the maniac's path

ma-ni-ac [mey-nee-ak] (n.) "a wild, disorderly person. See lunatic."

Spring Fever

Baby birdies sleeping!

Baby birdies sleeping!

It’s been a million years since I’ve updated this blog, I know. Life (finishing grad school, a new internship, interviewing for jobs, trying my best to stay as mentally stable as possible) gets in the way.

In late March I started to break out a lot and relapse into skin picking. I had no idea what was causing the flare-up, and in a sudden, desperate attempt to get my skin under control, I started using a facial cleanser with salicylic acid. After a week, not only did the acne get worse, but my skin was so dry and stripped of its natural oils that I saw wrinkles on my face! And I was only using the cleanser once a day–not twice, like the back of the bottle recommended.

Other things were going out of whack besides my skin. My moods were doing really fun (not) roller-coaster ride dips. Ecstatic one day, bitchy the next. I felt bloated and hungrier than usual and no, I wasn’t near my period. The urge to pick became so intense that I had to resort back to putting make-up on with a small, compact mirror.  The icing on the cake was when my eyes were dry, itching, and burning. They would randomly tear up at the most inconvenient times.

My first instinct was to go out to Walgreens and buy a bunch of shit to put on my skin. My OCD brain spent a good day obsessively researching the best products on the internet before my rational, logical brain stepped in to shut it up. I took a step back and breathed.

Since the end of April my skin has been on the mend. I still don’t know what caused my mind, body, and skin to take a vacation, but I think I have a pretty good idea: Spring! More specifically, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Unfortunately, for those of us who are sensitive to basically everything on earth, even the most minute changes can turn out to be catastrophic. In addition to all my other lovely ailments, I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder (though who doesn’t up north, right?). Most people get happier in spring. Their skin clears up, they lose that winter weight, etc. More light = positive chemical changes in the brain.

But everyone’s body chemistry is unique and different. For example, instead of gaining weight in the winter, I tend to lose it simply because I have trouble eating when I’m depressed or stressed out. This means that as spring comes on and my mood tends towards the happy end of the scale, I start eating more and gain weight–right before bikini season.

I am actually quite energetic, happy, and stable right now, but there were a few good weeks of bouncing back and forth between crying, anger, and ecstasy before I reached this point. The intense relapses simply meant that my brain was adjusting serotonin levels to the light and warm weather. The burning, itchy eyes were seasonal allergies. The acne flare-up was my hormones leveling out. Given that we had such a hard winter here, I think it makes sense that my transition into spring this year would be more difficult than previous years.

To assist me with my transition, I purchased a few supplements (evening primrose oil and borage seed oil) to balance out my hormones, and stocked up on my multivitamins. After taking all of them regularly for a week and getting in some exercise, I feel much better.

Moral of the story: be aware of when the seasons are changing, and take care of yourself accordingly. All my love.

 

Package Deal

I love these little ladies!

I love these little ladies!

And it seems I went on yet another unannounced hiatus from the blogging world. Though I’ve been busy as always, I’ve thought a lot over the past couple months about keeping up this blog for several reasons. Time and effort were the primary ones, naturally, but a third nagged at my brain. The issue of definition.

I’m a writer. I love the dictionary. But while I enjoy learning the definition of new words (and maybe even inventing a few of my own words!), I don’t think people should be subjected to that same experience of titling and labeling. My fears about maintaining this blog revolve a lot around the anxiety that by writing about these issues, I’m limiting and defining myself. Certain words — words that I believe to be an unfair representation of my character — come to mind. Mentally ill, victim, victimized, depressed, repressed, self-conscious, etc. Me! An intelligent individual with a variety of interests, a young woman that wears many hats, and at the end of the day still can’t decide which hat to hang up and which one to keep on, because, well…dressing up is fun! Why box myself in? Am I boxing myself in? These are the sorts of questions I’ve thought a lot about.

But here’s the thing: my mental struggles are just as a part of me as my weird and wild love for honeybees and my dreams of traveling to South America. I’m multifaceted. I’m a package deal. It’s taken some time to accept that about myself. Because I do struggle with mental illness, it’s very easy for me to feel broken, so easy to feel like recovery and relief is the only thing I’m working towards these days. Time for me to ask some new questions, then. Why not create a place where multifaceted, diverse, and interesting people share their experiences with mental illness? Why not cultivate love and hope from despair and anguish?

So, here’s to accepting the nutty, awesome package deal that is me, and more posts! All my love.

New Year’s Reflections

I’m really awful at making New Year’s resolutions for the same reason everyone else is awful at making them – I can’t keep them for more than a week. So instead of resolutions, here is a list of my reflections for 2013, inspired by a very good writing friend of mine.

