More Snakes, Turtles, and Froggies

Yesterday my husband and I went for another little nature walk. Two days in a row I was able to get out and walk a little bit! I know that might not seem major to you, but when you have chronic pain and chronic fatigue, little things like that are a big victory!

On our walk we saw another snake (this time a water snake):

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Some turtles:

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And a froggie:

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Today has been raining almost all day, so we didn’t try to go to a park or anything. We did do a bit of thrift store shopping, where I got some cute baby clothes for my stuffed animals, some children’s books, and a few vintage jigsaw puzzles. I’ll have to share pics of some of that soon!

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Waterfalls and Baby Snakes

Yesterday the weather was absolutely beautiful. There is something so magical about the first day of the year that is warm enough to wear shorts! Or maybe that’s just me… Anyhow, since it was so lovely out, my husband and I took some sandwiches to a local park for a picnic and then took a short hike to a waterfall.

Along the path we found two baby snakes! They were so adorable! Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good picture of either of them, but I found this picture online that is pretty much exactly what they both looked like (although one was much tinier, maybe a newborn):

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I’m pretty sure they were some species of garter snake, but not sure. We did get a picture of the small waterfall:

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It is amazing how spending time in nature can really elevate your mood. I’ve heard nature described as a natural antidepressant, and I would have to say I agree in many ways.

Severe Nail Biting and OCD

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I am a nail biter. I have always been a nail biter from what I can remember. It isn’t just an occasional thing either, it is a constant habit that I can’t control. I bite my nails until they bleed or until the nail bed is exposed. Even then, even if it causes real pain, I continue to pick at them. I chew off the skin around the nails too, including the skin on my fingertips. The end of my fingers often look scraped raw.

Yesterday I just happened to come across something online that said that this particular behavior is actually considered a disorder, a sub classification of the OCD diagnosis. There is even a fancy name for severe nail biting (onychophagia). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since there are other similar grooming behaviors that can lapse into obsessive compulsions (such as skin picking, hair plucking, etc.) I do have many other OCD habits and am pretty sure I have been officially diagnosed with the disorder somewhere along the line, but since I have been diagnosed with so many things it can be easy to forget the specifics.

Perhaps the oddest thing about my severe nail biting is that I have absolutely no desire to stop. I never have. Others have wanted me to stop, but I never really cared. It feels good. It is a satisfying feeling to nip and nibble at my nails. It is an especially helpful distraction during times of great stress or fear. I have never cared much what my nails looked like or worried about what other people think of them. I do get a bit self-conscious sometimes if they are bleeding in public, but other than that, I simply don’t care.

Eating Disorders: My Experiences

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I’ve been watching some intervention episodes and other documentaries about eating disorders recently. I have never been officially diagnosed with an eating disorder of any kind, and am not sure I would consider myself an actual bulimic or anorexic, although I have had destructive behaviors related to both illnesses in the past.

Growing up, my mother and sister were overweight, and I saw what they went through being “fat”. The self-loathing, the cruel mockery from others, the way they would pick on people who were even larger than themselves in an effort to make themselves feel better. From a young age I learned that “fat” was a very bad thing to be. Maybe the “worst” thing you could be in many people’s eyes.

Around the age of 12, right after my dad died, I started putting on weight too. At first I think it was mainly just puberty, but the grief and loss of my father also made me turn to food for comfort. My mother and sister worked all the time after my dad died, so I spent most of my time at home all alone. The loneliness and heartbreak I felt soon turned me into a chubby little girl. I started getting bullied at school for my weight and went from being a confident, athletic, competitive kid to being someone who wished they could just disappear.

When I was around 15, I started working for the first time myself, and the increased physical activity and less time spent lonely and eating soon had me losing weight. I liked what I was seeing and started using little “tricks” to help myself lose more weight. Restricting what I was allowed to eat. Using laxatives if I overate. Trying pills that promised to rev up your metabolism, even if they made me more jittery and anxious.

Over the years, I have had periods of time where I fell into unhealthy habits with eating. Times where I binged and then tried to starve myself. Times where I tried to not eat and lived on water or Diet Coke (one of these periods led to my first visit to a doctor for depression). Obsessions with exercise. Endless calorie counting. Times where I saw the scale falling rapidly due to medicine side effects or a health problem and secretly rejoiced at the thinning. Using medicines that I may not actually need because they help me stay thin. Fearing the use of other medicines I may need because they cause weight gain.

As of right now, I am not actively involved in all of these behaviors on a regular basis, although I am certainly not above them and am still tempted. I do still rely on “stimulants” sometimes that I know probably aren’t good on my heart and health. Pseudoephedrine (a close relative of the diet drug Ephedra) is a big one for me, which is easy to excuse since I do have allergy and sinus issues, but I know I probably overuse it. The last time I was in the hospital, they said I tested positive for Methamphetamines, which was likely the Pseudoephedrine, since I don’t touch any illegal drugs.

I also tend to still play mind games with myself when it comes to food. I have a huge sweet tooth and I’ll tell myself, “Sure, you can have the cupcake/brownie/doughnut/cake/etc, but then you can’t have any lunch or dinner.” In my mind I justify this by saying the junk food is about the same amount of calories as a healthy lunch or dinner, so it is ok to trade them out, but I can’t help but wonder if this may be why I am often deficient in certain minerals and nutrients in blood tests.

This is the first time I’ve publicly shared these things, but I feel like it is something I want to get off my chest and be honest about.

Rages and Paranoia

The past couple months I have been all over the place emotionally and mentally. I plan to go over all this with my psychiatrist when I see him later this month, but felt I would share here some of what I’ve been going through.

