Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Everyone Is Fighting Their Own Battle...Try To Be A Little Less Douche

I sat in that chair. . .the same chair I'd sat in every Wednesday for the past year and a half. The arms were rubbed to a burnished gloss by myriad anxious hands and the tufts in the upholstery begged to be plucked by nervous fingers.  I told my doctor everything I'd been experiencing: flashbacks, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, social anxiety, paranoia, and bouts of complete emotional numbness.

"Sometimes I can feel it coming on,"  I told her "and sometimes it broadsides me out of nowhere.  I'll hear a certain song on the radio or run into someone I haven't seen in years and it's like a tidal wave of panic washes over me and I just go into fight-or-flight mode." I paused, picking at the chair's upholstery and blinking back my tears.  "Am I going crazy?"

Dr. Mills leaned forward, silently sliding the box of Kleenex on the table in my direction. "You're not going crazy."  she assured me. "Far from it.  What you're experiencing is called post traumatic stress disorder."

I looked up at her in shock.  "Wait. . .what?  I have PTSD?  What am I, Private Ryan?  I've never done a tour in 'Nam."

"I think Private Ryan was World War II."  Dr. Mills mused.

I shook my head in frustration. "Thanks for the clarification Dr. IMDB, but my point is: I'm not a soldier.  I've never served in the military.  I've never gone to war.  How can I have PTSD?"

"Soldiers aren't the only ones who get PTSD, Jen."  she said with a gentle smile. "Survivors of natural disasters, accidents, sexual assault, domestic abuse. . .people who have suffered debilitating injuries or illnesses, those who have lost a child. . .any traumatic event can cause PTSD.  And let's face it, you've been through some shit."*

*Dr. Mills keeps it real.  And she curses like a sailor with Tourettes.  I love her mad hard.

"It still. . .I just. . .It can't be PTSD."  I stammered.

Dr. Mills leaned back patiently.  "PTSD is catagorized by the following: exposure to a traumatic event, re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks/dreams/memories, avoiding people, places and things that remind you of the event, insomnia and panic attacks, and allowing these issues to affect relationships and other aspects of your life."

"Oh,"  I said.  "Well. . .shit."

"Shit indeed."  Dr. Mills agreed with a nod.  "PTSD isn't something you just get over or outgrow, but the good news is, with treatment and time your panic attacks will be further and further apart, and you'll learn how to deal with them when they arise."  She grinned at me.  "And I know you. . .you'll deal with this the same way you've dealt with everything else in your life.  Like a rockstar."

And I did. . .eventually.  But not at first.  In the beginning, I had three or four flashbacks a day.  The smell of lavender, driving past a hospital, any song by The Police. . .*

*Seriously, fuck you, Sting.

. . .any of these would make my heart race and cause a panicked roaring in my ears.  One time I was at Sears, looking for a new microwave.  I pressed the buttons on one and the sound it made was eerily similar to that of the respirator that kept my son alive in the N.I.C.U.  Five minutes later I was hunched in a restroom stall, sobbing and shaking for the better part of an hour.  Events like this happened daily for about three months. . .then, every other day. . .then, eventually, they became random, isolated events.  Dr. Mills was right: like diabetes or alcoholism the problem never really went away, but I learned how to manage it.

I still have events to this day, only my reaction to them is nowhere near as extreme.  I try to keep it internalized, but occasionally there is some collateral damage.  A few months ago I lashed out at my friend Kelly for wearing a perfume that triggered my anxiety.  Fortunately Kelly's even more jacked-up than I am so she was willing to hug it out and forgive me.  And the other night I got a phone call from a person who is a major anxiety trigger for me and minutes after that I projected my paranoid bullshit on my friend, Nathan, who probably thinks I'm a total whack job now.*

*I really am sorry, Nate.

But I'm not.  A whack job, I mean.  Well, no more than any other person tap-dancing on this spinning rock we call Earth.  People with PTSD are not crazy.  Sure, you'll get the isolated event of someone having a Hurt Locker flashback who'll climb a bell tower with an MK-7 but theses incidents are few and far between.  In fact, most of us have greater mental clarity as a result of our trauma(s) and are a hell of a lot more in tune with reality than your Average Joe.  We are not homeless drifters begging for change at a freeway offramp; we are doctors, and lawyers, and students, and stay-at-home-moms.  We are that smiling barista who always remembers your order.  We are the grumpy man standing behind you at the ATM.  We are the laughing child on the playground clambering to the top of the jungle gym.  PTSD doesn't care how old you are, how much money you have, whether or not you voted for Hillary Clinton. . .*

*Which is traumatic in and of itself.