I was wary of 2013 from the start (I mean, come on – an unlucky number that lasts an entire year??), but I had no idea just what 2013 had in store for me. It turned out, quite a lot.

-I received my first-ever payments for my writing and creative services from a variety of odd jobs, which only strengthened my resolve to keep pushing for a career in writing.

-I found my dream job and was heartbroken when I realized my values did not align with the company’s values. I learned a lot about letting go, true friendship, integrity, self-respect, and passion.

-I wrote a lot. Two short stories, an accomplished 30 Days of Words in November, countless poems, and pages of material for my novel. I was published in three literary journals, and one of my pieces was nominated for the Pushcart. I most recently learned that I have eight poems forthcoming with a literary journal in 2014.

-I traveled outside the U.S. and ate delicious foods, imbibed much too much wine, and bathed in a thermal hot spring.

-I partied with Eugene and did something fun and new almost every weekend, with or without our mutual friends. Dancing, visiting botanic gardens, going to carnivals and fairs, or just sitting side-by-side on a rooftop bar sipping mojitos.  At just over four and a half years, our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.

-I got my wisdom teeth removed. That must count for something, right?

-I worked hard to land a job that I feel is a much better fit for me as a caring, loving human being.

-I had an intense breakdown that made me realize that my body dysmorphia is worse than I thought it was, and that I might need help, and that that’s okay. I also realized that my BDD has absolutely nothing to do with what my body looks like, and everything to do with how I feel.

-I let go of several people who were only good at making me feel “less than,” and steered clear of those who believe that my genuinely caring personality is “overwhelming” or “too intense.”

-I finally finished “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski and read a few of the classics I’d missed out on in high school and college.

-I made leaps in progress in regards to my skin picking, and had fewer relapses than any other year.

It’s been a pretty insane year, but I am psyched (and also quite nervous) for 2014. What will it hold?

Happy New Year, lovely maniacs!

Maniac Product Review: Cortizone-10 Intensive Healing Formula

Cortizone

A surprisingly useful product, not to mention cheap and available at your local drugstore.

So, let’s review:  I’m not a doctor, and I am not trained and certainly not qualified to give out medical advice. This is merely a review of a product that has worked for me.

I used to get really awful, painful cystic acne on a regular basis — monthly and right on time with my PMS. These bumps are red and vary in size, but without fail they are painful to the touch, never come to a head, and take forever to disappear. A lot of the issues I used to have before taking plant-based progesterone have since cleared up, including my acne, but if I am particularly stressed or hormonal these little gremlins will pop up. Oh joy.

What’s worse is that as a compulsive skin picker, it is super hard to NOT pick at these spots. Better yet, if the spots are picked at, they will inevitably grow in size and leave a scar.

Cortizone-10 Intensive Healing Formula is used for eczema, among other skin ailments. I was once advised by my doctor to purchase it as a remedy for breaking out into hives from a nickel allergy. It soothes the skin,  making the area appear less red, and it takes away some of the inflammation.

One day I had a cystic spot and was desperate for relief from the pain, because tylenol wasn’t cutting it. I had thrown out all my topical skin ointments related to acne because, hello, I have dermatillomania and abuse that stuff like nuts. The only thing I had in my cupboard besides vaseline, beeswax, and lotion was a tube of this stuff.

I spread a thin layer over the area before bed and covered it with a band-aid. The directions on the box specifically tell you not to cover the area with a band-aid. There’s probably a really good reason for that. But I’m a skin picker and cannot leave flaws on my skin uncovered, lest I pick them into open, bloody wounds. I went to sleep, woke up the next morning, and unpeeled the band-aid for a peek.

Not only had the swelling lessened, but the pain, previously a 7 on a scale of 1-10 the day before, was a 4. I continued to dab it on three times a day, and by the following day the spot was completely gone.

Still, we are all guilty of that hours-long picking spree that leaves skin bleeding, raw, rough, and ultimately in tatters. This product cannot go over any open, gaping wounds — if you have an open wound, I suggest neosporin or fresh aloe vera. However, once a new layer of skin has formed a protective barrier, I have found that this cream is quite gentle and seems to speed up the healing process.

As stated in the name, the product does have cortisol in it, so my recommendation is not use it on your face for more than three or four days at a time.

With all my love.

Art Therapy Prompt #3: Draw Your Body

Prompt: Draw the outline of what you think your body looks like. Fill it in with whatever you want.

Materials used: Pencil, paper, colored pencils.

