Monday, March 29, 2010

Happy Pesach!

Spent Shabbat with JV and Saturday night celebrating his birthday with friends. Sunday we picked up the kids and did a big Pesach shopping. Today I cooked, and roasted, and peeled, and chopped, and almost didn't think about work. Tonight's the first seder: with JV's parents, babushka, and sister. So far, so good.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What a difference a decade makes -- part 2

I got my 2010 census form in the mail a few weeks ago. In 2000, I never filled it out. It looked too big -- intimidating. I was depressed, and I couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle brushing my teeth most days. So I broke the law and threw it out. Two months later I overdosed.

Today I sat down to complete the form, thinking it would take me a while. I had no idea it was so simple and quick -- for a single person. All I needed to note down was my name, sex, age, race, and whether I sometimes live somewhere else (I don't). The rest of the form is devoted to the up to 11 other persons living in the household. Since I live alone, I was done very quickly.

It got me thinking about other differences between 2000 and 2010. Sure, I heal a lot slower. I have knee and back injuries that pain me on the regular. The lines are deeper on my forehead; I've given up trying to manage my gray hair without dye. And I'm a good 35 pounds heavier.

But I also have a career and a serious boyfriend. Erev Pesach is my six-month anniversary with JV; we'll celebrate it at the seder we're making together. (Actually, I'll probably be the only one at the table who's celebrating it, but that's enough.) I'm praised at my job and given significant responsibility. And support, so that I can do my job effectively without developing an ulcer.

In short, 10 years ago I didn't believe I had a future, and that underlay my suicide attempt. Now I believe I do. And I got enough help -- from Albert Ellis and other cognitive-behavioral therapists -- to be able to cope and thrive. I guess another difference is that I have a much better psychiatrist, too, and I've found medications -- and supplements, like melatonin -- that seem to be helping me function.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Classy move, Captain TMI

Last time I saw Captain TMI was at a karaoke night last month. He hugged me a little longer than I was comfortable with and told me I was adorable -- a bitch, but adorable. "But that's okay, because I'm an asshole!" he added cheerily.

Fine, whatever, next time he hugs me, I'll be sure to break free when I feel ready. But recently he sent me an email on Facebook:

I just realized I know who you are dating, small world.

See, Captain TMI went out with Mara. Seriously. For a few months. He wanted to marry her. I wrote back:

Yep. You probably have a very different view of him than I do.

He answered:

I know a lot about him but I never met him. I may be gruff sometimes, but I don't pass judgment on someone I have not met. Love is a wonderful emotion, run with it if you find it.

Now that's just... classy. Rational. Even generous. I thought about telling him what a bullet he dodged, but what would that accomplish? So I left it at:

Trust me, Captain TMI, you don't know anything about him. Not. A. Thing. And that's all I'm going to say. Thanks for the good wishes :)

I'm doing another acupuncture evening at my friend Ozer's. And guess who he invited? Mara. Not surprisingly, she declined. I'd tell him to stop inviting her, but why give him more fodder for gossip? And why not give Mara a stoch so indirectly that she doesn't know I'm giving it? Petty, yes, but far less than she deserves.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, March 19, 2010


Yesterday was a difficult day. I had to spend about 90 minutes trying to rearrange my schedule to enable me to see various clients from different referral sources, who all have different times they must be seen per month and all have different treatment schedules. It was very frustrating; I was completely frazzled. Did not put me in a good frame of mind for my early recovery group.

Usually this group is a good one. But today it was too big and too rambunctious. The agency branch I'm in now allows counselors to pop a non-group client into my group so the client can make up for a missed session earlier in the week. Yesterday one of the most rebellious, obnoxious, and resistant clients was there -- along with one of the most narcissistic, self-pitying, monopolizers. And they fed off each other.

I felt like I was a first-grade teacher trying to keep order. I had to keep reminding them that they can't leave group (if you need to go, make sure you go before group), you can't look at your cell phone, you can't interrupt, you can't have side conversations, and you can't get up five minutes before group is over just because you feel it should be over.