. . .it can affect anyone at any time.  So, no. . .we are not crazy.  And we are not weak; we are survivors, and fighters.  We have been through shit that would bring the strongest men alive to their knees and we have walked through the fire like we owned it.  We get up each day, every day, and live a life of purpose and integrity.  We go in, we get it done, and we do it like a motherfucking BOSS, and if that isn't the definition of strength then I don't know what is. You don't need to be afraid of someone with PTSD, or feel sorry for them; in fact you should feel honored to know someone with PTSD because in my experience, they are the funniest, kindest, and most honest individuals on the planet.  And if someone with PTSD tells you about their life and allows you into their world then you should know how truly special you are, because we don't trust easily, and we are very selective who we allow into our lives.  But once you are in our lives, we are the most loyal friend you'll ever have, and we will never, ever, do anything to willfully hurt you. . .we know how that feels and wouldn't wish that on anyone.

I've had lots of different reactions when I've told people about my PTSD.  Some are curious, some comforting, and some simply run in fear.  There are no right or wrong reactions, but there are definitely right or wrong comments.  Here are some of the ones I hear most often:

 “I thought only soldiers got that”
You’re right.  Soldiers ARE the only ones who get PTSD.  Just remember: we’re all fighting our own little wars each and every day.

“It was a long time ago. Why don’t you just get over it?”
Good point. Maybe I should just “get over it”.  But, first, try a little experiment. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself in an Iraqi spider hole, surrounded by the corpses of your closest friends.  Imagine yourself a terrified 7 year old child, wondering if Grandpa was going to make you touch him again tonight.  Imagine holding your child in your arms and watching his life quietly slip away.  Imagine yourself lying bleeding on the floor after your husband’s latest beating,then looking up to see your 4 year old child watching terrified from the doorway.  Now, open your eyes.  How do you feel?  Get over it.

“Millions of women go through what you did.  They don’t ALL have PTSD.”
Millions of people drink every day and don’t get cirrhosis.  Millions of people smoke for years and never develop emphysema.  What can I say?  Some of us are just “lucky”.

“When are you going to be cured?”
Well. . .never.  There are two kinds of PTSD: normal and chronic.  The normal kind lasts from a few months to a few years, whereas the chronic kind can go on indefinitely.  So, basically, normal PTSD is like a student loan; given enough time and effort, you’ll pay it off eventually. Whereas chronic is more like a 30-year mortgage; you’ll be paying off that shit for the rest of your natural-born life.  According to my therapist, my PTSD is “normal” which is comforting in the sense that she doesn’t feel it’ll be a lifelong issue, but still distressing because there is no clearly-marked finish line…no countdown til completion.  Just living my life wondering when the next trigger might set off another panic attack or week-long bout of insomnia.  Good times.

“But you always seem so happy.”
I am happy.  In fact, I am one of those people who is so pathologically optimistic that I make One Direction look like The Cure.  But I'm a human being, and as such, bad things will occasionally make me sad.  In the immortal words of the great prophet Winona Ryder: "If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn't be a human being, you'd be a game show host."

“It’s all in your head.”

So is ignorance.  That doesn’t make it any less real.

So how do you talk to someone about their PTSD?  Well, sometimes, you don't.  Some people (like myself) are pretty open about their past, others. . .not so much. If your friend or loved one is pushing you away, don't take it personally.  Keep in mind that withdrawal can be a symptom of PTSD. A person who withdraws may not feel like talking, taking part in group activities, or being around other people. Give your loved one space, but tell him or her that you will always be ready to help.   Don't judge them or counsel them, just be there for them and let them know you're happy to listen when they're ready to talk.  Be patient.  Be understanding.  Encourage their independence and self-esteem, and help celebrate their little victories.  People with PTSD need to know that they can trust you, so always be honest with them, even if it's not what you think they want to hear. And let them know it's OK to show a little vulnerability from time to time.  We aren't superheroes.  I spend most of my life caring for others at home and at my job and honestly, all I really want at the end of the day is for someone to hold me and let me drop my guard a little so I can feel cared for as well.

I am blessed to be surrounded by so many loving family members, highly inappropriate friends, and a small, suburban community where my children and I can feel safe and happy.  I know that not every person with PTSD is as lucky and I pray for those people every night that they can find a person or a place that makes them feel safe. . .that they can find that flickering candle that will guide them out of the darkness.  We are all fighting our own battles.  We are all veterans of our own wars.  Be kind to everyone you meet, even if they don't seem deserving of your kindness.  I've found that the rudest, angriest, and most unlovable people in the world are the ones who need love the most.  Embrace your scars. Love the darkest parts of yourself.  Know that you are worthy of love.  Be at peace.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shaping The Young Minds of Tomorrow, Today!

Being trapped at home with her baby doesn't allow my friend Gina much time for extracurricular activities.  So, although I am not a "kid person" per se, every now and then I lean into the strike zone, take one for the team, and watch baby Milo so Gina can have some semblance of a life.*

*I know it sounds odd for someone who HAS kids to say they don't particularly LIKE kids, but hear me out: I love my short people.  My short people are wicked rad.  But when my short people are acting like asshats or doing something annoying, I can call them on their shit.  When you try that with other people's kids they tend to get a bit. . .stabby.