Result:

Art3

Description:

The figure pictured stands with her arms spread out and her legs a little bit apart, like a specimen pinned to a cork board. The hands and feet are not featured; primarily because I can’t draw hands and feet for crap. The figure is me. I drew my hips, thighs, arms, hair — everything to what I believe is the right proportion. I admit I screwed up the face. I can’t draw faces, either.

The body is wrapped in measuring tape. Inside the outline of the body are pills and pill bottles. There is a heart. Two bees stand guard over it. Within the heart is a girl drowning (sleeping?) in water. Lightning flashes.

A thin, skeletal hand with long nails grasps the place where the figure’s uterus is. Blood spills all around the hands.

The head: the figure’s brain takes up half her face. Inside the brain are numbers. They are the numbers of the various weights I have been since I turned fifteen: 175, 129, 154, 133. The figure has a wide, unblinking third eye on her forehead. She has no mouth. Tape covers it. The tape says, “HELP.”

Four faces surround the figure at each corner of the page. Their eyes are closed; they have no distinguishing features. They shout at her. The figure watches them silently.

Response:

The measuring tape may be wrapped around my body, but in the picture it also encompasses part of my heart. Both my body and my emotions feel restricted by my body dysmorphia. This makes sense; when I’m upset or stressed, I lose my appetite. When I’m happy and relaxed, I eat readily. My eating habits fluctuate with my moods.

The heart is overflowing with water. A storm is brewing; a girl is drowning/sleeping underwater. This is anguish.

Pills are scattered across the body. They represent all the pills I’ve taken to get better; they represent the pills I’ve taken in hopes of losing weight. They drift and float. They do nothing.

The blood and the uterus represent both the menorrhagia and the sexual abuse. This makes sense, because after the abuse the menorrhagia went through a period of getting worse before it got better. Heavy, painful bleeding — both physically and emotionally. Feeling as if someone has left their mark; a hand print.

The people shouting are everyone’s advice, their demands — whether realized or not. I cannot converse with them. The tape across my mouth says it all. I need help, but even with that piece of tape there, even with those words in plain sight, no one moves to help. Feeling helpless and alone, isolated in a fast-moving, fast-talking environment. I watch it all unfold. I do not utter a word.

Half of my brain is dedicated to counting and measuring every single number. It counts and weighs, counts and weights, the digits going round and round in a numbing, dizzying circle. It is an obsession.

The third eye watches as well. It is representative of knowing, intuition. It is an emblem of hope. There is a way out.

Progress Update

I have been eating healthfully and mindfully for about a week now, and wanted to give a progress update.

The negatives:

-Lots of breakdowns. I think I had a total of four breakdowns this week. A half mug of broth with some carrots floating in it threw me into a crying frenzy, and missing a workout on one day made me a bitch monster for the remainder of the evening.

-Lots of negative self-talk. Telling myself that I don’t have eating issues, that I’m just a ‘wannarexic’ (I really, really hate that term, and I’m sorry it’s even in this post), that if my eating issues really were a problem I wouldn’t be able to do this by myself, that I’d need a therapist, and I’m not seeing a therapist right now, therefore I don’t have an issue. Bad, bad logic.

But! The positives:

-I haven’t experienced any stomachaches or headaches.
-I’ve stayed on the eating and exercise plan, and have actually lost a pound — whereas when I was fasting, I didn’t lose any.
-I’ve noticed I’m able to focus on things for a longer period of time, especially when I’m at work.
-No crazy mood swings (except for the breaking down bits, of course)
-Less picking! With such a strict eating/exercise/supplement regimen, I’ve been busier and a lot less focused on my skin.
-Support from Eugene. We had a long talk where I was honest and told him about how long I’d been taking the diuretics and laxatives, how many a day, etc. He was so caring about it. Made me even more madly in love with him.

There you have it. Proof that eating food is awesome and everyone should do it frequently; at least five times a day. All my love.

Art Therapy Prompt #2: Your Body’s Story

Prompt:

Make a collage representative of your body’s story – its beauty, strength, weaknesses, difficulties, etc.

Materials used: Glue stick, magazine cut-outs, paper, scissors

Result:

Body Story Collage

Description:

The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to a bird with its wings outstretched. On the bird is pasted the last two lines of a poem by Donna Doyle. Here are the correct line breaks:

“He looks at me the way birds do,
as if I am the one fallen.”

I had kept that image and poem together in a shoebox to use as art for a while, but I never thought of using the two together. The poem is actually a poem about love, loss, letting go. At least, it is to me. But the last two lines of it chilled me. When I read them, I think of my ex, and of all the people who have underestimated and undervalued me.

The image of the bird is one of both desperate fear and desperate hope. It is flying away from something. It is attempting to escape.

