Tag Archives: seasonal affective disorder

Life Affirming

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Today’s theme was Life Affirming.

You might have read yesterday’s post about my near death experience when an avalanche of snow fell onto my car from a cathedral roof about 200 feet up.  The windshield and front end of my vehicle was pulverized by the weight of the snow.  

Thankfully, I was not.  I was in the car, and the windshield shattered but held in place.  I emerged from my vehicle unscathed.

Physically, that is.

Not so unscathed emotionally, as it turns out.

Yesterday I tried to go to work and should have taken the day off.  I was mentally in orbit.  Physically, I kept having chest pains, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

There was other stuff too.

It would be dishonest to say I nearly lost my shit on the guy from the YMCA aftercare program who called at 1:30 to tell me the program had been cancelled for the afternoon due to snow.  I completely lost my shit on this poor kid, who was just doing his job.  

“It is re-goddam-diculous you are calling me this late in the day to tell me this,” I shouted.

“Well we have been broadcasting it on TV and Facebook,” the kid stuttered.

“Dude!” I yelled.  “The reason I need your services is because I work!  I am not at home surfing the Facebook or watching TV!  I am going to hang up on you now so I can figure out what I am going to do about getting my son who gets out of school in an hour.”  And I hung up.

No sooner had I arranged for my in-laws to pick up my son, I realized my reaction was totally out of line and completely uncharacteristic for me.  

I was being trauma-reactive.  My cortisol and adrenaline levels were out of whack and I was interpreting even minor inconveniences as threats.  I had done the same thing with the children that morning while we were getting ready for school.  I’m both cases, I felt like an ass.

I arranged to take a day off.

So, today, after my kids went to their respective places.  I went to my doctor and had her listen to my chest to make sure I was not having a heart attack.  She was in shock of my story and prescribed some medications to help me relax.

Her embrace was life affirming.

After that, I went out to lunch by myself.  I thought about different career paths I could take.  Maybe I would volunteer for La Leche League and work towards becoming a lactation consultant.  Maybe I would go back to school and get certified to be a Montessori teacher.  These are possibilities!  And having possibilities is life affirming.

Eating poached eggs smothered in hollandaise on a bed of spinach and artichoke hearts was life affirming.

I drove to the beach and got out of my car.  The freezing air was life affirming.  I plodded through three feet of snow and walked in the sand right up to the water.  I picked up a shell.  I held some rocks.  I looked at my foot prints.  I am here, I chanted.  I am here.

I stood like a super hero with my hands on my hips, my feet wide apart and my chin high in the air.

Thank you, I whispered into the wind.  Thank you, Universe.  Beautiful Universe.  I am so happy I am here.  

Walking down the beach was amazing.  For so many weeks I have felt claustrophobic from the snow.  But on the beach, there was just wide open, snow-free space.  And over my head there was the endless blue sky.  Nothing was going to fall on me.

Drinking coffee was life affirming.  Pooping was life affirming.  Getting a mani/pedi/and 20 minute chair massage was life affirming.  

Putting my hair in a bun.  Texting my husband “luv u” and getting his “luv u 2 :* text back.  Shuttling laundry up and down the stairs in my house.  Opening envelopes.  Paying and mailing bills.  Crossing a street.  Shifting the gears in the rental car.  Liberating a Buddha from Home Goods for $14.

All life affirming.

It sounds hokey and is almost as uncharacteristic of me as yelling at that poor YMCA kid on the phone.

It also sounds kind of fraudulent to be waxing about my life affirming gratitude for the frustration of waiting in line at CVS, when 20 minutes later I am flipping out over traffic.  45 seconds after placing my beautiful, serene $14 Buddha in a sacred corner and bowing to him, I am swearing under my breath because I’ve dropped my keys.

I kind of think this is how my trauma response is going to go for the foreseeable future.  

One moment I am marveling at the tenderness with which my daughter strokes my cheek in the middle of the night, and the next I am screaming at her to get a sweater for school.  One moment I am awe-struck at the beauty of an icicle and the next I am terrified because the trees are covered in snow and something might fall on me.

Truth is, if I weren’t ridiculously hyper-focused on just how freaking precious every motion is, I would be out of my mind with fear at the realization of how small and short and fragile life really is.  So, trying to make every move a joyful reminder I am alive is preferable to the bone-grinding reality of what I’m really feeling.

I’ve got to call that dude from the Y and apologize or something.

And I’ve go to chill the fuck out with my kids.

This winter has been so hard.  Ever since my client’s suicide a couple months ago, I have been fighting a much stronger depression and anxiety than I usually do, even at this time of year.  This trauma was a wake up call, but it also complicates things for me a bit more because of all the chemical/physiological crap involved with trauma.

So, I’m going to drink some water.  And order pizza.  These things are mundane, but they will be life affirming.

I am here.  I am here.  I am here.  I am so here.  

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Life and Death Experiences in the Overflow Lot

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Things could have gone differently.  

It’s the thought running through my brain.

Like, I could be on life-support.  Or in a full body cast.  Or paralyzed.  Or really badly bruised.

