Feelin’ Fine 🌻

‘ So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key’ *

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It has been two years since I started on Lithium Bicarbonate for my mental illness: Bipolar 1.  If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.

Well, it has done just that.  I am larger now than I was when I was eight months pregnant.  I have gone up in size from a 4 to a 14.  Gasp!

Yes. Just, Gasp.

My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares.  So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine?

Confused yet?

Well, I have changed folks.

It started when I hit rock bottom this time two years ago.  I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die.  I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand.  All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand.  I have the best husband in the world.  If you had seen me then you would not recognize me.  I was barely able to look up.  I was debilitated.  The stress in my low back was like a knife jabbing me.  Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied.  I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days.  I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry.  That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.

This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.

Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.

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By my amazing sister Eva*

 

This has not been an instantaneous transformation.  It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking.  I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio.  These people have helped me immeasurably.  As has my husband of twenty-five years.  He is truly my best, most supportive friend.

It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees.  From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal).  I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.

Scan10100

I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small.  I eat when hungry, whatever I want.  I drink when thirsty.  I move when it strikes my fancy to do so.  No schedule.  No goals.  No competitive work-out sessions.  No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for.  No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness.  It was like going to a Fat Farm for me.  Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).

dancer on the fallen tree

I look back on my previous life and shake my head.  But it is all part of my path.

And, who cares if I am not small in size.  I am still ME.

My being is still here.  My me-ness.

You know me?  That person who loves an adventure;

a good doubling-over belly laugh;

a deep talk solving the problems of the world, including what to do with your hair;

a great beach walk or rainy-day stroll;

a carefree dance around the living room or in a random cafe to some good eighties tunes,

a pint and a good cry????

That person is still here and that person is doing okay.  She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.

prospect-handstand

One last one for the memory bank.  My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’

Right on Buddy.  Gotta love kids.

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I would love your comments…

(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)

*Excerpt from Already Gone (Eagles) Songwriters: Jack Tempchin / Robert Arnold Strandlund

Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) Cuba 🇨🇺

So, no, woman, no cry.
No, woman, no cry.
I say, oh, little—oh, little darlin’, don’t shed no tears.
No, woman, no cry. Eh.
~Bob Marely

Continued from Crazy Train (part 1)…

My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go.  I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere.  I was determined to go.  I may have mentioned that already.  I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.

When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly.  Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.

Cue the ominous music

The first two days in Cuba were fine.  We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.

It was worsening.

Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band.  I was going to stay and rest, I said.  Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that.  Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed.  After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen.  By the time I walked the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.  I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary place.

Someone in the band saw me crying and he whispered to his band mate.  Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley.  I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music.  I realized again just how much I love Cuba.

However, I could not sleep.

I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect.  I was born on 03-03-66. Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born.  Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born.  My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three).  There were three in my family.  Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well.  The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity.  My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over.

Then, I was having conversations with God. The Player family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced.  My stomach churned with butterflies.  My bowels turned to liquid.  I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…

railroad, abandoned

Things rapidly deteriorated from that point.  Luckily our week was almost up.  Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass.   Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse.  But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight.  I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny.  By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep.  I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.

Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it.  Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them.  It was bizarre.  One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to.  Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly.  I, of course, was oblivious by this point.

Next up….Crazy Train (part 3)

girl on tracks

Crazy Train 🚂 (part 3)- Home-ish

I would ask total random strangers to look into my eyes and see the flecks. The flecks are magic, I would say.

 

My husband, Dean flew to Toronto to meet me and take me home to Nova Scotia.   He had arranged for his eldest sister from Newfoundland to come and stay with us for a couple of weeks to help out with Leo while I was sure to be in the hospital and Dean would be running back and forth watching out for me and bringing me what I wanted. Manic me was very demanding (unlike normal me). Ha ha.

The saddest thing about this whole story is that it could’ve been completely avoided if I had been fine with taking lithium. But, at that point in my journey, and because of my disordered eating and body image problems, and knowing that lithium causes weight gain, I refused, absolutely, to take it. So, you would think I preferred the option of going crazy over getting fat.  And that I selfishly ruined everyone’s Cuban vacation because of my issues with food and body image.  Crazy train anyone?