Last weekend I headed over to Gina and Alex's condo to watch Milo so Gina could go for a jog.  As usual, Gina was running around the condo like a ferret on crystal meth, looking for her keys, looking for her water bottle, looking for her iPod. . .finally, in frustration, I thrust my iPod at her and kicked her skinny ass out the door so Milo and I could sit on the couch and watch Doomsday Preppers bond over educational and skill-building activities.  Forty-five minutes later, a sweaty and breathless Gina returned, her delicate features twisted in disgust and holding my iPod away from her like it was a flaming bag of crap.

"You're dead to me." she sneered, dropping my iPod on the sofa cushion and wiping her hand on her shirt.

"What did I do?" I asked in confusion.

Gina waved her perfectly manicured hand at the offending iPod.  "That. . .that. . .PLAYLIST!  I feel dirty inside.  Now please excuse me, for I must bleach my ear canals."

I rolled my eyes.  "Bitch, PLEASE.  My playlist isn't THAT bad."*

*Yes. . .yes it is.  A friend once told me that I have the musical aesthetics of a fourteen-year-old boy.  I feel she was being generous in her assessment.

"Seriously, Jen."  Gina sighed.  "How much Pitbull can one person listen to?"

"Umm, ALL of it?"  I replied vehemently.  "I mean, c'mon!  He's Mister Worldwide!  Mister 3-0-5!"

"Yeah, well, Miss 5-0-3,"  Gina continued "he may be 'overseas at about a hundred G's per show', but he still sucks like a whore when the rent is due."

Unwilling to let this (or any other) point go, I thrust my iPod back at Gina.  "Just listen to track 9," I urged. "'Calle Ocho'.  At the very least, you have to admit it has a good bassline for running."

With a sigh of resignation, Gina took the proffered iPod and popped the earbuds into place.  I watched as she scrolled through the playlist and selected track 9.  She listed in silence for a minute or two, then furrowed her brow in consternation.  "Wait," she said. "did he just say 'watch me make a movie like ALBERT Hitchcock?"

I shook my head.  "No, I'm sure he said ALFRED Hitchcock."

Gina slid a slim finger over the screen, rewinding the track and listening again.  "Nope.  'Albert' Hitchcock, I shit you not.  Now, granted, I may not be a walking IMDB like you, but I'm relatively unaware of Mr. Albert Hitchcock's work."

"Hmmm," I mused with a tilt of my head.  "maybe he's a niche director, catering to film viewers of a very specific genre."

Gina snorted derisively.  "And what genre would that be?  Shitty Cuban rappers with an inability to reference pop culture?"

"Yuk it up, Simon Cowell."  I drawled.  "The rest of the playlist is bomb."

Raising her eyebrows cynically, Gina continued to scroll through the songs.  "I gotta give you some street cred,"  she grudgingly admitted. "you've got some Fort Minor, some old-school Dre, some Kid Cudi. . .aaaaaaaand, street cred officially revoked."  Without a word, Gina slowly turned to screen to reveal the beaming whitebread faces of One Direction.

"Oh, please, I dare you to listen to 'One Thing' or 'Best Song Ever' and not grin like a crack whore."  I argued.  "Not liking One Direction is like not liking puppies and unicorns, and double rainbows.  And do you want to live in a world where those things aren't AWESOME, because I don't!"

Nailing me with her best thousand yard stare, Gina intoned "'Baby, you light up my world like nobody else, the way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed'. . .seriously, Jen, that doesn't even RHYME.  I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and crap out better lyrics than that."*

*OK, I'll concede that point. . .begrudgingly.  I mean, seriously?  'She said her name was Georgia Rose, and her daddy was a dentist.  She said I had a dirty mouth, but she kissed me like she meant it'?  It sounds like those lyrics were written by five uneducated, overindulged tweens with a. . .oh. . .wait. . .

"Ah, I see you have our favorite domestic abuser, Chris Brown."  Gina frowned.

I rolled my eyes in annoyance.  "God knows I'm the last one to advocate violence, but in his defense he only beat up Rihanna and quite frankly, I've wanted to do that for years."

Gina shook her head in disgust.  "Selena Gomez?"

"Oh, c'mon, she's cute as hell."

"Sir Mix-a-lot?"

"Hey, I like big butts and I cannot lie."


"Pfft!  Imma make it RAIN up in heah."

Snickering, Gina scrolled through the playlist again and let out a slow groan before turning the screen to show the cover of Justin Timberlake's 'Suit & Tie' track.