My morning had gone off without a hitch.  The kids were cooperative.  Lunches got packed just so.  I posted an ironic and witty Wordless Wednesday post, which I thought was an apt follow-up to the post I wrote last week about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the winter pummeling we are getting in the North East this year.   I replied to a couple comments on my blog.

I even had extra time to fully dry and round-brush my hair.  In my cashmere sweater and ruby lip stain, I felt pretty and confident.

I dropped my son off at school and proceeded to work.

It is creepy to think those could have been my last movements on this earth.

Our lot at work was full.  It is always full lately due to the excessive snow.  There is an overflow lot across the street next a big, old cathedral.  I pulled into the overflow lot and took the last space, in front of the building.

Since I am a creature of habit, I have a little ritual when I pull in to work.  Even when I am running late, I take a moment to collect myself before getting out of my car.  I take a breath.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and tell myself I am a sexy beast capable of anything.  I turn off the music streaming from my iPhone, and unplug it from my car.  I gather together my lunch, pocket book, and then check to see if there are any new alerts on my phone.  Today there were a couple Facebook notifications.

As I was completing my ritual by checking into Facebook.  Something happened.

There was a roar of thunder, a hiss, a pounding.

I saw a flame of white sparkles shower my car, followed by mounds of white.

The pounding continued.

My brain could not narrate this story for me as rapidly as it was happening.

I saw my windshield shatter.  I heard myself scream.

My first impulse was to start my car and back away, but my car would not start.  This was probably a blessing because, in my panicked state, I probably would have backed into the cars parked like sardines in the lot.  I grabbed my keys, lunch, and pocketbook and leapt from the car.  IMG_7262

Through screaming and hyperventilating, I realized that an orca-sized avalanche of snow had slid off of the cathedral and onto my car.

Through my screaming and hyperventilating, my brain worked to remind me I was experiencing trauma.  My body was flooding itself with fight or flight chemicals, my brain was working overtime to formulate words to accompany the storyline.

You’re shaking because of the adrenaline, my mind told me kindly, ever the social worker.  You’ll work it out.  Your breath is fast and your muscles are tense because you have been scared, and your body has responded in its most primal way.    

A woman approached and I asked her to get someone, anyone from work.  I instructed my fingers to dial 911.  The police station, which is less than a half mile away, took my call and let me know someone would be on their way. I heard sirens and my shrieks melted into sobs.

Some of my colleagues came out and held me and waited with me.  We waited.  And waited.  There were sirens all around but no one was coming.  Then we noticed the street was blocked off and there were flashing lights congregated at an intersection down the street.  There must have been an accident.

As we were standing there, another avalanche of snow came thundering down off of the roof.  The thudding rumble terrified me.  I started screaming again, then sobbing and shaking.

My boss instructed my coworkers to take me inside, so I let myself be led into the building through the back.  I did not want to run into any of my clients looking like I did, whatever that was.

I sat in an office with some of my work pals.  We waited. And waited.  I grew calm and then hysterical again.  I was hugged.  I was given water.  Our program’s psychiatrist came down and put a bag of frozen edamame on my neck as she rubbed my back.  On a primal level I was aware of how upset I was, but on another level I was deeply conscious of being loved, cared for, tended to.

I felt confused.

I could see people around me and they were talking.  My head hurt and I felt confused, like I was looking at them through an aquarium.

Briefly, I wondered if I would pass out or die.  But I didn’t.  I said,  maybe it was good I was with the car and knew that it happened, as opposed to coming out after dark at the end of my work day and having to deal with it all then?  My friends nodded and agreed sympathetically.

I called AAA.  I called my husband.  I called insurance. The police still had not come.  I called the police again.  “Yeah,” the dispatcher said.  “We were responding to an accident, and then another accident, and then there was a domestic dispute.  We’ll send a cruiser out when we can.”

My husband texted me and told me to make sure I took photos.  I texted him back and let him know it was not safe to get close enough to the car to take pictures.

It was at that point, I realized that if I had gotten out of my vehicle even seconds earlier, I would have been pulverized by that falling snow.

I imagined myself lying, bloody and broken in the parking lot, unconscious, unable to call for help.  And with all of the city’s resources being diverted to other accidents, I could have laid there for hours.

What would have become of me?

I can’t let my brain go there, really.  But it does.

My husband called me and asked me a bunch of questions.  I got pissy and ranted about how, geographically speaking, I was in Hitler’s asscrack, and this was the worst possible place something terrible could happen to a person because of the common crapulence.

After a while, I was calm.  But not a nice calm.  Shock calm.  The kind of calm where you are numb and a little off.

I peeked out a window and saw a cop car circling around the lot where my car was.  I gathered my stuff and ran out.  The cop took my report and waited with me for AAA to come.  We waited.  And waited.  As we were waiting, another avalanche of snow came off the roof.  I felt validated by the cop’s response of surprise and awe.

Eventually the tow truck came and got my car out of the pile of snow.

I’m okay.

I made it home to hug my family and that is all that matters.

But something about the whole experience today just feels. . .  deep.  That’s not even the word.  I don’t really have a word.