In the hospital they put me on extremely strong medications: anti-psychotics, lithium, antibiotics for the bronchitis and a sleeping aid. I was a walking zombie.  I was extremely ill in the hospital and very upset to be on medication and to be tied down. The nurses constantly told me to go to my room and get some sleep. But when one is manic all one wants to do is relate and connect to others. Even though I was a walking zombie, it was still very difficult for me to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. As a manic person, medications have very little effect compared to what they would on a normal person.  One side-effect of the anti-psychotic drug was the feeling that my skin was crawling. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever encountered.  When the nurses wouldn’t pay attention to me I found ways to entertain myself.  I would walk past the nurses station window where a few nurses would be quietly working with their heads down and I would SLAM my hand against the glass.  The nurses would jump from fright as I quickly walked away.  I was sure they had no idea that it was me. One evening, I decided to pull the fire alarm. As the nurses scrambled to get all the patients out of the rooms, I snickered with my hand over my mouth, by the wall. I was then noticed, yelled at and put in solitary.

What  I did next seems unbelievable now that I have my sanity back. I believe they would never let me out of that room. A half hour may have a lapsed  when I realized two things: I had to use the bathroom, #2, and, I was very thirsty. Because I truly believed that they would not come back for me, and  I was firmly ensconced in crazy land, I went over to the corner of the room,  squatted and pooped. Then I started to bang my cup on the door saying that I was dying of thirst. An idea emerged: I would have to drink my own urine in order to stay alive.  It was salty.

Next I started to sing at the top of my lungs and trust me, that little solitary room had great acoustics  (this is a Kris Kristofferson song that Willie Nelson sings so well) and quite apt at parts…

Take the ribbons from your hair, shake ’em lose and let ’em fall. Let ’em fall against your chin, like the shadows on the wall.  Come and lay down by my side in the early morning light, all I’m taking is your time…help me make it through the night…(This is where I would seriously belt it out) Well, I don’t care whose right or wrong, and I won’t try to understand.  Let the devil take tomorrow, cause tonight I need a friend….it’s sad to be alone…help me make it through the night

I knew that whole song by heart because Mom used to play it over and over again when she and Dad were separated but living in the same house. I was in extreme discomfort in the solitary room. My thoughts where racing. My skin was crawling. My mind was blowing. There was no sleep in sight. I could not stay still. Psychosis is shitty.  Truly.

Finally they let me out. I gladly went to my room. My next plan was to escape and run home.

I studied the delivery door to the locked psych ward. Suddenly, I saw my chance to escape into the February night and I was GONE.  Hightailing it through the lobby with my ass hanging out of my johnny  coat, with my SmartWool knee socks and Birkenstocks on out into the parking lot, down the concrete steps, turn right down the hill, turn left, through the intersection and starting up the hill. Suddenly I realized how cold I was and that my feet were freezing. later I found out it was -20°C. If I had gone the wrong way and landed in the snowbank, behind the hospital, I may never have been rescued from the cold.

As it was, two older ladies in a large sedan pulled up beside me as I made my way up the hill. Seeing how I was dressed and with my hospital wristband on, they asked me to get in the car with them for a ride. I must have thought that would be a good idea. Even through the haze of psychosis I knew that my safety was threatened. I ran into the parking lot of the Catholic Church (irony on that not lost on me) and they let me get in the car to get warm. Next they locked the doors and called the police who escorted me back to the psych ward  and back into solitary.  When Dean heard that I had escaped, in my condition, dressed in a tiny cotton johnny coat, he was furious at the hospital.

I was in for two weeks then out for week at which point I stopped taking the medications and became manic again.  So, I was back in for another two weeks.  It takes about two weeks for the lithium to take effect.  When I was home with my family and dog Lady, and I was out of my head in cray cray land, I could swear that I knew what she was ‘saying’.  I would look at her and her ‘words’ would pop into my head.  Ooookay.

Mental illness is a real thing, not to be trifled with.

Lady Jane, 2 years old

Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARD

The stress of a kitchen renovation then subsequent bronchitis throws me into a psychotic episode while in Cuba…

I had my Birkenstocks and  SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was  running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…

You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999.  It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.

Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.