It is kind of weird because I have had several bouts of certain types of emotions/feelings that were overwhelming and lasted at least a few days to a week. For around a week last month, I had a real issue with rage. Not just anger, but pure rage. I hate it when I have these rages, because I normally end up taking it out on myself or my things because I don’t want to inflict it on anyone else but have to get it out somehow. Sometimes during these rages I destroy personal things that I later regret. I don’t cut or do anything physical that leaves real scars, but I do sometimes pinch myself or dig my nails into my skin as hard as I can, just to get the anger out and because acute physical pain can be a way to distract yourself from intense emotional pain.

A few weeks after the rage phase, I went through an odd type of paranoia. I just kept having nightmares every night, one after another. All of the nightmares were either about home intruders or something scary chasing me. The first night it started I had a full night of nightmares about home intruders. I became so paranoid I had to get up and double check all the locks in the house and make sure every door was closed and locked between the outside doors and my room. I was tempted to sleep with a knife nearby (which I actually have done in the past when I was afraid of something like this), but instead, I settled on sleeping with my phone next to me. I have never been a victim of a home invasion and currently live in a safe neighborhood, so this paranoia seems odd to me.

This past week I have actually had a positive upturn, where I have felt fairly happy and almost a little hopeful. These extremes of emotion I have felt recently do make me wonder if maybe the bipolar diagnosis is correct. I have never really understood why I had these rages and paranoia episodes, but if I am truly bipolar, that probably would explain it (although my PTSD could easily be a culprit as well I suppose). It is tempting once these episodes are over to make excuses for them or to try to convince myself they weren’t as bad as they really were, but that is being dishonest with myself and won’t help me learn to deal with these problems in a healthy way.

Hallucinations in Childhood

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Something I’ve been thinking about recently is hallucinations. As an adult, I haven’t really had a history of hallucinations. The closest things I can think of are a few times I have been awoken from my sleep by my husband or my mother’s voice loudly calling my name, only to find they are either not even at home or they swear they didn’t call for me. It is easy to assume this might be just weird remnants of a dream though, so I don’t consider it definitely a hallucination. There have also been a few times I hear a weird, high-pitched whining noise that no one else seems to hear. This could just be my autistic sensitivity though, picking up on something others don’t. It isn’t tinnitus, I have that as well, so I know the difference.

However, as a child I do have at least one vivid memory of a hallucination, maybe two. The first happened when I was around 5 or so, and it happened in the middle of a church service at my grandfather’s house (he was a pastor that ran his own church). In the middle of the service, this huge bird suddenly appeared next to my grandfather as he talked. It was a beautiful, rainbow colored bird, and I could physically see it, so it wasn’t like an imaginary friend (which I also had). I was excited by its appearance and made a bit of a fuss trying to tell my mom about it, but it became clear soon that she couldn’t see it and apparently no one else did either. I got in trouble for yelling out, so ended up sitting there staring at this huge bird and wondering what the heck was going on and why no one else could see it. To this day, I have no idea what happened that day or why. I wish I remembered what was going on in my life at the time, to see if I was under acute stress at the time, but I really don’t know.

The other possible hallucination happened when I was 12. It was soon after my father died and I was having the worst panic attack of my life up until that point. I was sitting on the bed, trying to breathe, feeling terrified and alone, when suddenly a bright figure appeared at the end of the bed. At first I was terrified, but the being told me not to be afraid and I immediately felt a calm I had never felt before in my life. The panic attack was gone and the bright figure somehow communicated to me that I was safe and protected before leaving. I assumed at the time it was my guardian angel, but now that I am no longer religious and not sure what I believe in, I wonder if it could have possibly been a hallucination brought on by grief and terror. I honestly don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a guardian angel, but if I do, why didn’t they protect me or show up during even more dangerous moments of my life, moments when my life was actually in danger?

These two experiences as a child makes me wonder if they were hallucinations, and if they were, is it normal for children to have hallucinations and then grow out of them? Or is this just a warning that if I am pushed too far emotionally or mentally, that something may break inside me and I could lose touch with reality? Could I someday have another hallucination out of nowhere? That is a scary thought. Has anyone else out there also had experiences like this as a kid and apparently grown out of them?

*Art by Maranda Russell

Feeling Torn in Half…

Last night I had a really bad panic attack. The situation that triggered it is a complicated one that has me feeling rather torn in half. As I have probably mentioned before, my husband is a special education teacher. He is extremely devoted to his work and his students and loves what he does. This past Monday, he found out that one of his prior students, a girl who is now 19, needs a place to stay. My husband would like for us to take her in. I am really conflicted about it.

My husband and I used to do foster care, so I’m not unfamiliar with taking in strangers and looking after them, but the reason we had to quit foster care was my deteriorating health. That worries me about taking in a new, adult person who has both emotional and developmental issues. It also worries me because we recently downsized into a much, much smaller house and the autistic side of me is deeply worried about having no privacy or time alone which is essential to my well-being. Plus, I don’t know where we will move all the stuff that is now in the extra room.

On the other hand, I do feel deeply for this girl who has been through A LOT. My heart aches for anyone who already struggles with physical or mental disabilities and then has to add the weight of being abandoned or alone. She is living my worst nightmare in many ways and I can’t help but feel compassion for her. However, having never met her myself, I also worry about whether we would be a good fit or not. Often, that is something you just can’t tell until you live together, and if we do take her in, there is a good chance we would need to keep her at least a couple years until she graduates school and is moved into some form of independent living housing.

I feel so conflicted and anxious.