A couple days prior, the psychiatrist (who put the edamame on my neck) and I were talking about how sometimes we fear we might go crazy from the relentless stress of working with people who are at high risk for going crazy.  I’m ashamed to write these words, but I said to her, “Sometimes I fantasize about getting in a minor car accident on my way to work so I can go be in a hospital for the day instead of at work.”

Is there fate?  Is there karma?  Did this happen to me to prove to me that those sort of thoughts and statements are totally bogus and that you should never wish for anything so awful?  Gosh, I don’t know.  But it gives me pause.  And I’m terribly thankful.

This is the kind of crap we are dealing with in the North East this winter.  We are dealing with seasonal depression, property damage, accidents, slip and falls, loss of revenue, and cabin fever.

We are also dealing with orca-sized tons of snow that fall off roofs 200 feet up and crush our vehicles with us in them, which I can honestly tell you is something that had never even crossed my mind.

Be careful out there.

Hug your people.

Send out positive energy and rainbow-colored light for goodness.  (Note I did NOT say “white” light.)

And take a moment to pause and notice where you are and what you are doing.  Imagine, if I had not had my little pre-work ritual before getting out of my car.   That little moment I keep for mindfulness before going into work may have saved my skin.

I wonder what my trauma response will soften for me, and what the chemical reflexes will brand into my brain.

It is all still so fresh, so I don’t know.

Thankfully, I have been granted the time to wait and see.

Winter Makes It Worse

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For a brief minute or two, the breezy hum of my hairdryer drowns out the tantrum taking place in the kitchen.  Jack is pissed about doing homework.  Something has not gone to plan and he is freaking the fuck out.  While my husband is trying to butter waffles and shield Emily from Jack’s flailing pencil and fists, Jack is screaming, calling names, and taking swings at my husband.

This used to be an every day occurrence and now it is more like a couple times per month.  But still, when it happens, it feels like a freight train is racing towards me and I can’t move.  I don’t know what to do.  And I am supposed to know what to do because it is my job to tell other parents how to handle situations just like this.

He’s not giving you a hard time, he’s having a hard time!  

Stay consistent!  

Be present with him.  Keep your composure!  

Try to be perceived as a helper!

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  It frustrates me I am so inept in my own home.

Winter makes it all worse.  I don’t really know why.  We are still going out, getting physical exercise, staying busy.  Maybe it is the lack of sun.  Maybe Jack is as sensitive to this as I am.

IMG_7057While I am not one to complain about the weather, I have to recognize that this winter in New England has sucked in a giant way.  We have been pummeled with snow for weeks.  I stand nearly six feet tall, and yet there is a mound of snow TALLER THAN ME for crying out loud, next to our driveway.  Other parts of the country may be used to this type of precipitation, but for us, here, it is a little much.

The ice and snow are destroying people’s homes.  A bunch of my friends and coworkers have had slip and falls on the snow, have had to take time out of work, and have been sore and injured.  Businesses have had to shut down for state-of-emergencies, and have lost significant revenue.

My husband was in a fender bender a couple weeks ago, because he could not see around the enormous bank of snow at the top of our street.  While everyone was unharmed in the accident, it still required auto-body work on his car to the tune of a $500 deductible.  Since we don’t generally have $500 lying around, this represents an additional financial stressor in our lives which are already stretched very thin.

These are all real stressors.  These are all factors that tip the scales in favor of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

At least they have for me.

I’ve been noticing my patience is really thin with my kids, and then I feel like a total jerk hole for yelling or being short with them.  I’ve been noticing that my energy is low, my appetite is poor, and all I want to do is sleep and munch on chips.  I’ve been noticing it feels like an act of Congress would be the only thing to get me up off the couch to put the laundry in the dryer, or to get Emily a drink of water.

I look around outside and the big, crusty, piles of snow make me feel claustrophobic, like there is no room to move.

Then I get to go to work and listen to dozens of clients vent about their lives, the weather, and how insane their kids are acting.  At some point, I just want to say, Look, I’m not any better than this and I really have no advice for you because I am a total fraud.  So, good luck with everything.  Now go away and leave me alone.  

I was sick with bronchitis and then bronchitis induced asthma for the entire month of February, so any emotional buffer I might have had to tolerate aberrant child behavior, a hectic workload, and the third blizzard in as many weeks has been rinsed down the sink in a gob of greenish-yellow phlegm.

So, when I get pumped up with a tiny burst of pleasure at a nice hot shower, it just feels devastating to have that bubble popped by hearing a tantrum the second I turn off the water.

I know kids do crazy stuff and they get angry too. Believe me I know I’m not supposed to take it personally.  But it seems I’ve gone a bit snow-blind and have lost some perspective on things.  I’m trying to remember Jack typically has trouble at this time of year, then things get a little better with spring.

I just want my family to be happy.

I just want to be happy.

It sounds so simple, and yet somedays it can feel so hard.

Are you having a tough time this winter?  Have you ever been diagnosed with SADD?  What has been helpful to you during this time?  

Ps. Please check out my new creative writing blog, the Story of Blue. I’m so excited to see you there!