We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town.  It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands.  The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and quiet owners who mostly stick to themselves.  I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.

The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated.  We had our hands full when we moved in.  The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness.  We ripped it out the first night.

Open the dryer and door fell off.

Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.

Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.

Every window screen was torn.

Faucets dripped.

Paint was chipping on the exterior.

The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.

The fan above the oven exhausted into your face.  Not pleasant.

The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.

There was black mold on the main bath ceiling.

The ensuite shower stall had a microbiome going on that could have kept a scientist busy for years.

Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.

You get the idea.

Everything was broken!!!

And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!!  (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything.  One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then.  He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers.  Luke and I were stunned and mortified at his audacity.  We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed.  Years later we just chuckle about it.  It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome.  The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey.  Every stat. Every player. Every game.  It was truly fascinating when he got going.)

I digress.

The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard.  Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen!  Imagine.)  Tiny, rotting windows.  Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors.  Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen.  The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare.  Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up.  One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of.  It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed.  People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.

After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition.  The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house.  I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it.  He had no face mask on and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house.  My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit.  That could be asbestos.  Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up.  Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school.  My friend who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call.  He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite.  He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.

I was in luck.  A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side.  He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day.  He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos.  I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos.  He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated.  The place would be off limits.’  Oh jesus…

Stress and more stress.

The next day I received his email.  It was NOT asbestos.  I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well.  Next I heard that he beats up his wife.  This is a small town.  I did not wish to run into him again.  Especially if I was by myself.  I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.

So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began.  With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly.  So does stress.  I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.

After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely.  I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend and we would chuckle the day away.  I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened and would wake me up several times a night.

At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis.  I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline.  The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep.  Uh oh.  It was  thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth,  and resultant sleep deprivation,  had caused my first psychotic episode.

Up next…Crazy Train part 2 – Cuba

Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 

A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.

I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling.  Aware, but unaware.  This was haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.

As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:  Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.
empty autumn bench

My pregnancy with Leo was text book:  I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol.  We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up.  His office was in Reston.  We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence.  Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston.  Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg.  After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper.  It was a lovely nine months.

autumn trail

One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair.  While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen.  Could this be labour?  Yes.  By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours.  My mid-wife and my doula arrived and my mid-wife examined me.  I was at 4 cm.  In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm.  By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction.  We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading.  My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.

The back pain was horrible.  I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain.  Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.

To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub.  I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress.  Nothing.

Finally, I had had enough.  At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital.  I was screaming in pain.  I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour.  They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital.  I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death.  Talk of death spurned them into action. autumn bridge Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees.  There was no way I could sit down.  Dean drove like a mad man.  As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked.  I could not tolerate anything touching my skin.  When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out. Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it.  I was slipping into madness.  He left and came back after taking a shower.  He was a sweet, gentle soul.

Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me.  They were then able to give me an epidural.  Oh bliss.  The pain stopped.  A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me.  My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated.  I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural.  Contrarily, I was wide-awake.  A foreshadowing of what was to come.

A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters.  It was time to push.  By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived.  He was perfect and beautiful.  A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed.  I was so happy.

Jaden_diaper_table

We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have.  It was my idea.  Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it.  At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born.  Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo.  We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.

I started to become very very happy.  Elated, even.  I was unable to sleep and I wasn’t one bit tired.  I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night.  I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time.  I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning.  I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard.  Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.

Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo.  I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night.  I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, Luke, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic.  Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.

Next, I began writing furiously in my journal.  Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else.  I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus.  My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant.  When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.

autumn hillOne of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night.  After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Morgan is psychotic.’  He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma.  He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital, now.

Dean’s face froze.  He knew Jamie was right.  My psychosis was worsening by the moment.  I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous.  Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone.  Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night.  Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C..  I was screaming and crying and carrying on.  They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly.  That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me.  I felt like I had just entered the ninth circle of hell.

Hours later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.  This was an old hospital and it was not pretty.  The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light.  There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed.  What had I done to deserve this?  All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo.  That wasn’t going to happen, I was told.  Due to all of the medication.  My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo.  Oh my.  That was a sad pill to swallow.