The clients didn't seem to notice how annoyed I was, or the depths of it, because I was able to keep a jocular demeanor. Maybe that was the problem. By the end of the group, I was fed up, especially with the most obnoxious client. I went to speak with his counselor afterward, who was appalled and promised to impose dire consequences -- he'll probably have two more weeks added to his treatment schedule. (Not the first time this has happened.)

But I was so angry and frustrated that I couldn't even sit down to write the group note. It made me question whether I'm capable of doing this work, or whether I shouldn't be a clinician at all if I can't keep my emotions under better control.

During group one client had talked about using marijuana to cope with stress. (To his credit, he admitted that wasn't the best course of action.) I asked the group, "What else could Ellis have done to manage his stress?"

"Have a drink," said one client. "You're less likely to get caught." (Alcohol exits the body in 12 to 24 hours; marijuana can linger up to 30 days.)

"Really?" I asked. "Is that a good idea, group?"

"No, it's not," said one client, Jesse. "Alcohol is still a drug."

That was a small moment of triumph.

"Okay, so marijuana is out, alcohol's out," I said. "Any other options?"

"Take a shower," said Jesse. That led to a great discussion: one client spoke about how water is soothing and (according to some Eastern traditions) healing, and I discussed distracting yourself from unpleasant thoughts by activating the sensory areas of your brain. The more you feel the water on your skin, the less you focus on the thoughts that are bothering you. (It was difficult getting this information out because the obnoxious client kept interrupting, engaging in side conversations, and talking back to me when I tried to rein him in.)

So when I got back to my office, steamed, I put some gardenia essential oil on my wrists and inhaled -- aromatherapy is essentially a sensory distraction. Didn't work; I was still shaking with rage. So I got up and went to a local store to try to buy JV some cologne for his birthday. (Since we don't have a shower in the office.) But all the samples were out of reach, and I didn't feel like asking anyone for help. I really didn't want to talk to anyone.

The rest of the day was a little better, but I was still thrown and overactivated. During clinical meeting and client sessions I kept wanting to talk, talk, talk, pontificate. I also wanted to engage in "professional use of self" during individual sessions -- i.e., talk about me in ways that are relevant to the clients. Except our agency expressly forbids personal disclosure.

Early warning signs of? Hypomania. The time changed five days ago, and already my seasonal affective disorder has flipped. Crap.

I should have walked more on the way home -- taken the subway to a more distant stop from my house. But I didn't. And last night I couldn't settle down. I ate some yogurt; calcium is a natural muscle relaxant and can be calming. Didn't help. I watched some funny sitcoms, hoping to release the energy through laughter. I laughed heartily; I was still energized. I watched some porn, hoping to release energy another way. Still couldn't settle down and go to sleep. Finally I took some Vitamin K. Unfortunately, that worked beautifully.

This morning I'm going to walk to a further subway stop, aching knees or no. And I need to keep a tight rein on my irritability and garrulousness. I don't want to develop a psychological or physical dependence on Vitamin K.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bumping into bellies

Every women except for me in Brooklyn is pregnant. Or at least that's how it seemed yesterday.

I went to an off-site meeting at one of our referral sources to talk about the dual diagnosis program, along with another counselor and my supervisor, who is five months pregnant. The referral source is forensic, which often means you have to go through a metal detector to get in. As my boss and I waited for the other counselor to shovel his change back into his pockets, I saw one of the clients, who looked like a toothpick with a hernia, as if the baby weight had trebled her original weight. How can I not hate a woman who is skinny and pregnant?

At the meeting -- which went very well, thank you very much; they're almost as excited about the program as I am -- was another enviably slender yet billowingly pregnant lady. While waiting for the car service to take us back to our office, I joked with my supervisor that I saw pregnant women everywhere I look.

"I know," she joked. "Not to mention LaShawn and Evita" -- two young counselors at the agency office where I used to work.

"I am surrounded by pregnancy!" I said. "Everywhere I look!"

