rewashing of 2014. I’ve done several loads of laundry in the past 3 weeks — we both had dirty clothing from the move and from everyday wear, and our new washer is…incredibly small, compared to our last washers. We even have less clothing than we did, but now we’re doing more laundry.

I have to rewash almost everything I own. There are very few things I’m absolutely sure I haven’t washed in the Cheer. If there’s any doubt in my mind about a piece of clothing, it gets rewashed. I cannot risk another reaction like this.

Today I started with a load of pants and skirts, and ALL my underwear. Those seemed the most important. The last load I’m doing today is our sheets and duvet covers, as soon as Mr. Katje is awake and off to work — these are actually the most important things to rewash, but I couldn’t start with them because of our different sleep schedules. Tomorrow, shirts, socks, and towels. And so on and so forth, till the end of time.

I feel guilty using the washer and dryer so much, and for clothing that’s ostensibly clean. But there’s no other option. I can’t continue to wear clothing that will give me an allergic reaction.

Yes, theoretically I could go to the laundromat. If I could drive. So long as I’m taking the allergy pills, I can’t operate heavy machinery. Until I can stop taking the pills or we can get me the non-drowsy kind, I’m homebound unless Mr. Katje is driving. As his truck is still full of stuff and he’s working tonight, I’m definitely not going anywhere today.

So it’s into battle with the laundry on the battlefield of the living room I go.

Katje dons a suit of armor and goes charging at windmills with zir lance. “The Impossible Dream” plays in the distance. End scene.

Survived Surgery Today

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I had to go in to get my wisdom teeth removed today, at the hospital. They put me under light sedation so I was semi-conscious during the entire procedure. It was relatively quick and painless, and now I have a very numbed face and tongue and 4 holes in my mouth that have been sutured up.

They want me to bite down on gauze till supper if I’m able to. I did for as long as possible, but I keep drooling everywhere and I have to change the gauze so often it becomes somewhat useless. I’m just letting it be right now. Swallowing a little blood never hurt anyone.

(If I become a vampire, I’ll let you know.)

Right now I’m hopped up on T3s with codeine, so I’m thinking it’s time for a nap. After, mom and I will watch Grey’s Anatomy while I drink lukewarm soup and milk.

Hopefully tomorrow back on semi-solids like mashed potatoes.

I’m alive and happy to be free of the devil teeth that appeared when the Hellmouth opened in my jaws.

-Katje

Why I don’t suffocate my skin for the sake of acceptable femininity (ie, why I don’t wear antiperspirant)

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There’s a Dove commercial (I think it’s Dove; they’re great at doing problematic things disguised as progressiveness) that does this big long “Ode to the Armpit”, talking about how the armpit is an undervalued bit of flesh and constantly gets mistreated by shaving or waxing. They then go on to talk about taking care of the armpit the way it deserves…

…by using this certain antiperspirant on it.

Because nothing says love like suffocation!

I don’t wear antiperspirant. I haven’t for years — not since I was young and impressionable and believed capitalist patriarchy when they said so long as I sweat at ALL I was gross and unfeminine and boys would never want to kiss me.

(This made worse by my father saying, basically, the exact same thing when I hit puberty.)

I used to wear antiperspirant on a not-regular, but not-once in a while basis. Why? Because then it was my only option for smelling how I wanted to smell. I used to wear Old Spice deodorant. I hate smelling like Old Spice. I like the smell of it, but on other people. (Specifically Mr. Katje.)

But there were no options for me! If I went to the deodorant aisle, the “women’s” section — ie, the ones that smelled how I wanted to smell — was nothing but antiperspirant. The “men’s” section had actual non-antiperspirant deodorant.

I turned to natural deodorants in an attempt to find something that smelled the way I wanted to smell — and failed miserably. I have always had very strong sweat, both in amount issued by my body and smell. Even when I wore antiperspirant, it didn’t work for as long as it said it would. By the end of the day I was sweating through it, and stinking even worse.

Natural deodorants were no match for my super-sweat. They’d last an hour, if my luck held out.

So I started using antiperspirant on occasion. Not for daily use, but for going out to parties or with my friends or on Halloween night. It would wear off by the end of the night. But, I thought to myself, at least I smell like flowers instead of musk.

And then the pain started. The more I used antiperspirant, the more my armpits hurt. It felt like a knife was being stabbed into them.

I’d heard stories about antiperspirant and breast cancer, and I panicked. Put it down and didn’t pick it up again.

I mean, even if there is no link between antiperspirant and breast cancer — you’re blocking your pores for hours on end. You’re blocking an area that’s meant to sweat from sweating. That cannot be healthy.

I went back to wearing deodorant, searching high and low for “women’s” non-antiperspirant. Every time I found one, it would be gone from the shelves within months and I’d have to start my search again.

Recently I found one that hasn’t disappeared yet (though I may have bought 7 sticks of it right off the bat, out of fear). It smells like roses — my favourite scent — and it actually lasts most of the day (depending on how active I am).

It helps that I don’t live in Hawai’i anymore, too. 90 degree days are not a friend to the person with the terrible sweat problem.

It really says something that I have to search high and low to find a “ladies'” deodorant that isn’t antiperspirant. We, as a culture, do not want women to sweat. It’s “not attractive”. Whereas the “men’s” section is FULL of deodorant that’s not antiperspirant — yes, there is antiperspirant there, but not in the same ratio as there is for “women’s” deodorants.

(You’ll notice I’ve been putting “men’s” and “women’s” in scare quotes. This is because our segregation of deodorants into gender categories based on what kind of scents they have and whether or not they stop you from sweating is absolute bullshit. If a woman wants to wear Old Spice because she likes the smell of it on her, that’s awesome! She should go for it! And if a man wants to wear a rose-scented deodorant, he should also be able to go for it! Instead there is stigma around more floral or “light” scents as being a “woman’s” territory, and stronger scents are seen as more “masculine”. Scents are not gendered. There’s just what you like and what smells good on you. I happen to prefer the scents assigned me as someone socially-classed-as-woman, but that does not negate my genderqueerness.)

The pushing of antiperspirant on women is yet another way our patriarchal culture tells women to abuse their bodies for the sake of being seen as worthy — in this culture a woman’s worth is measured by her sex appeal, and we’re told that sex appeal does not exist if there is sweat. (Which is stupid; I mean, what do people imagine happens when you have sex? THERE IS SWEAT INVOLVED. At least there is if you’re doing it right.)

If you want to wear antiperspirant for your own, personal reasons, and it doesn’t have any ill effects on your health, or even if it does — get on with your bad self; I’m not going to tell you to stop. That is between you and whatever god of armpits you worship.

But if you’re wearing it because you’re expected to? If you don’t like wearing it because it hurts? If you would rather quit but feel you can’t?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s self-care to stop your pits from sweating. Don’t let the commercials fool you either.

You are not required to wear antiperspirant if you do not want to. Sweating is a natural human function for all genders, no matter what the corporations tell us.