My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense.  I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors.  I would try to catch them out on their lines.  I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them.  One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had a miscarriage that morning.  Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill.  Now she got it.  I called my old friends from Walden whom I had grown up with.  Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament.  Flo used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end.  I called Sally several times.  I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’.  I told her that he would know what that meant.  ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990.  Sally did it and I was ever grateful.

girl on tracks

Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day.  She was wonderful and did very well with Leo.  I called my mom’s older sister too.  She also came down to help.  The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education.  One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit.  This was huge.  Two older women, from small towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn.  They did it and it made me very happy.   My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days.  We were loved and taken care of.  What a blessing.autumn track

Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself.  It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects.  I was also put on lithium.  Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head.  I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles.  She told me simply: ‘Morgan, just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.

I was discharged in twelve days.

 

 

(Pictures credit to pinterest except the baby, that’s mine and the dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin-in-law)

 

What do you think of this out-of-the-blue psychosis story?  I would love to read your comments.

on hill

Anorexic Sweet Sixteen 🙏

At sixteen I experimented with dieting and it led to a full-blown eating disorder…

When I was fifteen (1981), my parents were living separately in our bungalow. Mom had the basement and Dad had the upstairs.  They shared the kitchen.  Mom started dating an alcoholic she met at the Legion.  I loathed the way she behaved in those months.  She started wearing really tight clothing and tons of makeup.  She was going out to the Legion many times a week and behaving like a love-sick cow.  It infuriated and sickened me.  My fifteen-year-old self was ashamed of the person I had worshiped prior to that.  I think Mom was rebelling and binging on that aspect of life because she had been depraved of affection and love by Dad for years.  It was just sad.

I used to make phone calls to my eldest sister, Eva, who was married, and tell her my woes.  I would tell her how Mom and Dad were always fighting and bickering.  Soon, she invited me to live with her and her family, three-hours away in Leeford. Later that year I would come back to visit and by then, Mom had gotten an apartment, a 1.5-bedroom apartment above the Knights of Columbus Hall up by my old elementary school.  My little brother Luke was living with her and while there, slipped into a shadow of his former self.  He continuously watched television and became very quiet and sullen.  It would break my heart to see what my little brother had become in this dysfunctional arrangement.  I blamed myself for decades afterward, that I had abandoned him there.  Finally a wise therapist told me to let that go.  I was just a child.  It was not my fault.

Anyway, living with Peter and Eva, I realized that every family  has their problems and pressures.  Sometimes I would wake up at night and hear them arguing with each other about money.  Taking in a teen isn’t without cost.  I knew that I needed to chip in.  I picked up many babysitting gigs and even braided the hair of a few ladies on the street. For a couple years, french braids were at the height of fashion and, I could braid.  Layla, my red-headed friend who had moved away had taught me.  I would charge $10 – $20 for a braid and that was a lot at that time.  The ladies would gladly pay me because their long hair would be up and out of their way for days in a good braid and, they could go out on the town with hubby and be in style.french braid

When I had a free night, especially on a weekend, I would call some parents and let them know I was free. Nine times out of ten they would call back and hire me to babysit for the night.  I don’t remember buying groceries or anything for the house with my money, but, at least I didn’t need to ask for any spending money. I also paid for my driving school with that money.  I was very eager to learn how to drive and I firmly believed in learning correctly. Interestingly, I later became a Transportation Officer in the Army and then a Driving School owner.

Eva took me down to enroll in the Catholic High School for grade ten.  I would take the bus every day.  The bus stop was only a minute away.  The problem was, going to Catholic High was going to be a huge change.  I had been going to St. Stephen’s in Walden.  163 students went to St. Stephen’s.  2000 students went to Catholic High in Leeford.  It was huge.  I was completely lost there.  I had been a total jock at St. Steve’s.  On every team.  Excelling at almost all my subjects.  Known by all.  At CH it was a different story.  I didn’t make the basketball team.  I just could not believe it.  I went to the coach and begged my way onto the team.  She told me I would likely ride the bench all season.  I said, ‘I don’t care.  Please let me play.  I will not survive here without basketball.’

bball

 

Basketball practice was every morning at 7:30. I had to take the city bus for 45 minutes to downtown then run five blocks to CH, then run for an hour of practice.  Normally that would be no problem, because I had been super fit.

