When I got to my friend’s place for my self-defense lessons last week, he told me we were going to do basic self-defense techniques and toward the end, simulated assaults. The simulated assaults were walk-bys: We would walk across the room in opposite directions and he would either do nothing, or he’d very suddenly grab my throat and wrist. The purpose was to train me to react quickly and correctly if it were to happen to me in real life.
But it had happened to me in real life, and after the first or second walk-by, I wound up having visceral, vivid flashbacks to my former partner putting me in arm locks and finger locks, pinning me, kicking me, putting his hand over my mouth, pushing my head into the floor or the bed. I hyperventilated and cried, and my friend hugged me and helped me calm down. He also didn’t let me stop, because the things I experience will upset me sometimes and I still have to know how to handle it, especially when physical danger is involved.
Which brings me to trigger warnings. Keep reading »
Clinical depression sucks and it’s only growing more common. Almost one in two people in the U.S. will suffer from depression or another mental health condition at some point and about one in 17 Americans actually has a serious mental illness right now.
Despite its rising rates, depression can be hard to wrap your brain around, especially if you’ve never had it. It’s not easily treated or cleared up by positive thinking, or yanking yourself up by your bootstraps, or shoving your feelings to the dark corners of the back of your mind. It’s so much deeper and more insidious than that. I once described depression this way:
“None of those external [good things you have going for you] truly register or resonate when you have depression. You can logically identify them as Good Things, and you know they are supposed to make you feel Good, but you can’t feel them, they can’t get in. It’s like your brain is wearing a full-body armor designed to keep only the good things out. Bad things … get ushered in instantly, like VIPs.”
People who don’t have depression don’t always know what to say that could possibly help to a friend or family member going through the all-encompassing yet simultaneously utterly numb sensation of your own brain turning against you. Here are a few things not to say (unless you want said friend or loved one to grow homicidal as well as miserable): Keep reading »
Here are two things I never expected to be told in the same breath: “You’re so skinny! This will look cute on you,” and “I’m pretty sure you’re lying about that time your dad molested you.”
Nine months ago, I confronted my father about sexually abusing me as a child. Since then, my communication with my family has been limited, and it caught me off-guard when, just two weeks ago, my aunt invited me to meet her for lunch. I impulsively agreed, and initially, we started on the right note. After a few minutes of polite pleasantries, she handed me a gift bag. Inside, I found a hand-me-down Ann Taylor blazer with the tags still on (“I love the pattern, but it just doesn’t fit me”) and a copy of Meredith Maran’s My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (“I learned so much from this book. It’s amazing how unreliable our memories are, don’t you think?”). Never before had I felt so flattered and insulted all at once. Keep reading »
I remember my first panic attack in more detail than I remember losing my virginity or the first time I drove a car by myself. (I guess vivid terror of suddenly not being able to breathe really ingrains itself into your psyche.) It was 1998 and I was watching the “Psycho” remake with my family’s French exchange student. During the infamous shower scene, my throat and lungs tightened inside me like a figure eight knot. I got up and paced around the movie theater, unable to control my body and wondering if I was having a heart attack. I’ve had panic attacks periodically since then, probably due to a combination of biology and circumstance. I’ve made an effort to lessen the conditions that they occur in and for the most part, I live a pretty calm life. My anxiety only spikes in extreme circumstances, such as the rare times I’ve gotten temporarily stuck in a subway underground (I’m claustrophobic).
After a couple of years without anxiety attacks in my everyday life, I’ve started having them again. The stress is related to old stuff resurfacing in my life and the anxiety is pretty much the same, too: my chest tightens, my heart beats too fast, I can’t breathe, and I feel like I’m having a heart attack. (Or, you know, what I assume a heart attack feels like.) I’m 30 now. Panic attacks are still shitty and frustrating, but all the experience I’ve had coaxing myself through them over the years actually does makes them less intense and quicker to get over.
These are my thoughts on what panic attacks are like, how to deal with them, and what I hope other people could understand if they’re trying to help:
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“After Elliot Rodger murdered six young men and women in Isla Vista, California, word spread that he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that was also linked to mass murderer Adam Lanza. Did Rodger’s alleged high-functioning autism spectrum disorder lead him to go on a murderous rampage? No. And even making it part of the conversation is harmful and stigmatizing to those with autism. …
We’re not living in a world with an epidemic of killers with autism. We are living in a world where social awkwardness associated with Asperger’s syndrome leads to kids being bullying and isolated. I’ve spent 7 years seeking therapies for my son. From occupational therapy to social skills groups, these specialized therapies will help him develop meaningful interactions with peers and get through school. I’ve met wonderful kids and young adults with autism of various degrees of severity. Every child with autism is just as unique as you or I. These kids aren’t defined by their diagnoses any more than you’re defined by your physical appearance. When I tell you my son has Asperger’s syndrome, I want you to know that it makes him focused, quirky, driven and different. I want to explain that he sees a world you and I will never see. What I don’t want is for you to make a knee-jerk correlation to two deeply disturbed individuals. I don’t want you to see a ticking time bomb when you look at my third grader.”