The border of the collage is composed of words. The bottom says:

“If you were asked to surrender your will/glass/exploited/she’ll love.”

The left-hand side says:

“Escape them all/and win praises/Wide, wider, & widest.”

The right-hand side says:

“I am scared/that ‘well-being’ feeling/Shades of Grief/For Him.”

I had actually cut out a lot of words about beauty, skin, stress, health, calories, etc. But when I was done with the collage, I still had plenty of those words left over. The words I chose to paste into the collage made sense to me. Because the pain is not in the calories, the food, the work-out routine, the picking, or the restricting behavior itself. It is in pain; feeling exploited, feeling as if I am taking up too much space, feeling as if I have no free will, feeling grief.

The middle of the collage pictures an iceberg or some snowy, frozen peak. On top of that backdrop I’ve pasted a woman and her daughter, spaced far apart. The daughter seems to be looking hopefully up at the mother. There is a disembodied eye and a sort of floating smile. The word “SMART,” with a cheese-grater forming the “A,” looks over the mother and daughter. Smart, because the mother makes “smart” choices for the daughter. But I like words that have dual meanings. “To smart” can also mean to cause pain. A fork and knife flank this scene. On one side is a cornucopia of fruit. On the other, a fridge full of healthy food.

Above the fridge is a disembodied woman. One leg says, “Your Best.” The other says, “Perfect.” Across her stomach are the words “Pack it, roll it, crush it.” She lifts a finger to her mouth, signifying secrecy, silence. Don’t tell anyone what you actually do to yourself. Don’t say a word.

Above the cornucopia are two mirrors. One mirror features the word “Self.”

Around the bird, near the top of the collage: two bees, a butterfly, two bouquets of flowers. They are the true emblems of beauty and hope. A measuring guide with the outline of several womens’ bodies holding hands. In the corner, a pair of disembodied eyes.

Response:

It strikes me how pretty the collage looks; how hopeful, colorful, abundant. Very similar to my other piece. But if one reads the words, it’s a completely different story. I think this says something about how things or people can appear, versus how they actually are.

The only individuals pictured whole in this piece are the mother and daughter. Everyone else has been cut into various body parts; mainly eyes and lips. The lips smile, but they do not speak. The eyes can only gesture. Secrecy, quiet, shame, guilt, fear. Dumbing it down.

While making the collage, it hit me really hard that my issues have never stemmed from my skin. They have always, always stemmed from my body and the way it has been treated, from the time I was a child and attempting to differentiate “good food” from “bad food,” to the time when I was abused, to now. My body’s story is one of loss, grief, and covert explotation.

“He looks at me the way birds do, as if I am the one fallen.” I think that quote being there is a quiet acknowledgement that I am not yet fallen – it is certain people I have loved who have fallen, who have grown so accustomed to the habits, rituals, and violence they’ve experienced that they feel as if they have the right to pass it down to me. As if they are saying, “Here, take this. Burden yourself with it. Carry it on your back. May you never fly again.”

All my love.

Rules, rules, rules.

IMG_1219

Like I’ve said before, I’ve don’t think I have an ED and I have never been diagnosed with having one. But my thoughts about food and restricting/fasting have really started to exhaust me. So I need to start working on my eating issues/obsessive thoughts about food. I’ve started having dreams about food. Not cool.

When my skin picking got bad in November, I gave myself challenges, and awarded myself little prizes (a pair of earrings, a cute top, etc) once I’d completed them. The point is to start creating new habits. For instance, I wanted to have clear, non-scabby skin by Thanksgiving, and gave myself a challenge with the following rules:

Skin Picking Rules:

1. Keep sunscreen next to bed. Slather on first thing in the morning without a mirror.
2. Take mirror out, apply make-up. Put mirror away immediately.
3. One reapplication sometime midday, if needed. Take washcloth, wash off makeup, put on sunscreen. THEN, take out mirror for make-up application.
4. No taking off make-up until I am literally about to fall asleep. Wash off with washcloth, apply beeswax or tea tree oil to spots. No mirror.
5. No touching the face unless some barrier is involved (gloves, washcloth, sunscreen, etc)

General Health Rules

1. 30 minutes of physical activity/day
2. Leave the house once a day
3. Take vitamins and supplements daily
4. Engage in creative brainwork daily. This involves writing, painting, reading, freelance work, etc.

These rules really helped. My depression is definitely better, and my skin is clear again. So here are the body dysmorphia rules I’ve made for myself. I know the first rule seems odd, but I can’t yet break the relationship I have with the scale. I figure weighing myself 2x/day is better than 8 or 9 times.