However, at that time, I had become anorexic.  I was living on about 800 calories or less per day: a tiny breakfast of half a pita with 1 precise tablespoon of peanut butter and exactly 8 oz of skim milk (blech!!!); an apple for lunch and the smallest dinner I could get away with.  Eva was watching and I would try not to upset her.  I didn’t want her to know my secret.  I was growing and I was expending a lot of calories for basketball.  I was extremely emaciated and lacked any muscle tone and had very little strength.  I really don’t know how I physically carried my frame around for the day.  The human body is an amazing machine.

girl on trail

The anorexia started innocently enough.  Eva had started going to Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight from her second pregnancy.  Her first born was now two.  She asked me if I would like to eat the same way as her.  We could do it together.  But, I did not need to lose any weight.  My body was an average size and quite muscular.  But, I was open to trying this new thing with my sister whom I looked up to so much.

I loved doing things with Eva.  We had a lot of fun together and did a whole lot of laughing together.  But, as I started restricting and losing weight and then going back to Walden for a visit, my friends made quite a big deal about how great I looked.  I thought I should lose even more.  I have very strong willpower, so restricting even more was possible.

It wasn’t at all fun, but, by this time it had become a bit of a weird addiction and a secret project which somehow gave me comfort — ridiculous, I know.  I was riddled with fear.  Worried that if I ate as much as I wanted, I would get very fat very fast.

One day, I was out with Eva running errands.  I was walking up to this window of this storefront.  I was watching the reflection of this skeletal figure walking up to the window and I was looking to see who it was.  I did not recognize myself.  I was that skeletal form but, when looking at my reflection, I saw a fatter body.  Dysmorphia is what they call this phenomena.

When laying down in my bed at night, my bones were pressing through my skin and it would hurt.  It was quite hard to get comfortable.  There was a pull chain above my bed to turn out the light.  I had to will myself to raise my arm to reach the chain to turn out the light.

fetal position

I continued this way for the year – holding out even though Eva would scream at me to Morgan please eat!!!!.  By the end of it, I was about 80 pounds and was getting sick a lot, always freezing cold, no period, short of breath, thinning hair, bad breath, coated tongue and of course, always starving and suppressing it.  Anorexia is hell.  It truly is.  Do not go there.  Please don’t.

From my research now, I have learned that Anorexia Nervosa is a mental illness.  I would have several more battles with mental illness in the future, but not for nearly two decades.

girl on tracks

I had strep throat over and over that year.  My immune system was shot.  Going to see Eva’s doctor, a European with blunt speech, asked me if I was losing this much weight on purpose.  I remember liking how he worded that question. I opened up to him and told him the truth.  Right away he organized a counselor to come and see me at home a couple of times per week.  The counselor was wonderful.  I really liked her.  She explained to me that I needed to put more fuel into my body.  I had been complaining about not having any energy(do ya think?). I liked how gently she explained these simple matters to me.  She helped me to stop the behaviour.

However, I was terrified of opening the flood gates of eating.  I thought I would never be able to stop once I started.  I was starving but I was afraid to eat.  So, then the bulimia started.  I would open the flood gates.  I would eat thousands of calories in cookies, chips, cake, baked goods and then I would take a large dose of laxatives. Chocolate X-lax was my purging tool because I was unable to make myself vomit.

By the middle of the night, my guts would be gurgling. But, it would do the trick.  Everything would be voided explosively into the toilet.  Sometimes it was quite embarrassing, depending on where I was when the void wanted to begin and, it was never funny like the time in Virginia with my friend Nancy.

girl in boat

The Bulimia went on for about another year or so and by then I was living back in Walden and attending grade eleven.  For years, I would go through times of wanting to lose weight again and so would start to restrict, but, it always led to binging and purging again.

Joining the Army put a stop to it for a while because I simply had no time or energy to devote to body size.  But, the demon returned in the form of exercise bulimia, orthorexia (obsession with finding the most nutritious foods) and food rules and restriction and preoccupation.  It stopped in 2017, three and a half decades later.  Now, I am able to happily refer you to the following: 8 Ways to be Free of Diet Culture 🎈

Be good to you.