Down the rabbit hole, around Wonderland and back through the looking glass… Part 2
Now, my doctors told me that my ‘condition’ was something that could be monitored and even controlled, but that it would always be something I’d have to deal with. I still don’t know if they’re right or not, and I still feel the need to monitor my every thought for signs of unwanted nuttiness, but I got to say that at this moment in time, I’m thinking that they had things all wrong.
They told me that the drugs would help me control my symptoms, but that I’d likely be on them (or variations of them) for years to come; possibly for the rest of my life. I didn’t like this diagnosis, and the minute I started to feel a little bit human again I decided to rebel against it. After all, I’d already decided I didn’t want to be on drugs, and that included the prescription kind. I just wanted to be myself, and so began the journey to find out who that really was.
Besides, while the drugs helped in some ways, I couldn’t help but think of them as nothing more than Band-Aids; they covered up the problems, but they weren’t really fixing anything.
I stayed on the meds (most of them anyway) for another nine months after coming to the decision that I had to find a better way to live. During that time, I did a lot of research, and that exploration led me to the path of enlightenment which in turn – eventually – led me back to, and finally through the looking glass.
The most significant thing I learned during that period of exploration was the importance of serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. As I began my struggle to find balance, I focused a lot on these things.
I started exercising on a regular basis. In the beginning I wasn’t (comfortably) able to be around a lot of people; I’d taken a leave of absence from work and systematically withdrawn from pretty much everyone in my life; so I didn’t (couldn’t) go to the gym. I walked a lot – mostly at night to avoid people – and purchased a stationary bike. I hated that bike – I still hate that bike – but I made a point of spending set amounts of time pedaling away on it. Over the years I’m pretty sure I’ve cycled my way around the world at least once or twice, and I’ve done most if it while watching reruns of my favourite shows, so it’s not been all bad. Eventually I even turned to meditation – which can be an amazing thing for anyone, but is a must (I believe) for those of us who go to war with ourselves – but this, like trips to the gym and pool didn’t come about until later.
During that stage of my life I also did a lot of research into nutrition and learned that what we eat can hugely alter the chemical levels in the brain. Imagine my shock when I learned that there were foods out there that could help to balance these chemicals naturally… then imagine my heartbreak when I realized that I would have to learn to moderate some of my favourite things like junk food and caffeine. I had been a coffee junkie since I was fourteen or so; a side effect of my generation I think; but I gave it up for almost two years. These days, I do drink coffee, but if I feel even the slightest slip in my sleep patterns or my anxiety levels, I won’t touch a cup for days (even weeks) at a time. The same is true of my diet; when I sense even the most basic alterations in my moods and/or reactions to the world around me, I go out of my way to eat the foods I’ve come to recognize as helpful, while avoiding those that I know are not. This is not to say that I don’t indulge in glorious junk foods from time to time, I’m just more aware of what I eat than most people I know, and not because I’m trying to maintain a stick figure.
One of the other (most) important changes to my life was learning how to keep myself so busy that it allowed very little time for excess thought. This was tricky at first, because I had to find ways to keep busy that didn’t cause me stress, but it didn’t take me too long to figure it out. Though I’ve always been a little weird with my temporary passions, this was the point in my life when passion bordered on obsession, and also the point in time when my O.C.D.-like tendencies actually began to serve a purpose.
During my climb back up into the really-real world I always needed at least one project on the go; something that intrigued me enough to keep me tinkering away at it even when I didn’t want to do anything else. The evidence of these mini-obsessions are all around me; from my brief love affair with scrapbooking to my insane need to catalogue all of my collections, all of these distractions (even the ones I’ve since lost interest in) still factor in to my life. Keeping busy – allowing very little idle time – meant that I spent less hours of the day completely immerged in thought, and when your thoughts are poisonous, the last thing that you want to do is be stuck in a big, steaming vat of them. So it was that diversion became my bestest bosom buddy.
Eventually I decided that I was ready to get off the meds. There was a period of withdrawal when I questioned the wisdom in such a move, but alas, that is a different story. The point is that I stood by my choice – despite my doctor’s council to go back on the meds – and eventually persistence paid off; the symptoms faded and then finally disappeared. It was not the end of my struggle for balance (that took time) but it was another step in the right direction.
I concentrated a lot on what I ate, what I did and how I did it. I was hypersensitive to even the slightest alterations in my mood shifts, and did what I could to tip the scales back in my favour whenever stability felt a little threatened.