"Maybe it's a message," she joked.

"I better be extra careful about birth control then," I said.

"Or not..." she added mischievously.

"Whoa," I said. "Russian engineers DO NOT have accidents like that!"

It did get me thinking. One thing I've emphasized to JV -- and myself, I guess -- is that while it would be nice to have a baby, it's not essential. I'm almost 40, and a lot of fertility interventions have deranging emotional effects on normal women. I can't see myself going through endless rounds of hormones, IVF, and all other invasive ways to induce a reluctant body to conceive. Not to mention the financial outlay.

Also, right now I'm utterly stretched to the limit with work. I really do like my job, but I really do hate the paperwork, and I recently realized that since I started at this location, I haven't had any time to coast -- I've been thrown one new thing after another after another. Which leaves me permanently feeling slightly less than competent, and always behind.

Maybe "coast" isn't the right word. But it's funny that about a year after starting this job, I was feeling pretty good about how well I was managing it. Then they named me dual diagnosis recovery program coordinator. Okay, a whole bunch of new skills to acquire and duties to balance. After a few months I felt almost comfortable -- and then they moved me to another office. Great, I can roll with that, I'll learn how to work with different populations and master another batch of bewildering paperwork. But then they invited me to work with the federal inmates, who make most of my clients look as meek and biddable as newborn kittens. They are the Mount Everest of substance abuse counseling.

One of the best ways to intervene with feelings of depression is to reinforce feelings of mastery and competence. Even though I've had amazing support and pretty good feedback since I switched offices, I think I've been scrambling so much (new paperwork, new procedures, new populations) that instead I feel completely bumbling and incompetent. Daylight savings and the resultant depressive effect on my mood only reinforced this; having surgery and getting sick also didn't help.

Thank Gd for the time change this past Sunday; if it hadn't been sunny and beautiful yesterday, I'm sure I would have left work after 11 hours (the meeting started three hours before my scheduled shift) feeling utterly miserable and drained, instead of just drained. And for the support I get from my colleagues and supervisor. But if I'm dancing as fast as I can to keep on top of things now, even assuming I develop greater mastery and familiarity, how on earth would I do all that with a baby, too? The reality of JV's situation is that I can't afford not to work if we get married.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back from bronchitis

I was sick all week. Went to the doctor on Monday, who diagnosed bronchitis. I figured, a few days on antibiotics and I'll go back in to work. Not half. I was coughing and exhausted and fevered for days, even with the antibiotic, and I'm still coughing and blowing my nose. It feels like I've expelled about 10 times my body weight in phlegm.

But I did have a nice Shabbat with JV in the suburbs, although his area of town (and the related power lines) were hit pretty hard by the nor'easter, which downed a startling number of trees and large branches. We had planned to make banana bread with the children on Sunday, but unfortunately his oven is electric, his house had no power, and his basement was flooded.

Instead, we all went to JV's sister's apartment. Not only did she have electricity, the building also has a pool and we all went swimming. JV was initially strictly opposed to me going into the pool -- apparently Russian fathers make strict boyfriends -- but the jacuzzi was broken and I was in my bathing suit. His sister didn't think I'd contract pneumonia, and apparently Russian aunts are more convincing than American aunts.

Interestingly, my cough sounded a lot better after a few water fights with the malchicki. They had an advantage, as they had goggles and I didn't, but at age six and seven, they don't have enough water-fighting experience and wasted a lot of energy splashing water that didn't get anywhere near me.

"You have a new nickname," Malchick 2 informed me. We were back in the apartment, dried, dressed, and watching a really hilarious cartoon called Chowder.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Moo-KAH," he said.

"What does that mean?" I asked suspiciously. Malchick 2 is six and thinks I'm silly for being scared of rats. Also that girls are icky.

"It means 'flower,'" he said.

Much better than I'd expected. "I like that!" I said. "Flower! That's a pretty nickname!"