I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the reaction to Elliot Rodger’s murder of six people in Isla Vista, California, on Friday — pointing to him allegedly having Asperger’s syndrome (which has yet to be backed up with a confirmed diagnosis) as if it somehow explains his actions and/or negates the views he expressed in his 140-page “manifesto.” That’s why I urge you to read what Maria Mora, whose son has autism, has to say over at SheKnows about why this focus is not only ignorant and harmful, but a distraction from the real issues. [She Knows]
Spending time at home is way more stressful than spending time at work, according to a surprising new study by Penn State researchers. This comes as something of a surprise given the endless national dialogue about American working too much.
The study measured participants’ cortisol levels, which is one of our bodies’ major markers of stress, both at home and at work. The results show that for both men and women, spending time at home is not very relaxing. The study also learned that women often feel even better at work than men do. This pertains to people both with and without children, but especially for those who don’t have kids. Keep reading »
Motherhood. We all have a vision in mind of what it’s supposed to look like: warm, nurturing, saccharine, even beatific. Even the messier versions we allow — frazzled new parent anxiety, daylight zombies — still position the mother as with-it and in control. But what about the mothers who are anything but in control? What about the mothers who have an addiction in control of them?
Jowita Bydlowska is the author of a searing memoir, Drunk Mom, about her 11-month relapse into alcoholism after her son’s birth. A sober alcoholic, Bydlowska toasted her son’s birth with a glass of champagne. Then she began drinking regularly in the overwhelming new days of parenthood. At first her relapse was easy to hide, especially home alone on maternity leave with a newborn. But soon, the addiction metastasized into full-blown alcoholism once again, causing her to make dangerous decisions about her own and her baby’s safety and shrouding her relationship with her baby’s father in lies. When she finally makes it to rehab, the reader is relieved everyone is still alive.
Drunk Mom, which will be published in America on May 27th, is a discomforting read. It’s bare-naked honesty about addiction and families will make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those with idealized versions of what motherhood and womanhood “should” mean. It’s by far one of the best memoirs that I’ve ever read (and yes, I’m including Wild in that) both for it’s candor and bravery and for her narration. I understand addiction all the better with once-again-sober Jowita Bydlowska as the Charon to this Hades, our guide to the underworld.
I called Bydlowska in Canada where she lives with her now-five-year-old son.
Keep reading »
When people find out I take Adderall for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they often want to know what that feels like. What makes my brain different from theirs? I have a really hard time answering that question, because A) I have no idea what goes on in their brain and how it compares to what goes on in mine and B) it’s really, really hard to explain. That’s why I’m so in love with this video by filmmaker Ryan Higa, explaining just some of the ways ADHD manifests itself in his life. Even though I know I have ADHD, I was shocked to discover just how many of these behaviors — like, 98 percent of them — are similar to my own, including things I never even realized were my ADHD at work. So THAT’s why I can memorize a phone number easily but then instantly forget it the second I start dialing! From now on, whenever anyone asks what ADHD feels like I’m sending them this video. [Laughing Squid]
The first person that Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, killed on December 14, 2012, was his own mother. She was murdered in her pajamas, lying her in bed, with four bullets to the head. The New Yorker has a profile of Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, in their most recent issue. Written by Andrew Solomon, it is the first time that Peter Lanza has ever spoken to the press about his son’s crimes. However, what stuck out to me most was not Peter unfathomable trauma or even Adam’s cornucopia of possible illnesses — depression? OCD? schizophrenia? insanity? — but instead Adam’s mother and Peter’s ex-wife, Nancy Lanza.
In the mid-2000s, a Yale psychiatry nurse specialist named Kathleen Koenig met with Adam after a time period in which he had started and then abruptly stopped using the antidepressant Lexapro, due to negative side effects. Throughout his teens, The New Yorker describes, Adam would frequently have “meltdowns” and cry alone, sometimes for hours at a time, behind a locked door. Nurse Koenig wrote that she implored Adam to take medication: “I told him he’s living in a box right now, and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.”
Reading that, it seems to me that Nancy Lanza was also living in a box that was only getting smaller if Adam didn’t get treatment. Keep reading »