Body Dysmorphia Rules

1. Weigh self ONLY twice daily.
2. Eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a small snack daily. NO SKIPPING MEALS
3. No measuring.
4. No diuretics UNLESS PMS-ing and legitimately bloated.
5. No detox teas.
6. No laxatives.
7. No fasting whatsoever.
8. At restaurant, let boyfriend pick out meal. If sharing, eat half.

Looking at that list of rules makes me nervous as hell. Well. Here we go.

All my love.

Art Therapy Prompt #1: Draw Your Heart

My very first art therapy session! I’ll be honest – I started with this prompt because the art therapy process felt intimidating (especially to a girl whose art lessons didn’t extend past high school) and I’ve used hearts a lot in my previous artwork. I promise I’ll be more courageous and innovative in the next round.

Prompt:

Paint or draw your heart. Using a heart as a pattern, fill in different parts of the heart with the emotions you’re feeling.

Materials used:

Paper, pencil, crayons.

IMG_1362

Description:

Half of the heart is filled with water. The sides of the heart are bursting. Water is dripping out, leaking into puddles. The water represents my emotions — how I can feel ‘flooded,’ how they pour forth and make me feel as if I’m about to burst.

In the center of the heart is a rose.  It is a healthy, beautiful rose. It has large, red thorns to protect itself from harm. Its roots go deep into the water for nourishment. If the water ever dried up, so would the rose. I’ve always loved the symbolism of roses — of womanhood, beauty, love. I think the fact that the rose’s roots are in the heart is important, emblematic of how I relate to others and the world around me from the inside, and then move outwards.

The line the rose makes with its stem splits the heart into two. Halfway down the rose’s stem, there is a pair of scissors, splayed out as if it is about to cut the rose itself into two and stunt its growth. I think the scissors’s sharp points represent the fear and presence of self-harm, the anxiety I feel that I will keep engaging in self-destructive behavior for the rest of my life and thus stunt my own growth, beauty, womanhood, love, happiness.

On the left side of the heart, a bee is building a beehive. I’m enamoured by bees. I see them as the earth’s protectors. In the picture, they are the heart’s protectors. They make sure things continue to growth and thrive. They are the rose’s handmaidens and warriors. They represent my self-love and confidence.

On the right side of the heart is a black hole where a puzzle piece is missing, as if the heart were made up entirely of jigsaw puzzle pieces. The black, missing piece represents an empty void I feel a lot of the time, as if there is something missing from my character and my life. Two bees are working to fill this void with honeycomb.

Response:

I like how hopeful this picture turned out, and how colorful. I think it says a lot about how I already have the tools in me needed to recover and move forward. I just have to implement these tools and give myself plenty of space to grow and thrive.

Stress & BDD

IMG_1211

Since I’ve been away, I’ve had the usual on-again, off-again relationship with skin picking and mood swings. Some days I can’t tear myself away from the mirror. Some days I barely look at it.

The body dysmorphia issues, however, really took a toll in October. Shit hit the fan. Now that I’m in a somewhat safer place, I’m trying to better understand what triggered the BDD. Quite a few big things happened:

1. I quit my job at a company that treated me like I was their robot slave.
2. I tried to give myself a mental health week to catch up on things like a regular sleep/food schedule.
3. Because of my overly anxious nature, #2 didn’t pan out and I ended up instantly applying for jobs and interviewing like a madwoman.
4. I also studied like a madwoman for my graduate courses and churned out two short stories and a research paper on the prevalence of body-focused disorders in Western societies.
5. I obtained a position I wanted at a really awesome place.

I should have been (I should be) ecstatic. I stood up to people who were using me and called them out on it. I pursued the position I desired. I stepped it up in my classes and will doubtless reap the rewards of hard-earned A’s.

But the stress associated with each of these accomplishments triggered habits like frequent weighing and measuring, only eating in public or in front of others (when they expect me to), refusing to eat certain foods, taking diuretics, detoxing, full-day fasts, etc.

Of course, these habits did not just start in October. I’ve been engaging in them sporadically throughout the past year or so. I suppose October was the breaking point where I really came face-to-face with this specific body dysmorphia issue. Like skin picking, the behaviors fluctuate. Some days I have no problems eating whatsoever. Other days are much, much harder.

I’ve been experiencing writer’s burn-out, but I still want to work on making progress towards healing my obsessive thoughts. So over the next few weeks I’ll be giving art therapy a try instead! I will post a prompt, my artistic response to the prompt, as well as a little blurb about my reactions during the artistic process and what I got out of it. I hope that this will be a really proactive way of gaining some perspective. Stay tuned!

IMG_1355

This is where the magic happens.

With all my love.

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