"Actually," JV interjected, "it's not 'flower' as in plant... it's 'flour' as in baking." [I made them pizzabagels for dinner that weren't as disgusting as the ones their mother makes (that's not my assessment, it's Malchick 1's opinion). Apparently they're impressed with my culinary prowess.]

"As long as it doesn't mean 'doody,'" I said. Also, apparently the pronunciation is crucial. "Moo-KAH" means "flour." "MOO-kah" means suffering.

I came home to an email message from some shlub 10 years my senior on Orthodate:

Hi lets talk

I'm not a paying member, so I can only respond three ways:

Sorry, but I am not interested.
Please tell me more about yourself.
Please send me your email address so we can talk more.

I have a boyfriend, this guy's a lot older than I am, he's not attractive, and he doesn't even appear literate. I used the first response.

He responded with class and panache:

you dont know what is good, keep waiting

Nice. Not hard to know why he's still single. I could block him from contacting me, but I'm waiting to see if he comes up with any more illiterate unwitticisms.

About 2 weeks ago I got an email from a 33-year-old on Jewish Soul Search:

Subject: Hi Ayelet...
Message: sound hilarious! I was laughing as I read through your profile, and you sound like a great combination of brains and beauty. I'd like to get to know you better, do you have a bf? Email me at Jon

Wow. This never happens when I don't have a boyfriend. I looked at his profile: smart, funny, cute. But so is JV, and he's already mostly trained to suit me.

Thanks for writing and for the compliments... but yes, right now I do have a boyfriend. Good luck in your search for your soul mate!

Filed him under "nice guys I can't date, but do I know anybody for him?" He lists himself as "conservadox," which probably means most of my orthodox friends wouldn't be interested in him. But JV's sister, Svetlana, just broke up with her boyfriend, who between you and me was kind of an asshat.

So I wrote back to him Saturday night:

I don't know if you're still looking, but my boyfriend has a younger sister who is almost as pretty as I am, definitely as smart as I am (she's a civil engineer), and six years younger than I am. Would you be interested in meeting her? She's really sweet.

Actually, I probably should have written that she's just as pretty as I am and almost as funny. But he wrote back:

Great to hear from you. What's up? She sounds almost as cool as you! :o) Sure I'd like to chat with her, she can email me to What does she she look like? Tell her to send a few pics. BTW I look much better in person and now than in that photo! What are her hobbies? I'd be glad to find out more about her. Is she in NY? Reply to my email above too!

I'll call her tomorrow and see if she's ready to dive back into the dating pool. If getting over a breakup is like surviving bronchitis, she's probably due for another dip, and even if it doesn't go anywhere, I think she'd have fun.

Back to work tomorrow, Gd help me.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mom is apparently on JV's side.

I'm sick. I was feeling terrible all week, getting over that lithium imbalance, but more or less normal by Thursday. Then Friday I started feeling irritable and achy. Coughing, sneezing, sore throat. Kind of what JV had last week. No big deal -- I didn't have a group to run, I could just see some individual clients, collect a little urine, go see Dr. R, and go home and crash.

Fortunately I stopped by the grocery store before going home. Got a watermelon, some canned grapefruit segments (I like not having to peel them), and some ice cream. And ordered a pizza from the vegetarian restaurant -- all the kosher places were closed.

I decided I needed rest. So I took a few klonazepam. Three, to be exact. And I must have taken more some time on Saturday, because I woke up completely disoriented on Sunday. (Still sick, of course. Dry cough, sore lungs, achy muscles, feverish.)

I called Alona. "Is it Sunday?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said slowly. "Are you okay?"

"I'm sick," I whined. "It's all JV's fault. He had a head cold last week that was supposed to migrate to his chest. It migrated to mine instead."

"Uh, yeah," she said, concerned. "Are you okay?"

"I have a really bad cold," I said. "I need to rest."

"Do you need anything?" she asked. Apparently I needed to finish the ice cream at some point. I remember starting it, then putting it away, and there's an empty box in the garbage can. Benzodiazepines have a slightly amnestic effect. Fortunately I had a few cans of grapefruit and peaches, and a baby watermelon. And the rest of the pizza, which I couldn't face.