"Oh, no!"  I argued before Gina could speak.  "Steaming piles of 'no'.  You will NOT talk smack about J.T. and Mister Carter.  That is one economy-sized CostCo box of 'NO'."

"Hey, I got 99 problems, lovin' Jay-Z ain't one,"  Gina stated, raising her hand defensively, "but Justin?  I just don't get him.  He sings like someone just hit him in the sack with a croquet mallet."

I shook my head gravely.  "You would be wise to take back what you just said, my friend. In the words of the great Mister Timberlake, 'what goes around goes around goes around comes all the way back around'.  That's bad karma, yo."

"True,"  Gina grinned, "but I also understand that 'karma-karma-karma is a chameleon; it come and go, it come and go'."

"Well played."  I said, giving Gina a congratulatory fist-bump.  "Now why don't you take a shower and Milo and I will continue our little confab."

Dropping a kiss on her baby's sleepy head, Gina headed down to hall to shower.  Making sure the door was firmly shut, I picked up Milo and softly rubbed his back, singing "'So I put my hands up, they're playing my song and the butterflies fly away.  Noddin' my head like that, movin' my hips like that...'"

When the kid is old enough to twerk, the jig is up.  But for now?  I feel a glow of contentment knowing that the soundtrack to my shame will be passed on to the next generation.

xoxo, and. . .call me, maybe?


Monday, September 9, 2013

Stupidest Crap Ever Spoken (Wait...doesn't everyone discuss panda porn?)

ME: What are you going to order?
GINA:  Ummm...probably the pa-ELL-a.
ME:  I think it's pronounced "paella".
GINA:  Bite me, Dora the Explorer.  You can't make me speak Spanish.  I didn't press '2'.

ALEX:  I feel sorry for women with big breasts.  How will they ever know if they're really witty and interesting?

GIRL AT BOOKSTORE:  We had my entire family in town for Rosh Hashana.  It was crazy.  Like...a total Jew-bilee.
GIRL'S FRIEND:  That's how it is at my house during Ramadan.  Only, less Jew-bilee and more Allah-palooza.

MY SON J: Mommy, I got a microwave burrito but I threw away the wrapper.  Will you google how long I need to cook it?
ME: . . .
MY SON J:  What?
ME:  Nothing, Sweetie.  Just thinking about how much money I'll save on your college tuition.

JESS:  Are you doing the Portland Marathon again this year?
ME:  Nah.  Lately, for me running is like dating or watching the Academy Awards.  After about two hours, I lose interest.

ME:  I don't understand Groupon.
KELLY:  It's like food stamps for middle-class white people.

BRANDON:  People who hand out stickers and toothbrushes for Halloween aren't doing it because they want your kids to be healthy.  They're doing it because they hate your kids but don't have the balls to poison their Skittles.

ME:  Did you know that at the Bejing Zoo they show the pandas porn to get them to mate?
GINA:  Like, human porn?  Or panda porn?
ME:  I don't know.
GINA:  Because, you know, panda porn couldn't possibly be that hot.  It'd be all "'m screwing someone who looks exactly like me".
ME:  Yeah, but if they showed them human porn then all of the male pandas would keep pulling out and coming on the female panda's chest.

KELLY:  Does CNN seriously have to have a "Special Report" every time something blows up in Iraq or Afghanistan?  Dude, it's the Middle East.  Unless I hear otherwise, I'm just going to assume it's like my ex-husband:  angry, confused, and getting bombed every day.

BRANDON:  Will you please stop saying "It's me" when you leave a voicemail?  If I'm not picking up it's because I'm either drunk or sleeping.  In either case, there's a very good chance I don't know who "I" am, let alone who "me" is.

ME:  Why do they even make phone books any more?  It's like, every year they leave you some shitty door prize that basically says "Look!  We killed off an old-growth forest to print a section of the internet for you!"

STUDENT #1:  We have to figure out how all the characters connect using a Sven Diagram.
STUDENT #2:  A what?
STUDENT #1:  You know, where the circles connect and you see which common parts overlap?
STUDENT #2:  You mean a 'VENN' Diagram?
STUDENT #1:  I thought it was a 'SVEN' Diagram.
STUDENT #2:  Oh, sure.  Like it was invented by the Swedes and they were all, "Here's ABBA. . .here's shitty DIY furniture. . .here's savory meatballs. . .and that's us in the middle."
STUDENT #1:  Fuck you.

ALEX:  I don't get the whole debate over same-sex marriage.  I mean, technically every marriage is a same sex marriage.  You get married, and every night:  the same sex.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Labor-less Labor Day

In keeping with my grand tradition of doing nothing resembling actual LABOR on Labor Day, my post will be up tomorrow; replete with depressing prospects (Kelly's), parental disappointment (Gina's), and happy news (mine).  Now, if you'll excuse me, the short people and I have a date with the couch and a "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" marathon.  Happy Labor Day, party people!