Though it would be a vast oversimplification to say that these were the only steps I took on the road back to sanity, these little tweaks in my eating, exercising and busy-work habits did miraculous things for me and, in turn, helped me to do miraculous things for myself. Eventually – as I started feeling better – I started taking stock of the people in my life and – out of a newfound respect for myself and my own wellbeing – I cut ties with those I deemed ‘emotional vampires’; all the people that had mistreated me in the past, that sapped my energy with their selfish ways, or made me feel poorly about myself. This was not as easily accomplished as it was planned, but soon I left my hometown altogether to start anew somewhere else. That was a HUGE step in the right direction.
After that, everything seemed to get a little easier.
Still though, I struggled with insomnia. I wasn’t overly surprised by this because it had begun long before I was even aware that there was a problem with my brain’s ability to regulate chemical distribution, but I did worry about. Though I refused to focus on it too much or too often, I was scared that as long as I wasn’t sleeping properly, I was tempting a return of the crazies. There was some improvement; I was getting around three to four hours of sleep (average) a night without interruption; and I tried to hold on to the faith that in time this too would work itself out. Eventually even my dreams had started to come back, at least a little. They were disjointed and barely memorable upon waking, but it was a start.
I don’t know what happened, or what changed exactly, but my insomnia broke almost three years ago. I have no idea why it finally came to an end – and I hope to hell it never comes back – but while I was pregnant with my youngest – Kara – the battle I’d been waging with slumber since I was about seventeen finally came to an end. The interesting thing about that – or at least interesting to me – is that no matter how much work I’d put into myself up to that point, it wasn’t until after I started sleeping – and regularly dreaming again – that I truly felt healthy and stopped having to try so hard to keep myself balanced. I felt as though the sandman – having realized he’d been missing my stop for so long – dropped by to leave me with a huge sack of magic sleeping dust, and I swear if I’d been able to catch that little bugger, that I would have kissed him full on the mouth until his toes curled.
As I began sleeping regular hours; typically five to seven a night on average these days with the odd eight hour rest occasionally tossed in; I also began dreaming a lot more often. As time passed, these dreams grew more and more vivid until they’d become as brilliant as the dreams I used to have as a kid, and finally the last pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place for me.
Now, I still get blue days – like everyone else – but it’s been a very long time since I’ve been truly depressed. I still get overly excited about things – it’s just in my nature sometimes – but it’s been a long time since I had an actual panic attack. I can’t even remember the last time I looked at the world around me and doubted it’s solidarity, nor can I recall the last time I felt paranoid that the world was ‘out to get me’ and that everyone was thinking negative things about me. I dream every night again, and though I don’t always get as much sleep as I’d like, I get enough to keep on track.
The point of this post was really to discuss dreams, and now that’s just what I’m (finally) going to do…
As a kid, I had such vivid dreams that I occasionally had some difficulty (upon waking) separating them from reality. To this day in fact, there are still some memories in the bank that are so bizarre I know they have to have come from dreams, and yet they’re so real that they feel like true experience. I loved dreaming so much that I was never one of those kids that fought bedtime; I welcomed it with open arms.
The first story I ever wrote – when I was no more then five or six – came from a dream, as have a great many of my tales over the years. I loved the idea of putting my dreams into words, and so I got into the habit of doing so as often as I could. My oldest recurring nightmare began when I was about seven – it’s an always changing landscape of a nightmare world set to the same tune; apocalypse – and even though these dreams scared (scare) the hell out of me while experiencing them, I soon learned that even nightmares could be put to good use; they often make the best stories; and I’m pretty sure this is where my love of the horror genre originated.
As I got older, I gained a little control over my dream worlds; I became – in essence – the director of my mind-movies. While this control wasn’t always possible, I found that – quite often – I could will changes that made the experiences all that more pleasurable. I might start out in a nightmare, but frequently, I could alter the situation until it became something less frightening and more enjoyable. I LOVED this.
The nicest thing about dreams was that no matter how much reality might suck from time to time, my subconscious could always steal me away to better places where I could hang out with more interesting people and see more exciting things. Perhaps this is why I became such an avid daydreamer; preferring the make-believe worlds that my mind created to the one I actually lived in.
It remained the same up until I began suffering from insomnia in my teens, and then slowly my escape was walled off, leaving me to deal with the really-real world without reprieve. I found backdoors into my sanctuary of imagination through drugs; I’m not saying this is a good thing, it’s just what I did; but even that eventually stopped working for me. For a long I had no dreams – at least not that I could recall – and only the rare nightmare.
And then I chased that damn white rabbit…