I called my mother after my temperature spiked to 100. "Should I go to the emergency room?" I asked.

"Probably not. Take some tylenol," she advised. "And some chicken soup."

"I don't want chicken soup," I griped. "I'm miserable."

"How is JV?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"He's fine," I said darkly, swallowing a few ibuprofin. "He is working on a Very Important work project and can't come over to take care of me. It's his damn fault. I should never have gone over there last week and caught his cold. He is not a good boyfriend today."

"Can Alona help out? Or Miriam?" asked Mom.

"I don't want Alona or Miriam," I grumbled. "They would if I wanted them to. I just don't want either of them to get sick." I took my temperature again: 99.6. "I'll be fine," I grumbled.

"You know," Mom said hesitantly, "it's not really JV's fault..."

"I know it's not JV's fault!" I growled and coughed. I would have laughed at how ridiculous that was -- her trying to convince me that my boyfriend didn't deliberately get me sick -- but laughing makes me cough, and coughing makes me hurt too much. "It's nobody's fault. Well, mine for not sleeping in the guest bedroom and letting him breathe on me all night. Through the garlic fumes."

"Garlic is supposed to act as an antiseptic," Mom said.

"Well, it might be good as a contraceptive," I said, "but as an antiseptic it definitely falls down."

Punishment for my sins, I suppose. If I were a literalist, I'd believe this awful cold was the direct result of me missing megilla reading on Purim and not giving out even two shaloch manot. I guess I wasn't yotzei watching a Russian opera that involved the main Purim characters,

Last temperature taken: 99.9. I hope it's not going to be a long night. And I'm definitely not going in to work tomorrow.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Has it really been a week since I blogged?

I lost a day. I thought it was Saturday. It's Sunday.

JV thought his nasty head cold would migrate into a nasty chest cold. Unfortunately, it migrated into my chest. I had a rough week and I've been sleeping most of this weekend. Took three Vitamin K Friday night and 3 yesterday (I think), so I'm still kind of woozy. Maybe I overdid it, but I just wanted to get some rest without sneezing, coughing, or choking on phlegm. I was by myself; nobody was going to take care of me, so I might as well sleep. I'm diffusing peppermint oil, too, so I'm not wholly reliant on western pharmaceuticals.

Fortunately, JV has the kids this weekend; I wouldn't have been there anyway. I just canceled my Brazialian hair straightening, so all I need to do today is rest and get this phlegm out of my chest. Uck.

No shortage of stuff happening, I'm just too feeble to chronicle it. JV and I took the kids to the Russian mini-opera on Purim last week -- by "mini" I mean 1/2-hour, which was just about long enough for Malchick1 to tolerate without a meltdown.

"Do you like restaurants?" M1 asked me near the end. He knew we were going out to eat after the performance.

"Sure," I said.

"Better than this, right?" he said. Philistine. Suppose I can't blame him -- he's only 7.

Malchick 2 enjoyed the performance -- he sings in a choir and he speaks Russian. It wasn't hard to follow, given the Purim theme, which I've known since childhood. I could distinguish Esther from Achashverosh -- he had a beard, for one thing, and she was the only female on stage -- and they used dance and body language to tell different aspects the story and musical themes to differentiate the hero, Mordechai, from the villain, Haman. (As if you couldn't tell from their costumes, postures, movements, and facial expressions.)

Interestingly, Haman used similar body language to that used by Jews in anti-semitic propaganda movies -- cringing and smiling in the presence of power, craftiness and plotting to get what they want, smiling to your face and scowling behind your back, etc. And Mordechai, a hot blond Russian tenor, was a lot sexier than the dark-haired bass Haman, who was Jewish. I didn't hear megillah this year, but I don't remember it saying anything about Mordechai being as attractive as Esther. It would have made for an interesting artistic statement had they switched roles -- hot Haman, cringing ugly Mordechai -- but in opera the tenor is always the hero, and I don't think the dark-haired singer could have hit those notes.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"